Athens is more a person than a city. He has a strong personality that is sometimes lovable, sometimes overwhelming. Talking about Athens is a bit like going to see a marriage counselor: it reminds you of the reasons why you fell in love with this crazy woman. I like that it’s a place that’s more interesting than beautiful, a city that’s constantly changing.
Our cultural work at the Onassis Foundation aims to connect people, ideas, content and buildings with events in the city such as Plasmata, an outdoor digital art exhibit in Pedion Areos Park (until July 10). Pedion is not a tourist destination, so you will see people praying towards Mecca, doing yoga or smoking; people who have lived there since the 60s. But right now you will also see a huge red planet – a light sculpture by Spanish artist SpY.
I love how Athens has real neighborhoods. If you take the cable car up Mount Lycabettus, you will get a good idea of the city and its contradictions – the ancient ruins but also the ugly buildings. I think I live in the best neighborhood, in the Mets. It’s central, but tucked away, next to Kallimarmaro Stadium. It has a bohemian vibe and you can sit at the Odeon cafe and just enjoy the passersby. But it’s when you walk around Athens that you begin to understand all the layers of time beneath your feet. There are only a few cities in the world that have been inhabited for over 3,000 years. The National Archaeological Museum, right next to Pedion Park, has the most amazing collections, although everyone tends to head to the Acropolis Museum instead.
That said, you can’t come here and not go to the Acropolis. The Foundation is really proud of its work to make the site more accessible, with an incredible glass elevator. You get a great view of the Acropolis from the Perianth Hotel – all terrazzo floors and Athenian modernism – and at Great Britain, an Athenian landmark with a rooftop bar.
But to talk in depth with my friends, I go to Galaxy bar. For 50 years, Mr. Yannis has been behind the bar, listening to all the talk in Athens and never saying a word. It’s my place; this is where I made my best mistakes. It opens at 5 p.m. and closes on the last departure. It’s a real bar, with jazz in the background and real liquor. And they always serve the same thing with: toast with butter, hot mustard, cheese and peanuts. My favorite restaurant, however, is the Seychelles in the old neighborhood of Keramikos. It’s Greek Mediterranean cuisine. Just order the full menu and put it in the middle to share, then take a stroll through Avdi Square, where there’s a huge piece of public art we commissioned: a mural by Ilias Papailiakis titled The kiss.
During the summer, there’s something romantic about the city’s open-air cinemas, like Riviera in Exarchia. And for shopping, I love the little wholesale stores that surround the fish and meat markets on Athinas Street. They have huge basements selling plates for restaurants and baskets for farmers, where you can find things that are actually made in Greece, like a unique bottle of olive oil or a shiny bread knife. . There are also many small restaurants around the markets; the best is Díporto. There is no menu; you eat whatever is served that day. It could be bean soup or sardines. The only time it’s closed is in November when the owner returns to his village to make Tsipouro, which is like Greek grappa, and something you have to try in Athens.
It is also worth exploring the local jewelry designers – Lito, Nikos Koulis, Ileana Makri and Yannis Sergakis. They all do very different work, while combining cosmopolitanism and Greekness. And the Athens art scene is fascinating. The National Museum of Contemporary Art is a great place to start, and there are plenty of galleries that I like, like The Breeder, PET Projects, Eleftheria Tseliou, Rodeo, and Carwan. But just walking around areas like Neos Kosmos or Mets can lead to conversations with artists. You’ll probably find yourself in their studio at two in the morning, talking about the most important things in life.
Next year, a new Onassis cultural space will open, designed by Yinka Ilori, to bring together fashion and crafts, biotechnology and design. It will be a place for the things that make everyday life more human: food, drink, music, art. Athens will be more interesting than ever.