It's hard not to have a good night out in Athens - a city that gets its groove on after midnight. From tiny bars with killer cocktails to flamboyant bouzouki clubs, Athens kicks in after hours.
There are late-night drinking dens all over town, but the busiest areas for bars right now are around Keramikos (popular with hipsters and creatives), Plateia Karytsi just below Syntagma Square (anyone and everyone), and Gazi (a frenetic flurry of clashing sound systems from back-to-back bars). The area just above and below Monastiraki station is also lively after dark: check out the grungy/Greek scene in Psyrri's pavement bars, or the alternative/arty crowd that congregates around Platia Ayia Irini and the surrounding alleys.
Athens has so many bars, it's hard to keep up. But these are some of my favourites – both trendy newcomers and trusty old dives.
Toy (Platia Karytsi 10; +30 210 331 1555) These days, every second building on Karytsi Square is a bar. But this hole-in-the-wall is where it all began. Toy used to be even smaller, but has expanded due to popular demand. Old school funk and an unpretentious crowd make this a reliable spot for a midweek drink.
Cantina Social (Leokoriou 8, Psyrri; +30 210 325 1668) There’s no sign outside this deliciously down-at-heel bar. Down the back of a dodgy-looking alley, you’ll find a dimly lit atrium with a few random chairs apparently salvaged from skips. Black-and-white movies are projected onto the surrounding apartment blocks. Cheap Russian beers, indie music. Surreal in the best possible way.
Booze (Kolokotroni 57, Syntagma; +30 210 324 0944; www.boozecooperativa.com) Artists and auteurs engage in meaningless conversations at this rough-edged, Dalston-esque bar. Avant-garde performances and exhibitions take place upstairs. You’ll leave smelling like an ashtray though – the nicotine-stained owner refuses to uphold the smoking ban.
Galaxy (10 Stadiou Street, Syntagma; +30 210 322 7733) This is one for connoisseurs. The décor – and the bartender – have miraculously survived since the 1960s. Classic cocktails and mellow jazz, hidden in a shopping arcade near Syntagma Square.
Psira (Miaouli 19, Psyrri; +30 210 324 4046) Trashy in a happy sort of way, this bar has a studenty vibe. It’s well placed for people watching. But the real draw here is the rakomelo –warm grappa with honey. Lethal.
Brettos (41 Kidathineon Street, Plaka; +30 210 921 4672; www.brettosplaka.com) This bizarre little bar in the heart of Plaka has been around for as long as I can remember. I used to drink cheap shots of banana and raspberry liqueur here as a teenager. It’s been somewhat trendified, but the original décor is, thankfully, intact. The walls are lined with day-glo bottles of moonshine, all made to the same family recipe since 1909.
Nixon (61B Agesilaou, Keramikos; +30 210 346 2077; www.nixon.gr) A Bauhaus building with a speakeasy atmosphere, this bar helped kick-start the gentrification of Keramikos. Architects and advertisers munch burgers in red leather booths or attend premiere parties in the plush screening room.
Alexander’s Bar (Syntagma Square; +30 210 333 0000; www.grandebretagne.gr) The cosy bar at the Grande Bretagne is a discreet spot to impress a date. Order a champagne cocktail and try to block out the pianist.
Pop (Klitiou 10, Monastiraki; +30 210 322 0650) It’s narrow, it’s noisy and the indie crowd are packed in like sardines, but this rocking little bar has some of the best cocktails in town. Try the signature Pop cocktail (vodka, triple sec, fresh strawberries, lime, sugar and Champagne).
If you can’t squeeze your way inside Pop, go next door to Baba au Rhum (Klitiou 6, Monastiraki; http://babaaurum.blogspot.com), where the daiquiris are sublime. Most people hang out on the pedestrian street anyway, checking each other out.
Seven Jokers (7 Voulis Street, Syntagma; +30 210 321 9225) Tiny, cosy, and always crammed. Spyros mixes a mean margarita, while Alecos works the crowd. Go after 3am, when free shots are downed and inhibitions abandoned.
Aerostato (Platia Proskopon & Ptolemaion 4, Pangrati; +30 210 724 1116) This is a totally laidback local scene. This jazzy all-day haunt on one of the loveliest little squares in Athens serves delicious gravadlax and decently priced drinks.
K44 (Konstantinoupoleos 44, Gazi; www.k44.gr) In the last few years, Gazi has gone from gypsy squats to artists’ lofts. The back-alleys now buzz with countless bars. Those in the know go to this grungy warehouse, where there’s always something unexpected going on. There’s a record store downstairs and design studios on the first floor. The bar is called Tora, which means ‘Now’ – and it’s still is very of the moment.
Swing (Iakhou 8, Gazi; +30 210 3451508) The Potsios brothers have a knack for creating bars with a buzzy vibe that’s not trying too hard. They know everyone, and this is where everyone wants to be right now on a Saturday night. The secret is also in the soulful music.
Jazz in Jazz (Dinocratous 4, Kolonaki; +30 210 7258362) Ageing jazz aficionados (and a few young ones too) are regulars at this classic bar. The soundtrack is strictly, er, jazz and so is the décor – signed memorabilia from the owner’s personal collection. A great little place to nurse a malt whiskey and meet some local characters.
More expert advice on Athens
For suggestions on where to stay in Athens, see my Athens Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Athens page.
Read my nightlife overview on my Athens nightlife page.