SQUARE THE KNOWLEDGE THAT ATHENS IS IN CRISIS WITH THE FEELING IT’S NEVER BEEN MORE ALIVE
Still, she persists. Last fall, she filled the gallery with stunning architectural installations by the Greek-American artist De Anna Maganias. And she still believes that Metaxourgeio can blossom into a bohemia. She took me to abroad, tiled public square two blocks from her gallery where Seychelles, one of the best restaurants for New Greek cuisine, opened a few years ago. The laid-back cafe Ble Papagalos recently joined it.
At night, young Greeks stream into the alley ways between the Metaxourgeio and Kerameikous metro stations. Follow them and you’ll discover some of the best nightlife spots in Athens, like the sexy patio bar Cabezon or the untucked after-hours canteen Louis. To spend an evening here is to experience a strange kind of cognitive dissonance, as you try to square the knowledge that Athens is in crisis with the feeling that it’s never been more alive.
IRONY HAS always been a local specialty in Athens,but that seems particularly true today. You wouldn’t expect an extravagant cultural complex like the Niarchos Center to rise in the midst of a grinding depression. You also wouldn’t expect that the most successful businesses to emerge from the crisis would sell luxury goods. And yet, in the leafy, upscale neighborhood of Kolonaki sits Yoleni’s, a gleaming new seven-floor Greek-food emporium that stocks Cretan escargots, gold-flecked Corinthian honey and super-premium olive oil.
The place is the Greek answer to Eataly. Styled like a 1950s provincial grocer, with vintage refrigerators and burlap sacks of grain, the store is full of charming stations offering hand-made spanakopita and cold-pressed cucumber juice. Yoleni’s hopes to carve out a global niche in fine food in much the same way that Coco-Mat, another breakout Greek business, has done with luxury bedding.
Founded in 1988, Coco-Mat has gone global, opening stores from S0H0 to Seoul. The company’s springless mattresses—made entirely from natural materials like dried seaweed, coconut fiber and Mongolian horsehair— can cost as much as a Volvo. The new Coco-Mat flagship, also in Kolonaki, doubles as a high-end hotel. It’s a rather awkward configuration for hotel guests, who stumble into the lobby at night only to discover they ’re in a mattress showroom. Still, the whole project radiates eco-friendly bonhomie, from the cuddly organic linens to the recycled-wood bicycles for guests to borrow.
Perhaps the most sophisticated business to emerge from the crisis is the fashion house Zeus & Dione, founded in 2013 by Mareva Grabowski, a Harvard Business School grad and former executive for Deutsche Bank, and Dimitra Kolotoura, who ran a London-based travel-PR company. They wanted to create a modern label out of ancient craft traditions. They sourced talent from all over Greece and helped revive the silk industry in Soufli, which once supplied couture labels like Chanel and Dior. The clothes are minimalist yet luxurious, like a beachy, folkloric version of Chloe (where head of design Lydia Vousvouni cut her teeth). Their collections, which have been featured in Vogue and are stocked by Bergdorf Goodman and Le Bon Marche, often sell out. In Athens, the brand now has an airy boutique inside the famous Hotel Grande Bretagne.
Grabowski’s takeaway from the crisis was that Greeks could no longer rely on the public sector, tourism and shipping to support themselves. “This whole model of not really producing anything was dysfunctional,” she said. “When it collapsed, it forced people to start thinking differently, to realize the old way had no future.”