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An Insiders Guide to Gay & Lesbian Athens

Like the everything else in Greece, gay life in Athens can be confusing. After all, Athens is a melting pot that combines a West European walk of life with a distinctly eastern Mediterranean feel, so being gay here has a little of both.

Gay bars generally teem with people, especially at weekends, as more and more gay Greeks become less hung-up about their sexuality.

A lot of Greek gay males find it hard coming to terms with their sexuality; they disown being labelled gay and will rather call themselves bisexual, even though their physical intimacy with women more often than not rests purely on the theoretical. Some of the most homophobic remarks are to be found on the Greek gay internet profiles, where everyone is trying so hard to appear macho it borders on the surreal.

As a result, flirting in Greece can sometimes prove frustrating, and gay men may seem hostile or uninterested but this is merely an act. Youll be happy to know that most tend to be more open to foreigners than to fellow gay Greeks.

Surprising as it may sound, Greeks don't dance much (straight or gay). As a result, there are very few dance clubs. Don't expect to dance your arse off in Greece, or you'll be disappointed. Sizewise, most bars and clubs are on the small side, which is also true for most straight bars, too.

What time does the action start?

Its not uncommon for Greeks to go out to dinner around 10 pm, 11pm or even midnight, so nightlife starts late in Greece; hardly anyone goes out before 11pm or midnight, and clubs are practically empty until 1am. There are places, however, where people go for an early drink, see cafes.

How young is too young?

The age of consent in Greece is 17.

So, where do I meet the boys?

There are two main gay areas in the city: around the crossroads of Iera Odos and Konstantinoupoleos Street (the nascent gay village at Gazi, where all new gay businesses are setting shop), and in the area around the top of Syngrou Avenue near the Temple of Zeus, where some of the oldest gay Athenian bars are still going strong.

And what about the girls?

There are no hardcore, exclusive lesbian bars, but you'll often see lesbians in male-dominated bars and clubs. Girls who love girls tend to patronise Noiz and Myrovolos, which are par excellence the hottest lesbian haunts, as well as the restaurants Sappho, and, to a lesser degree, Petalo.

Cafes

Blue Train
Konstantinoupoleos 84, Gazi (www.bluetrain.gr). Kerameikos metro station. Open 8pm-4am daily.

The first gay cafe-bar that opened its windows to the world, at a time when most Greek gays were mortified of being seen anywhere gay. Nowadays, it's so popular it's hard finding a table by the railway lines. It's ideal for an early drink before making your way to one of the many clubs in the area. Ask bartender Stavros for the best Martini cocktail in town. Light snacks, and sweets also available.

Enidrio Internet Cafe
Syngrou 13 & Lembesi, Makrygianni (www.enydrio.gr). Akropoli metro station. Open 8pm-1am Mon-Thur; 24hrs Fri, Sat; 5.30pm-1am Sun.

This cafe stays open at all hours and is ideal for checking your emails or having a light snack, lunch, or drink. And as its very close to Lamda and Granazi, if you don't score, you can go there to hook up with someone through the internet.

S-cape Summer
Konstantinoupoleos 84, Gazi. Kerameikos metro station. Open 7pm-late daily, 4pm-late Sun in summer.

On the same gay drag as Blue Train, S-cape Summer is a kitchily gorgeous cafe-bar with seating by the railway where you can sit and watch the boys go by. If you get peckish, theres finger food available at this cafe that turns into a bar as the evening progresses.

Restaurants

Cookou Food
Themistokleous 66, Exarchia (210 3831955). 10 minutes walk from Omonia metro station. Open 1pm-1am Mon-Sat. Price range: about 15 euro per person.

Cookou Food is not strictly gay, but gay-friendly enough. It's also very convenient if you're downtown shopping or at the nearby Archaeological museum. It does Greek food with a twist, and is open for lunch as well.

Petalo
Xanthis 10 & L. Karayanni, Kypseli (210 8622000). 15 minutes walk from Victoria metro station. Open 8.30pm-late Tue-Sun. Closed June-Aug. Price range: about 13 euro per person.

