In a forgotten part of the inner-city quarter of Athens, Psiri (Ψυρρή), enterprising young Athenians are opening new restaurants, tattoo parlours, and barbershops. They are nestled amongst ramshackle, cluttered, and dusty, single service shops.
Psiri once home to leather tanning, reeked of urine used in the process. It was a place of poverty, crime, and by the 80s, heroin. It has been gentrified, a process that began in the mid-90s and much of it is now an unaffordable tourist colony. However, there is a small section of Psiri which hangs on to the past and is home to new, yet authentic experiences.
“Yep, that’s right we share the same first name” laughs Ioana, who with husband Ioani, runs Stoa tou Psiri, Στοα του Ψυρρη (19 Agiou Dimitriou St). The tiny curb side ouzeria has two tables on the curb side, three inside and all the food is prepared on a small four burner domestic stove and oven.
I ordered a salad of wild greens, with regional small producer olive oil, vegan dolmathakia, (vine leaf-wrapped rice rissoles) on a bed of Greek yogurt, sprinkled with mint, and smoked mackerel. And a cold Mamos beer made in my dad’s city of Patra.
“We make home food; we want people to eat like they are guests of our home…healthy, locally sourced food” says Ioanis.
“Our house was always full of people, friends and family loved our food, and they’d say, ‘you two need to open up a place’ so we did” Ioanna adds.
The eatery is in an abandoned arcade, which is what stoa, Στοα, means.
“It was boarded-up, abandoned, but we took the risk in the middle of Covid to open up, and we’re doing well,” Ioanis points to the boarded-up shop next door in the discarded arcade.
Ioanis has worked in kitchens since he was 16. “I am not a chef but an excellent cook,” he points out.
“I’ve lived food for 20 years, it my calling, and now with Ioana, who I am so lucky followed me into this, we can serve people the food we love.”
Ioana emphasises that it is all about “quality, ingredients and local sourcing.”
Ioanis then takes me to see his tomatoes stored in an alcove of the arcade.
“Have you smelled tomatoes like these? They’re not in a fridge, they are ripe and ready.”
The couple buy from small producers and local markets.
“We try to avoid, supermarkets and mass-produced ingredients, our food is seasonal” Ioana says.
Stoa tou Psiri is burrowed among a constellation of locksmiths, screw sellers, pot maters, seamstresses, haberdashers, basket weavers most of the tiny shops alive, just, from 50s and 60s.
They wanted to “get away from touristy Psiri.”
“I am a local who has lived here for over 16 years and this is new ground,” Ioanis says.
Birth of Joy
60 metres around the corner is Joy’s Birth barbershop which stands out with its old-school candy poll whirling outside. The fittings and décor are a combination of Rockabilly-steampunk aesthetic. Leather swivel barber chairs, black and white photos, and stickers adorn the walls and mirrors.
You can have coffee or if you wish pullback a bourbon from their stocked bar.
Joe Henderson’s Out of the Night plays as I chill on the leather couch.
Vasilis Serafetinidis opened Joy’s Birth seven years ago and is a pioneer, but the boss wasn’t in today. Serafetinidis writes on the Joy Birth site, “When we first started doing what we love…we are not consumed with time… we’re making the world a more beautiful place.”
Jason, Nina, and Dimitri, denizens of Psiri, are beautifully inked and styled.
Serafetinidis’ sentiment is shared by the crew. Jason shampooed my inadequate hair, twice, – once before, and once after the haircut. He massaged my petite head so well that I stopped talking – a feat. He then took time, lots of luxurious time, to give me a perfect hardboiled PI look, the only style I can sport.
“We run workshops as well” Jason says. “People come from abroad, from France, Italy and even U.S.”. The woody aroma of Pinaud Clubman lotion, that he rubbed in my shorn head, took me back to haircuts at the Greek caff with the old man in the 1960s.
I have betrayed by barber’s trust back in Melbourne, but it was only once, and it meant nothing. At least that’s what I’ll say.
Much of Prisi is now an Airbnb colony, full of bars, restaurants, and tourists – it is good to find something fresh 500 metres from the main tourist hub.