Kypseli is exploding. It’s the new “cool” neighborhood, thanks to the influx of creatives who own cutting-edge restaurants, clothing brands, and art galleries. It seems as though every few days, a new cafe, bar, record store or plant shop opens, and increasingly, Athenians young and old are looking to snap up any available apartments even as prices start to rise in tandem with the growing “it” factor.
The neighborhood, whose name means “beehive” in Greek, was considered the countryside before 1834, but when Athens became the country’s capital, the area slowly urbanized, especially after the neighborhood’s main pedestrian street, Fokionos Negri, was built over a stream. But after World War II, as Greeks flooded into the city, construction in the area ramped up to accommodate interested buyers, and today, Kypseli remains a densely populated area – supposedly one of the most populated in all of Europe. And thanks to influxes of immigrants from Africa and Middle Eastern countries at various points in its history, the neighborhood is also one of the city’s most diverse.
There are other reasons Kypseli stands out, though. The first, and most obvious to a visitor, is the impressive mix of architectural styles you’ll find as you move around. Gorgeous (although often dilapidated) neoclassical mansions, impressive Bauhaus designs, mid-century modernism: you’ll find all of these elements wedged next to each other in surprising places everywhere you look.
And that’s what might initially draw you in to Geitonia. This small, family-run restaurant sits on one of Kypseli’s main arterial streets, on a block that is a bit oddly shaped. Surrounded on almost all sides by concrete apartment buildings, its storefront is made up of windows that nearly extend from floor to ceiling, and a chalkboard outside announces the specials of the day. According to Danai Panagiotidis, who runs Geitonia with her sister, Maria, the building was built back in 1927, when it was a kafeneio (traditionally, an all-day venue serving coffee, booze and mezes). “A lot of people that visit our place today, mostly elderly, still remember it as it was before and how they used to hang around in the kafenio,” she says. “The building was also used as a voting center during the elections, so it has always been a meeting place for the local community.”
Geitonia – “Neighborhood” in Greek – has been running for just over 30 years now. Danae’s parents started the business back in 1992, motivated by a mutual passion. “Their endeavor started because they both really love food; there was nothing like it in the area of Kypseli at the time,” Danae says. And now, Danae and Maria run it together, a decision they made during the pandemic, which Danae describes as a “critical and transitional phase for our family.” She explains, “It was important to take a big step regarding the business.” But today, her parents are still there and still working, greeting patrons as they come in, answering phones, and organizing orders.
If you’re someone who checks places out on Instagram before dining, you might also be drawn in by Geitonia’s visual style, one that is certainly not common to Greek restaurants and is particularly exciting coming from a restaurant specializing in home-style cooking. The photos shared to the restaurant’s account are almost ethereal, with dishes basking in the lightly-filtered light that electrifies this space during the day.
This, of course, is intentional. Danae is a trained photographer who is currently finishing her master’s degree at photographic research and methodology at the University of West Attica – some of her work even hangs on the walls of the restaurant, amid black-and-white photos showing Kypseli as it was – and she is acutely aware of the importance of aesthetics. “Our style is a combination of the traditional and the contemporary, highlighting the classic elements of traditional Greek cuisine with a fresh look,” she explains. And it’s clear that she has thought about it a lot – she will quickly point you to the best tables for photos. But Instagram is more than a visual platform for Geitonia. As Danae puts it, “We seek to reach a new and wider audience and also to strengthen our connection with the community.”
This connection to the community is part of Danae’s greater vision for Geitonia, which has already started to manifest: “One of our goals is to open our space to new ideas about food and the community, and we have started to host events and pop-up dinners,” she says. Kypseli even factors into their menu, as they try to shop mainly from local markets and area stores.
Their love for the local means that the menu is highly seasonal, and it’s updated daily (you can find it posted to their Instagram stories, or online in English). It’s stacked with home-cooked dishes that many Greeks grew up with: classic pastichio, vegetables stuffed with deliciously herby rice (also known as gemista), meatballs, an assortment of soups and stews, and a really excellent spinach pie. The vegetarian dishes are particularly worth trying, even if you’re a carnivore; chickpea soup, giant beans in tomato sauce (called gigantes), and green pea, tomato, and potato stew are all perfectly filling options.
Geitonia offers delivery and take-away services, but if you have the time, grab a table by the window. Watch regulars who remember the kafeneio days rub shoulders with tourists as the neighborhood convenes at the Neighborhood.
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Published on May 23, 2023