The huge wine barrels and chequered tableclothes create a cozy ambience for you to enjoy the wide variety of mouthwatering traditional dishes at really good prices (around 13 per person). Undeniably the best gay-friendly Greek taverna, set just off the pedestrian area of Ayias Zonis Street in Kypseli. The owner makes his own fyllo pastry, so the cheese, meat or vegetable pies are to die for. For dessert dont miss the chocolate pie, or the quince, wild cherry, and grape preserves over ice-cream or yoghurt.

Prosopa
Konstantinoupoleos 84, Gazi (210 3413433). Kerameikos metro station. Open 8pm-2am daily. Price range: about 20 euro per person.

A fancier gay-friendly restaurant on the main drag of the gay village. You'll love its inventive Mediterranean dishes and cool ambience indoors or outside by the railway where you can feast on the delicious food and the men going by.

Sappho
Megalou Alexandrou 35 Gazi (210 5236447). Metaxourghio metro station. Open 12 pm-late daily. Price range: about 15 euro per person.

As the name implies this is a lesbian restaurant in all senses of the word: the owners are a lovely couple of women who also happen to be from Lesbos island, where they ran the famous Canteen in Eressos for many years. This great gay & lesbian restaurant has lots of scrumptious traditional Lesbian recipes, fresh fish, and really good prices, too. Great for lunch, too, as it's close to the metro station, and within walking distance (about 15 minutes) from Gazi through a very colourful neighbourhood of Athens.

Myrovolos
Yatrakou 12, Metaxoyrghio (210 522 8806). Metaxourghio metro station. Open 11 am-2 pm daily, food served from 4 pm daily, 1 pm Sat-Sun. Price range: about 20 euro per person.

Sprawling on an immense and vibrant piazza, Myrovolos is a cafe-cum-restaurant-cum-bar, where you can start your day with a late coffee, or lunch at the weekend. As night descends on Athens, the piazza fills with people. Myrovolos plays soft Greek music and is favoured not only by lesbians but gay men, too. In summer it opens at 11 am, so its one of the few gay spots in the city where you can get an earlyish coffee.

Bars & Clubs

Alecos Island
Sarri 41, Psyrri. Thissio Metro Station. Open 9.30pm-3am daily. 18:0 on Sundays

One of the oldest gay bars in Athens, Aleco's Island used to be located for years in posh Kolonaki but moved to the new hip theatre-land of Psyrri. Aleco's is perfect for an early drink as its one of the few bars to get going before midnight. The Happy Sundays Party, every Sunday at 6pm, is a must: 2 drinks or 3 beers and free homemade buffet only for 10! Every now and then Alekos exhibits his sui generis paintings, and you get to see some really interesting art work.

Big Bar
Falesias 12 & Iera Odos 67, Gazi (210 3474781 / www.bigbarathens.gr). Kerameikos metro station. Open 8.30pm-2am Tue-Sun.

Bears, cubs, and their fans choose Big Bar as their favourite haunt. Renowned for its easygoing ambience and cheap drinks, now and then it holds special events, such as a leather-party on the first Wednesday every month. Believe it or not, the local gay community holds weekly ballroom dance classes here in winter. Visit the website for more info on upcoming events.

Fou Club
Iera Odos & Keleou 8, Gazi (210 346 6800). Kerameikos metro station. Open 11.30pm-5am daily.

The first, and only, gay club in Athens to proudly fly the rainbow flag, Fou is Greek as Greek can be. Foreign dance hits climax into hot Greek songs as the night progresses. A very Greek experience, indeed! Tuesday is karaoke night, while on Saturday you'll see hot wet shows, and drag shows on Friday. All shows start at around 2am.

Granazi
Lembesi 20 & Kallirois, Makrygianni (210 9244185). Akropoli metro station. Open 9pm-4am daily.

A few metres away from Lamda, Granazi is a very laid-back and easygoing bar, playing mostly Greek music. It has the distinction of being the oldest gay bar in Athens, and you'll love its quaint charm and effusive owner, Yorgos. There are shows at the weekend, and the crowd is generally over thirty. A must-go during your stay in Athens. Renowned for its fancy-dress parties at carnival time (February-March).

