With a modern history full of political strife, the Greeks have learned how to express their opinions with conviction and brio. And they know how to have a good time while doing it. As the current focus of the European financial crisis, they feel they are the scapegoats for both the sins of a corrupt national government and the failure of an ill-conceived economic union.
Voters have protested by splitting Parliament into extreme left and right, leading to the rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, whose members have promised to disrupt the eighth Athens Pride festival, scheduled for June 9. That makes it a good moment to show support for a minority that is not yet entirely comfortable out of the closet. Apropos of the timely credo "Love me, it's free," here's our guide to LGBT-friendly Athens.
For the past decade, Athenian nightlife has gravitated around Gazi, where the most popular gay clubs are located. Everybody is excited about the chic new Shamone (Leoforos Konstantinoupoleos 46), tel: (30-210) 345 0144, whose TV-star owner Fotis Sergoulopoulos declares, "This place is mix and match!" The celeb haunt serves good international food in a lovely garden before the drag show and dancing begin. Down the street is 8th Sin (Leoforos Konstantinoupoleos 141), tel: (30-690) 952 2798. Fashion designer Apostolos Mitropoulos often deejays in the open-air bar while dance music rocks the underground club.
At the fun if kitschy S-Cape Army Academy (Megalou Alexandrou 139), tel: (30-210) 341 1003, you can dance in a suspended cage. If you like pressing the flesh with all the pretty young things, Sodade2 (Triptolemou 10), tel: (30-210) 346 8657, packs in a nice mix of happy people swagging to excellent dance music.
A hip scene is coming out of the closet in Gazi's funky adjacent neighborhood, Kerameikos-Metaxourgio. The seed was planted with favorite lesbian locale Myrovolos (Giatrakou 12, Avdi Square), tel: (30-210) 522 8806, a sprawling outdoor café that serves food from midday until late. On charming Paramythias (Fairy Tales), Paramithi ... Let Be (Paramythias 54), tel: (30-690) 747 0154, opened recently by two ladies from Crete, serves mezes and drinks.
Curriculum Vitae (Leoforos Konstantinoupoleos 108, Mykalis), tel: (30-210) 345 1744, is a classy dinner choice, with cozy decor and a creative Mediterranean menu. The old-fashioned To Koutalakia (the Spoons) taverna (Thermopylon 39), tel: (30-210) 522 4512, serves traditional cuisine with a twist sample the baked eggplant or graviera cheeses from Naxos, where owner Nikolas Farkonas lived for many years.
Metaxourgio is art-hipsterville central and home to great galleries: the Breeder (Iasonos 45), tel: (30-210) 331 7527, showcases extraordinary young painter Stelios Faitakis and holds the annual fundraiser for Athens Pride.
Downtown, the action radiates from this square. Magaze café (Aiolou 33), tel: (30-210) 324 3740, serves great food along with every type of coffee or drink you can think of, a view of the Acropolis and nightly DJs. At Philipp Champagne Bar (Tampazi 4, Psyrri), tel: (30-213) 032-5624, the party is often on the roof, set up to resemble a poolside play area.
A funky mixed crowd chills out in the meandering rooms of Booze Cooperativa (Kolokotronis 57), tel: (30-210) 324 0944, where the tables have chessboards and DJs play anything from folk to experimental music. Six D.O.G.S. (Avramiotou 6 8), tel: (30-210) 321 0510, is a hipster hangout, art gallery, cocktail bar and music venue with an enchanting garden café in the back.
From vintage finds to unique local designs, shopping in Athens is a treat: Ropa Lavada (Solonos 31, Kolonaki), tel: (30-210) 361 6591, offers women's clothing and accessories, often handmade, from a mix of international and Greek designers, with labels such as Saint Martins, Skunk Punk and Vagabond.
Down the street, Post Exchange (Solonos 46, Kolonaki), tel: (30-210) 364 1541, offers classy clothes by English and Greek designers, including owner Iannis Lazos' own PX label.
SHOP (Ermou 112A, Monastiraki), tel: (30-210) 323 1683, is an all-around style orgy, stocking fashion, jewelry, furniture, homeware even bicycles. And for everything from fab Doric column candles to cheeky swim shorts, go to Formika Design Store (Pallados 9, Psyrri), tel: (30-210) 323 4636.
WHERE TO STAY
Located in well-heeled Kolonaki, the Periscope Hotel (Charitos 22), tel: (30-210) 729 7200, characterizes sleek comfort with an intimate vibe and a special rate for the Pride weekend.