In Lesvos, the traditional coffee shops are full of life. Spacious, colorful, with wooden floors and large windows, often decorated with paintings from local artists. The ideal location to enjoy hor’dourves for ouzo or a coffee made on the coals accompanied by local sweets. Authentic, real, warm and welcoming, the ‘Cafeneios’ of Greece are becoming rare in number and reflect another era that is slowly dying away. However, in Lesvos you can still find a “Cafeneio” everywhere, waiting for you to enter.
Most “Cafeneios” can be found on the main road leading to the market (agora) of each settlement. Some may still even house small grocery stores whereas in the past, many even had a barbershop as well. In the cafes you will exclusively find men who go to the “Cafeneio” on a daily basis as if part of their daily ritual, either just for fun or to do business. The presence of women in the “Cafeneio” was rare, apart from special occasions when festivals or weddings were held there.
You would expect things to have changed by now. And, yet, even though women are now welcome in the “Cafeneios”, you will not see them sitting there on their own so easily. You will see new faces though. And when you open the door, the smell of wood stoves, which are almost always located in the middle of the “Cafeneio” where the “mangalotrapezo” (heating stove) – once used to be, will fill your senses. On the opposite end you will find a wooden buffet- the “teziaki”, a wooden partition full of shelves decorated with bottles- a distinctive image which has been a source of inspiration for many photos. It is here where the orders are prepared and served upon the well-known tin tray. Up until the early 20th century, each table had a “Magkala”, – (brazier) a container holding burning coal for the narghile (shisha), a pipe used for smoking flavored tobacco. The older “Cafeneios” had a small wooden loft for the musicians. Nowadays, when there is a merry atmosphere, the entire “Cafeneio” turns into lively and festive stage.
So, while on your way you come across a traditional coffee shop, go in! These are the places that allow us to live everyday life as simply as possible, with coffee and peace and quiet in the morning and raki and feasts at night. In the morning you will see everyone drinking coffee alone at separate tables, whereas in the evening heated discussions and raki bring everyone into one great big company. Enter, and when you come out, you will be all the wiser for it.
Photo: Konstantinos Stamatellis