Athens, Part 1: Noel
This is the first review in a two-part series of Kate’s night drinking alone in Athens
By Kate Shelton, Guest Writer
After a month of company managing in the mountains of Greece, I find myself in Athens with a fractured ankle and a few days to kill, but can barely finish making myself breakfast in the mornings before I need a nap. I’m not exactly at the top of my game in a city where going out is taken very seriously - so seriously, in fact, that when my luggage got lost this summer an older Greek woman expressed concern that I wouldn’t have an outfit for “the club” that night. #priorities
However, the one night I do feel up for hitting the town, I head to Kolokotroni Street where all the coolest bars seem to be. With my clunky walking cast and Barbie-pink crutch, it's going to be impossible to inconspicuously slink in to some hole in the wall club, so I decide on two eccentrically themed bars where I doubt my entrance will turn many heads.
Noel, Kolokotroni 59B, Athina 105 62, Greece
The Place: Like anyone who has accidentally gotten trapped in the middle of New York’s infamous Santa-Con, I loathe the idea of a holiday bar no matter how highly recommended it is on ThirstyMag. But I passed Noel one night and a giant pair of eyes, shaded by a distinctive unibrow, caught my gaze through the open front window. I decided I might need to reconsider my initial judgments over a drink later this week.
The Time: I return to Noel at 9pm on Tuesday August 28th. It seems busy without being too crowded. Tables outside blend together between the bar, a hookah lounge and a café that all share the same slice of sidewalk, with servers from all three squeezing to navigate their tables. But I’m determined to give it a shot.
The Vibe: Imagine the climax of the 1969 classic "Frosty the Snowman," where Frosty and his human friend magically step out of the icy North Pole into a tropical, poinsettia-filled greenhouse and are saved by Santa Claus himself. This deus ex machina* is the closest I can get to describing the effect of leaving the suffocating heat of the Athens sidewalk for this vibrant, breezy, yuletide bar. The permanent décor of gilded lamps, crystal chandeliers and replica Renaissance paintings are straight out of an episode of The Crown — but these are all covered in overly lush silk vines, flowers, butterflies and twinkling white lights. Commanding over all is the massive, pop art foam cutout of Frida Kahlo that had lured me inside. The decorations have marvelously turned Christmas magic into a Midsummer fairytale. The main bar is full, so a server seats me against a floral wall, alone with Her Majesty Frida.
The Bartender: The bartender is straight out of Williamsburg with his full red beard and long ponytail, neatly tied down his back with a leather cord (!). There's a DJ, set up behind an adjacent bar, playing songs that have everyone swaying in their seats: think a big band “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” club inside this small, opulent room. Unfortunately I don't catch any names; although it isn't particularly cramped, the bartender, DJ and waitstaff are attentive to the small crowd here and don't seem to stand in one place for very long.
The Drank: The drinks are all named after crooner icons, so you can choose your drink based on its namesake, its base liquor, or you can be like me and order the Carnival Balloon, after Tom Jones, because in addition to tequila, mezcal, lime, orgeat, pineapple, cardamom and bitters, it also features "forbidden liquid.” I literally can't resist. As expected, the drink is SWEET (maybe a little too sweet for me) but no more so than you would expect to find at this intersection of Mexico and the Mediterranean. I raise my glass to Frida, sip my 13€ cocktail slowly and shimmey in my chair to Willie Bobo.
Was I Hit On?: Not in the slightest. I briefly chat with one of the servers when I "accidentally wander" into the adjoining, even more glamorous bar. This place is huge and the forbidden liquid has made me bold enough to snoop around. The additional bar is closed tonight, but the server encourages me to return on a busier evening when both bars are flowing.
Should You Drink Here Alone?: Noel is a bar for nights when you want to hang out in a great vibe by yourself. Like most Grecian restaurants you’re not going to see many singles at the bar reading a book, but no one seems bothered that I'm sitting in a corner alone. The servers take great care of me with ice water refills and a dish of popcorn, but otherwise I'm left alone to enjoy the music and atmosphere, do some writing, and work on my phone for about 2 hours.
PART 2 COMING SOON…
*nerdy but necessary note: deus ex machina is actually a Greek theatrical device, ἀπὸ μηχανῆς θεός, or "god from the machine.”
Kate Shelton is a freelance stage manager based in NYC. She’s also that friend with zero chill who passes out itineraries on vacation and packs a purse for any scenario (someday someone will need that travel-size lint roller!).