Ermis Café – Restaurant at the end of Ermou Street in Mytilene, Lesvos, is a coffee house with a history. Kyveli Spanoudaki-Laskari, the charming Mytilenean owner of the shop, told us the story:
“At the time of the exchange of populations in 1922, my grandfather, Yiorgos Spanoudakis, came here from Asia Minor and bought this café from a Turk. He renamed it Ermis, but altered it very little, serving coffee, ouzo and providing hookah pipes as before”, she said, showing us a board from the old times on which the ‘price-list of card games’ was written in Turkish and Greek,since until 1922 the clientele represented both nationalities.
“There were a lot of cafés in the market place, Mytilene’s Agora, each frequented by its particular crowd. The Panhellenion was the place for pensioners, city folk, doctors, lawyers, merchants, while the working class went to the Gkioubeka, professions like the carters, for example, because they loaded their wares in the Agora. Back then the Ermis opened at five in the morning to serve them their coffee, later you could get ouzo with mezedes and at lunchtime a bite of food”.
In 1997 Kyveli took over the management from her father, who had meanwhile leased it for a short time, only to find it in a dreadful state. She restored it as faithfully as she could, assisted by the vivid memories and experiences she had from her childhood years spent helping her father.
Today, Ermis Café – Restaurant (Café – Mezedopoleio) still serves morning coffee at the crack of dawn as always, but it has also turned into a first-class restaurant for both lunch and supper. There are lots of snacks, salted fish, seafood, cooked dishes and – my favourites – their courgette flowers, omelettes and spleen cooked in wine. A special atmosphere prevails, evoking the good old days with its furnishings, décor, mirrors and paintings, all in the style of the age and in exceptionally good taste. It isn’t by accident that the Ermis Café – Restaurant is a gastronomic favourite with visitors to Mytilene, amply rewarded by Kyveli.
(*) Ermis calls itself a café / mezedopoleio, a category which has no equivalent in English, but which means that in addition to being a café, it also serves a wide range of mezedes, Greece’s ‘little dishes’ or snacks from which you can make more than a full meal.