By Sean Mathews
In the Athenian neighborhood of Pangrati it is five minutes to midnight — the official closing time of bars and restaurants per the Greek government’s Covid measures. But while the tavernas and bistros are busy folding chairs and giving the lingering customers their receipts, the night is just starting at adjacent Varnava Square.
Young people and neighbors are lined up at the local kiosk to buy beer while others stroll in from side streets with their tsipouro and ouzo. “What do they expect?” twenty-one-year old Pangrati resident Maria asked Greek Reporter. “They close all the bars and people need to get out. At least here we are outside.”
Gatherings such as these are a common feature throughout Southern Europe, especially for younger people who enjoy the sociability without having to pay for drinks at bars and clubs.
The midnight closure of all cafés and bars seems to have led to more people frequenting public spots in Athens as a way to stay out past midnight.
The owner of the Varnava Square Pavilion in Pangrati, who didn’t want to share his name, spoke with Greek Reporter on Thursday night as people queued in line at his kiosk. “There are so many people lining up after midnight to buy things we decided to close around quarter to one. It is too crowded and lots of people gather, bringing their own drinks,” he says.
In Spain, one of Europe’s worst-hit coronavirus countries, the practice, called “Botellón,” has been banned, and according to news agency Reuters, young people in the region of Catalonia can face fines of up to 15,000 euros for taking part in such activities.
Recently the Greek government has begun to crack down on such overcrowding as well. Thirteen fines were handed out for overcrowding in Varvana Square on Tuesday.
Yet, Thursday night when Greek Reporter visited the square in Pangrati, any talk of a crackdown seemed far from the minds of young people gathering there to meet friends and sip their beers.
An Athens’ police squad car circled the square, its siren going and lights flashing, while a voice on the loudspeaker warned gatherers about the limit of more than nine people congregating in a space.
Konstantinos and Vaso, two 24-year-old students, were among those out for the night who were not intimidated by the police presence.
“I am totally against them trying to break this up,” Konstantinos, a Kifisia native, told Greek Reporter. “It’s only 12:30. I don’t know where they expect people to go out if you can’t go to a square. I don’t believe they should be telling people to leave like that, and no one will,” he added.
Vaso said that this is one of the first times she has been out past midnight due to the Covid lockdown. “Young people, even our age, don’t want to go out anymore. I have friends who will not go to cafés or bars at night because they don’t want to pass the virus onto their parents or grandparents. I think everyone here has decided to go out and should be allowed to make their decision. If they were worried about passing on the virus to family they are already staying home.”
As we spoke with the pair, the patrol car returned. A few groups casually shifted to the opposite side of the street, drinks in hand, while others took out their phones to film the car. Soon it drove away and groups milled back to the center of the square.
The Varvana Kiosk owner said the space has become less crowded since the last police visit, but many people are still undeterred and feel fine about going out and congregating together.
“They (the police) came and talked with us about the virus last week and said no big gatherings. Maybe some people will not come now because they visit the square, but I don’t think they will shut it down,” he added.
It was well past 1 AM when Greek Reporter left the site. The police had gone and the youngsters who decided to brave the crackdown seemed at ease enjoying their drinks with friends, relaxing after midnight — bars or no bars.