Football-mad it might be, but Athens keeps its sport-friendly bars well tucked away...
Surprise as it may be in a city as football-mad as Athens, but sports bars and football-friendly pubs are few and far between in the Greek capital. This situation is particularly acute in winter, when the beach haunts of seafront Glyfada hibernate or hunker down before the upcoming summer season. Down here, 30 minutes from Athens by metro or local train, Molly Malone’s operates year-round, large-screen TVs beaming top football action.
Back in Athens, such is the rush to jump into the Aegean, many bars close in summer, but not those in the lively quarter of Psyrri just off the main street of Ermou – although you won’t find much sport there. Across Ermou, Athens’ historic quarter in the shadow of the Acropolis is where the city’s long-established expat pub, James Joyce, puts the focus on football.
The other side of the Acropolis, the Athens Sports Bar is the only one of its kind in town, attached to a youth hostel which provides much of its clientele. Reasonably nearby, alongside Keramikos metro station, The Lucky Sparrow spotlights music and craft beer but still shows sport when it matters.
Mention should be made of the cosy Wee Dram, a climb up from Panormou metro station, the Sporaki Seed Rock Irish Pub, between Evangelismos metro station and original 1896 Olympic Stadium, and the Red Lion round the corner.
ATHENS SPORTS BAR
The only one of its kind in the city, this is effectively a hostel bar with a row of TV screens beaming sports action from 4pm weekdays, 10am Fridays and weekends. This makes it sound like a huge hostelry of hedonism, which it’s not – it’s tiny and easily filled, a facing row of framed shirts from Aussie rules teams hinting at the ownership.
Screens also bookend each of two parallel terraces aligning the establishment, set between the Pulp craft-beer pub and a launderette popular with backpackers, a five-minute stroll from Acropolis metro station. Burgers are best devoured at one of the comfortable tables outside, beer-glugging and game-gawping at the long bar counter lined with taps of Mythos, Carlsberg, Guinness and Kopparberg cider, also available by the communal jug.
More often than not, your barman will be seen-it-all Dimitri, whose burly appearance suits his trade but whose demeanour is convivially friendly once you break the ice.
Athens Sports Bar, Veikkou 3A, 117 42 Athens. Metro Acropoli.
JAMES JOYCE PUB
The prime expat pub in downtown Athens, the James Joyce has been in business since 2007, before the charmingly shabby streets and flea market around it were gentrified. Now surrounded by fine dining and tourist-friendly boutiques, its ever-busy terrace still overlooks Stoa Poikile, where philosophers and entertainers convened 2,000 years ago. Beyond beckons the Acropolis.
Walk inside, and it doesn’t feel a million miles away from Ireland thanks to Irish management, and a long bar counter constantly abuzz with chatter, whiskeys lining the back bar. OK, you won’t probably find draught Mythos in Dublin, but the Guinness is well looked after here and the house beer should keep any visit affordable.
The pub grub – lamb shank, traditional steak & Guinness pie, steak sandwiches – certainly won’t disappoint, but the James Joyce stands out most of all for its award-winning dedication to sport. When the match is on, particularly Celtic, the whole bar is focused on the screen set up near the front door.
Other Athens pubs put sought-after beers, live music, even darts, first. Not so this friendly hostelry, an enjoyable stroll from the city’s main bar vortex in Psyrri.
James Joyce Pub, Astiggos 12, 105 55 Athens. Metro Monastiraki or Thêseio.
the lucky sparrow
Exiting Keramikos metro station, you’re only a couple of minutes from this late-opening, expat-friendly hangout, whose raison d’être is the ever-changing selection of beers it serves. It’s not a craft-beer bar as such, as The Lucky Sparrow also dabbles in DJ sounds, tending towards rock and post-punk, as well as priding itself on its gargantuan burgers.
Where does football fit in with all this? Well, not prominently, it must be said, and in any other city it would be a real stretch to include it in a selection such as this one – but, come a major game, it should be beaming the action, its links with the local Noctua Brewery meaning it attracts a higher percentage of Greek drinkers than other foreigner-focused pubs in town. Closed Mondays.
The Lucky Sparrow, Triptolemou 44, 118 54 Athens. Metro Keramikos.
SPORAKI SEED ROCK IRISH PUB
This temple to 1970s’ Irish rock God Rory Gallagher sits in a tangle of streets between Evangelismos metro station and the original 1896 Olympic Stadium. Unsurprisingly, music drives the agenda here, as well as bonhomie in a lived-in pub filled with Irish paraphernalia. It’s evenings only, from 8pm six days of the week, 7pm on Sundays, so it’s not the kind of place where you can drop in to see the Premier League game of a Sunday afternoon. Major finals and tournaments should be screened here, all the same.
The darts fraternity also convene here, that is when they’re not gathering at the nearby Red Lion at Niriidon 16. Athens’ oldest pub, in business since Puskás led out his Panathinaikos team at Wembley in 1971, once attracted many a celeb from the landmark Hilton Hotel round the corner, including Frank Sinatra in 1972. With its closure for major renovations in 2022, older regulars still keep the place going, the venerable Pandelis pouring pints just as he mixed Martinis for old blue eyes half a century ago.
Back at the Sporaki, a younger clientele can choose between Guiness, Mythos, Fix, Grimbergen, Carlsberg and the sought-after Kaizer on draught, maybe share a pizza, too. Opening hours are late, 4am Saturdays, 3am the rest of the week.
Sporaki Seed Rock Irish Pub, Archelaou 11, 116 35 Athens. Metro Evangelismos.
the wee dram
Ross offers visitors a warm Edinburgh welcome as they make the short but steep trek up from Panormou metro station to this evening-only pub tucked away on a quiet street corner. Camaraderie has attracted many of the regulars here over the last decade or so, that and the authentic feel to a rare proper pub in the Greek capital.
Liverpool fans gather here in droves, whisky lovers are spoiled for choice, as the pub name suggests, while darts players can find a game most nights. Brewdog Punk IPA stands out among the fine range of draught beers, though check out the guest ale from Scotland, and expect a few surprises among the bottled options. Those who prefer lager with their football can go for Nymfi from Thessaloniki or standard Alfa. Food centres around burgers and pizzas. Closed Mondays.
The Wee Dram, Konopisopoulou 23, 115 24 Athens. Metro Panormou.