Amidst streets named after the heroes of the Greek Revolution of 1821, and parallel to the heavily overburdened Harilaou Trikoupi and Ippokratous Streets, Mavromichali Street in Neapoli district is a quiet road greatly appreciated by walking aficionados. Taverna Peinaleon sits where Mavromichali meets Voularoktonou Street.
This emblematic taverna of Athens is one of the most representative examples of “neo-tavernas” dating back to the first period of the political transition from military dictatorship to democracy in Greece, which has managed to survive until nowadays. Its owner is Makarios Avdeliodis, brother of film director Dimos Avdeliodis who produced inter alia the well-known film “The tree that we used to hurt”.
Antonis Fitsiadis and Kleo, journalist at Avgi newspaper, a pro-left daily, opened this taverna back in 1975.
“The taverna soon became the favourite haunt of left-wing adherents. At the end of the 70s, I became a business partner and our collaboration ended in 1981. Then, I decided to run the taverna myself. We started out for fun, for the pure joy of working together, -besides this is how most things were done at the time- and we ended up owning a taverna. Taverna owners with a degree, isn’t that funny? In 1988, I bought this house that I used to repair little by little every summer. The two small rooms in the attic were always occupied by young men and women members of left-wing organizations; Knites (pl. for Knitis, nickname for the young people, members of the Communist Youth of Greece, called KNE in Greek) would gather in the room above the kitchen and Rigades (pl. for Rigas, nickname for the members of the Greek Communist Youth Organization “Rigas Ferraios”) in the other room. Yelling, singing, chanting, disputing was a daily ritual! As I was cooking in the kitchen, the wooden floor above me would shake. One day, while I was cooking pork stew with oregano, I said to myself: well, I’ve had enough! It’s not the best thing in the world to have 15 Knites fall on your head! So, I turned the floor upstairs into a house and this is where I’ve having been living ever since”.
Peinaleon’s signature dishes are still being served nowadays: giant beans baked in tomato sauce, the savory yellow split pea purée (fava), beef stew in tomato sauce, braised lamp in lemon sauce. Makarios comes from the island of Chios, so the menu also includes a few more elaborate dishes, such as pork stew with mastic and fennel, chicken with mastic and tahini, pork pancetta baked with thyme and honey.
Makarios Avdeliodis and I have known each other for over 40 years; I’ve spent my entire youth here. I can still remember the famous Opistodromiki Compania here. This famous rebetiko band, that appeared for the first time during the post-authoritarian period in Greece, used to sit every time on the same table at the corner of the hall. Playing from taverna to taverna, the band would always call it a night here, at Peinaleon, where they would also nibble on a meze.
Peinaleon is currently a youth haunt where rebetiko and jazz music are equally warmly welcomed. However, when old friends -parents by now- come here to eat with their children, my heart just melts!