Group Therapy Bar
Lepeniotou 11, Psyrri (210 3234977). Monastiraki or Thissio metro stations. Open 7pm-late Mon-Fri; noon-late Sat, Sun.

A darling little place that is friendly to gays, set in the maze of bars and clubs of Psyrri. Oftentimes, it hosts art exhibitions and special events.

Kazarma
Konstantinoupoleos 84, Gazi, 1st floor, (210 3460667). Kerameikos metro station. Open midnight-5am daily in summer, Wed-Sun in winter.

Its name means barracks in Russian and it's a great place to dance to the mixnmatch music. Popular with all ages, but favoured by a mostly younger crowd.

Kazarma Summer
Konstantinoupoleos 84, Gazi, 2nd floor, (210 3460667). Kerameikos metro station. Open 10.30 pm-late daily.

Upstairs from Blue Train and Kazarma, this rooftop bar with the soft lounge music is ideal to cool down on sultry Athenian nights. Live music on Sunday nights after 11.00pm.

Koukles
Zan Moreas 3, Koukaki. Syngrou-Fix metro station. Open 11pm-5am Wed-Sun.
The only bar in Athens for really good drag shows at weekends. This is the place where you'll fnd most of Athens transvestites and their admirers.

Lamda
Lembesi 15 & Syngrou 9, Makrygianni (210 9224202 / www.lamdaclub.gr). Akropoli metro station. Open 11pm-4am daily.

An Athens classic, particularly at weekends when it gets packed. There are two floors: upstairs you'll hear the latest Greek and foreign hits, while downstairs the music is more electronic and definitely cruisey, as this is where you'll find the only, rather too small, darkroom in town. Remember to b ring your own lube and condoms!

Mayo
Persefonis 33, Gazi (210 3423066). Kerameikos metro station. Open 8pm-5am daily.

A gay-friendly bar with a lovely inner courtyard and a great rooftop to spend warm summer nights, Mayo plays happy gay music, as well as all the latest hits.

Micraasia
Konstantinoupoleos 70, Gazi (210 3464851). Kerameikos metro station. Open 8pm-5am daily.

Sit back and relax on the plush sofas amidst the Middle- Eastern decor on the rooftop of this bar that has a distinctly ethnic feel. Sometimes there are art exhibitions and live ethnic music, too.

Moe
Keleou 1-5, Gazi. Kerameikos metro station. Open midnight-6am daily.

Moe is a small after bar - meaning things get going after 2am the earliest, climaxing at around 4am. The music is almost exclusively Greek.

Marrais
Keleou 8, Gazi. Kerameikos metro station. Open 8pm-3am daily.

The newest cafe-bar in town, Marrais opens earlyish for coffees, milkshakes and light snacks, and as the night progresses it turns into a bar, with mostly light Greek music.

Noiz
Konstantinoupoleos 70 & Evmolpidon 41, Gazi (210 3424771) Metro Kerameikos. Open 11pm-late daily.

Unlike other lesbian-oriented haunts, Noiz plays foreign music rather than the usual heavy Greek torch-songs. With very good service and great music, this is the club where girls wanna - and do - have fun. If you're wondering about what kind of women patronise Noiz, the ambience is very relaxed and you'll see the whole range - from femme to butch. Men are also welcome.

S-cape Army Academy
Megalou Alexandrou 139, Gazi (210 3452751). Metro Kerameikos. Open 11pm-late daily.

The biggest gay club in town, S-cape goes for a military look - camo decor and army-clad waiters. The music ranges from the latest Greek dance hits to foreign hits. Monday is Karaoke night, while on Thursdays youll be treated to mastiha liqueur shots for the Greek music night. There's also a semi-enclosed yard which is great for hanging out during the summer months.

Sodade
Triptolemou 10, Gazi (210 346 8657). Kerameikos metro station. Open 11pm-6am daily.

Undeniably Sodade is the most popular gay club in town and has been so for several years. At weekends it's packed to the rafters, meaning you have to have to squirm through a room full of hot men to get to the back stage, where the music is electronic as opposed to the latest dance hits that get everyone going in the front stage. In summer, the courtyard opens with huge sofas to lay back on and gaze at all the gorgeous men.

