The Panhellenion is one of the historic traditional cafés of Mytilene. It opened at the beginning of the last century like the Crystal next door (now closed), at a time when the life of the town centered around the grand church of Agios Therapontas. For decades the Panhellenion was the most frequented spot in town, as it was also a casino for many years.
Known for its luxury, it possessed floor-length mirrors, hat boxes (for top hats), leather sofas, as well as two French billiard tables.
Initially only the town’s aristocrats patronized the Panhellenion, but later it was divided into two sections, one for the smart crowd and the other for the working class, in two spaces on two levels.
With the passing years, the Panhellenion, together with its patrons, grew old. Shortly before closing down in the mid 90s, it was merely a simple popular café distinguished by traces of its former décor. Around that time the Ministry of the Aegean ruled that the interior be listed as worthy of preservation and that it should continue to function as a coffee shop, because it represented a valuable living memory of the history and local colour of Mytilene in the old days. It stayed closed for ten years and reopened in the late 00s. Although it no longer has much appeal for the older generation, as it falls somewhere between a cafeteria, or a bistro, its supporters maintain that it has given the city new life.
I was impressed, not only by the beautiful décor evoking old-fashioned elegance (blown-up photographs of the good old days in Mytilene on the walls, comfortable leather-upholstered Viennese chairs, attractively painted false ceilings and crystal chandeliers), but I was mainly struck by the diversity of the clientele, which to my mind is its true charm. Some sat alone, enjoying their solitude, but I also saw pensioners playing backgammon and chatting, middle-aged matrons taking tea, young girls greeting one another as they sipped cappuccinos, foreigners looking on, while others were enjoying the pastries and snacks (the cheese pie with mint I tasted was delicious), and of course there were the ubiquitous young people surfing the Net. I felt this was a place with something for every generation, which I liked very much.