Diversity in Gazi
There was always something in the air in Gazi. Gazi is a neighbourhood close to the centre of Athens Greece which is one of the few remaining areas in which you can still come across single storey houses and the scent of jasmine. The area takes its name from the Public Gas Works which operated in the area between 1864 and 1884. It was, and still is, known as ‘Gazochori’ (Gas Place).
Whilst the Gas Works were still in operation, the area acquired a bad reputation due to the brothels which flourished there at that time. It is not by chance that regular customers are also known as Gazochorites (people from the Gas Place). Changes first began to take place in this corner of the city in Iakhou St in 1989. Sofia Spiratou set up one of the first organised endeavours to create a theatre of dance with the Roes theatre. In 1999, the biggest centre of culture in the city – the Municipality of Athens Technopolis – was founded, making quite successful use of the old Gas Works premises. In January of the same year, Gazaki bar opened its doors in Triptolemo St, its main attraction being the view from the terrace and, in time, its good music. Soon after, another bar joined them- the Nipiagogio (8, Elasidon and Kleanthous St) which brings a funkier atmosphere to Gazi. Gradually, things began to take shape and today there are a total of over 60 places to wine and dine, 20 theatres, a wide variety of music venues, one summer cinema and a strip club. Gazochori takes after Manhattan, and each square metre of land is worth as much as a first class plane ticket and a ten day stopover in the Big Apple.
Gazi can be compared to Hora, the capital town of an island. A Hora which determines the contemporary identity of a city which seeks to offer style to its visitors. Its basic motto is “Get people sitting outside.” They may have impressive interior décor, but their real objective is the terrace outside. It has an air of summer in the Aegean, even though you are just down the road from Omonia Square. Your eyes are drawn to everything and everything, you don’t shy away from strutting on the catwalk, you acquire a summer attitude, take your drink at the tall metal Alley Cat (a bar with metal and rock sounds at 50, Konstantinoupoleos St.), go and find out what’s happening at the fashion conscious Almadobar (a small bar at 60, Konstantinopouleos St., inspired by the well-known Spanish producer) and finally enjoy a salad of avocado, courgette and graviera (a type of mild Cretan cheese) at Kanella, a restaurant belonging to the category of new tavernas (a style which thrives in Gazi). All of these are within a stone’s throw of each other.
You cannot call yourself a sought-after young Athenian unless you have walked, glass in hand, past the outside of Hoxton (a bar at 42, Voutadon St.). For a time it was considered the absolute “place to be” in the city. “You haven’t been to Hoxton? You.haven’t done a report on the Hoxton? You don’t know where Hoxton is? Well then, what on Earth are you doing in this city?” Later on, the new Metro stop opened (which looks as if it was designed purely for the Hoxton as the stop is exactly outside its entrance) and the establishment passed from the realms of merely legendary to becoming an institution in itself. Emo, trendies, passers-by, mothers, fathers, cats and dogs sit side by side in one of the most beautiful squares in the city. In time, other bar restaurants to suit all tastes opened alongside the Hoxton. The alternative bar, K44, (44, Konstantinoupoleos street), promoting a loftier mood attempts to become the first runner, but as the tide turns towards Gazi and the alternative trend prospers, neither of the two (or even the 102!) can fail to prosper.
Persephonis St is the road which connects the two ports: Piraeus and Constantinople (Piraeus and Konstantinoupoleos St.). It also provides a connection between fish and meat (Sardelles (Sardines) and Butcher Shop). The daughter of Dimitra, Lady of the Underworld, links the gothic Closer bar with the indie Mad Club and all the post modernism of the modern Greek spirit is expended at Mamaca’s, a restaurant which is transformed into a Club by night. In the same Mykonian spirit there is also the new A Liar Man, with a jazz bar atmosphere in surroundings which are more reminiscent of the narrow alleyways of the Cyclades than of 2, Sofoniou St!
The coffee shop-come-snack bar is a trend which was launched in Psyrri and spread rapidly to areas to the south. Two years ago, if you had strolled down Dekeleon St. you would have found nothing more than a few forsaken souvlaki shops, a couple of kafeneions to play cards in, and Nona and the Oinomageirio , the basement cellar serving wonderfully civilised dishes, which disturbed the whole neighbourhood every Sunday with its clarinets. These days, hustle and bustle reigns: every street corner is packed with tables. With the exception of the other cabaret restaurant without the dancers, Brothel at 33, Orfeos St., all the establishments present a specific image: ouzo. raki, mezes and conversation from which the masses spill out and head for the Triptolemou, Mexican Tapas, trendy Dirty Ginger (which offers food as well as drink) and the wild club-bar Socialistas. Humanity of all kinds, disorderly throngs, prowling throughout the night, through a drunken haze and endless rounds of socialising, to find which waiter they need to pay and where they have left their coats. Besides all this, just a few minutes walk away (on the corner of Dekeleon St.) is the Motel, which is symbolic of the Athenian dance scene.
It is indeed true that the centres of entertainment in Athens are multiplying: Kefalari, Kolonaki, Psyrri, Exarcheia, Syntagma, Bournazi and the seaside areas. Gazi is trying to appeal to all types but without focusing only on its accession to a share of night entertainment and also by focusing on doubling the numbers of households. More and more people are moving into the area and forcing out the immigrants who had been the permanent residents until recently. Its challenge is not to become overrun by ethnic bouzouki clubs, as has happened in Psyrri, and to maintain its pell-mell of people and options. In other words, to retain its status as the island oasis in the centre of Athens.