Taxidi
Zagreon 23, Gazi (6947031300). Kerameikos metro station. Open 10.30pm-late daily.

A gay-friendly bar on the southern end of the gay village, it sports a back courtyard where you can lounge to the mix-n-match music.

Bookshops

Colourful Planet
Antoniadou 6, Platia Victorias, (210 8826600 / www.colourfulplanet.com). Victoria metro station. Open 9am-8.30pm Mon-Fri; 9am-5pm Sat.

Colourful Planet is not only the first and only gay bookshop in Greece, but also a prolific publishing house that has already published over 20 gay-oriented titles in Greek. The friendly staff will help you browse through the largest collection of Greek gay literature, fiction and non-fiction. Calendars, gay foreign press, and knick-knacks are also available.

Saunas

10% recommends only the following two saunas. There are a couple of other saunas in Athens, but they are both frequented mostly by hustlers, and hygiene leaves a lot to be desired.

Alexander
Megalou Alexandrou 134 & Iera Odos, Gazi (mob. 6936 959134 / www.alexandersauna.gr). Kerameikos metro station. Open 5pm-1am Mon-Thur, nonstop from Sat 5pm to Tue 1am. Entrance 15.

Opened in February 2007, this new sauna has already become a favourite haunt for the Athens gay community, also because it has high standards in cleanliness. Though still not clear what the best times to go there are, it definitely gets very busy at the weekend. It has a spacious steam room, a roomy sauna, and a large jacuzzi, and it stays open non-stop at the weekend, allowing you to leave and come back within 24 hours with the same ticket. There re also price deals on offer, and several theme parties scheduled, so check their website.

Flex
Polyklitou 6, Monastiraki (210 3210539). Monastiraki metro station. Open 5pm-2am Thur-Sun. Entrance 15.

Conveniently located in downtown Athens and easily accessible by metro, it's a nice sauna with spacious lockers, a sauna, and gym facilities, but opening days and hours are not very practical, and, though very clean, the outdoor 2-person jacuzzi is unusable in summer.

Porn cinemas

One of the most traditional ways to cruise, porn cinemas are frequented not only by gays but by men who just have sex with men. Whether the film shown is gay or straight doesn't seem to be an issue.

Athinaikon
Kratinou 11, Platia Dimarchiou, Omonia (210 5243876). Omonia or Monastiraki metro stations. Open 8am-3am daily. Tickets 3.50.

Gay films are screened at the Athinaikon from 10pm to 3am every day.

Olympic
Filonos 88, Piraeus (2104294701 / www.olympic-cinema.com). Piraeus metro station, then a 10 minutes walk. Open 8am-3am daily. Tickets 3.50.

The only porn cinema in Piraeus.

Star
Agiou Konstantinou 10, Omonia (210 5225801 / www.star-cinema.gr). Omonia metro station. Open 8am-3am daily. Tickets 3.50.

A grand, rather decrepit cinema with neo-classical decor that is quite an experience. It gets very cruisey, particularly on the first and second balconies.

Beaches

Though not exactly a beach - there is not a single inch of sand or a tree in sight - Limanakia (Google map,   DriveMe.gr) is very popular with gay men and gets quite busy at the weekend. It's rocky slope from where you jump off directly into the clear blue water of the Saronic gulf. The good news is that the water is almost always clear there, as opposed to some of the organised beaches on the Athenian coast.

It gets very cruisey around sunset, and its not unusual to see some open-air action around dusk. Just make sure you have mosquito repellent (be careful which parts of your body you spray, as it tastes awful!) because mosquitos mean business.

To get there, take the express bus E22 from Akadimias, and get off at Limanakia (Stop: / Vita LIMANAKIA) - be careful there are several other Limanakia stops. You can also catch the tram to Glyfada and then hop on the E22 bus there ask the driver or another passenger to tell you when it reaches the stop you want.

Swimming trunks are optional, as a lot of the men prefer to swim in the nude (apart from those who want to show off their designer swimwear).