Greek Bouzoukia, the bouzoukia music clubs in Greece and Greek nightlife
You have probably heard of the famous Greek nightlife, the Greek bouzoukia, nightclubs with laika music where Greeks are partying all night long.
The term bouzoukia comes from the name of the famous Greek instrument, the bouzouki. Since these nightclubs base their music playlist on laika songs, rebetika and all genres played with bouzouki, they took their name from the music instrument.
If there is one thing Greek people pride themselves on, it’s their ability to have a good time. Entertainment in Greece is combined mainly with going out at night, and particularly for the Athenians, nightlife is sacred. They are fond of comparing their city’s night scene with New York, Paris or Amsterdam and they believe that it surpasses them – although the type of entertainment is much different.
This is what every resident of the city thinks and it is, actually, a fact! Nightlife in Athens gets going after midnight and keeps going until dawn. It is a quite interesting fact to mention that some years back, a governmental law tried to impose stricter closing times to nightclubs (closing at 3 am) to boost the country’s productivity, but the a virtual rebellion put a stop to that and Athenians could keep on partying happily all hours.
Another unique phenomenon of Athens nightlife – that could even make this city the subject of a sociological survey – is the number of nightlife venues you’ll find. It’s certain that there is no other place in the world with so many cafes, bars, theatres, restaurants, discos and clubs in such a small area, in many cases one next to the other! But if we had to make a distinction between the venues that the people of Athens choose for their entertainment, or if we had to name the queen of the Athens nights, it wouldn’t be hard: bouzoukia!
This is where the majority of the Athenians enjoy most going. At bouzoukia Athenians spend more money than anywhere else and at bouzoukia you will find customers from different social backgrounds mingling and celebrating together. To sum it up, at bouzoukia one can intensively feel a fatalistic Balkan sensibility: that destruction and death may well come tomorrow, so it’s best to live it up to the dizzying heights of tonight.
Bouzoukia is maybe the best place to see and understand a bit of modern Greece and Athens nightlife. For all those who have not been to Greece before its not advisable to go to bouzoukia without being accompanied by a friend living in Athens. This will guarantee you having more fun and understanding better the way of entertainment at these nightclubs.
As far as the costs are concerned, if you book a table at the bouzoukia, you will pay at least 50 euros per person.
Bouzoukia categories in Greece
In modern Athens, bouzoukia fall into different a couple of different categories. Opening an Athens nightlife magazine, you will find the bouzoukia-nightclubs into different categories, according to the style of the venue and its performers. The variety of choice is inexhaustible and results to an artistic package that is hard to beat.
Though all favor fancy stage shoes, vast consumption of alcohol, liberal spending and thoroughly decked-out performers and clientèle, some play a high quality of more traditional Greek music, with old school singers and laiko & entehno Greek music.
Yiannis Kotsiras, Mihalis Hatzigiannis, Alkistis Protopsalti and Dimitris Mitropanos are some of the famous Greek singers that offer quality shows and music, although they have also accepted being part of bouzoukia nightclubs.
Another branch of bouzoukia – maybe the most popular one – is heavily mixed with Western commercial pop. These performances tend to favor laser-light spectacles and catchy tunes. The kings and queens of this scene are just as likely to perform in tight leather pants and bustier as in sparkling evening gowns. Ruling singers of this type of Greek Music are Sakis Rouvas and Georgos Mazonakis and the divas Anna Vissi, Despina Vandi and Helena Paparizou.
The lowest form of bouzoukia is called “skyladika“, literally, “dog houses”. These are the places where the level of tackiness and ostentation is high, and the quality of music low. (fascinating places for a cultural anthropologist) Usually skyladika attract lower class of customers. The selection of the women performers at skyladika is usually based on their good-look and not their voice. It is believed among Greeks that the worst voice a singer has, the less clothes she tends to wear.
Myths and Reality at Greek Bouzoukia Clubs
The Greek bouzoukia are an “institution” surrounded by many myths and inaccuracies. Let’s see some of them.
- Smashing Plates at bouzoukia: Despite the popular perception, there is not much plate smashing to be had in Greece these days. Throwing plates at the performer’s feet was a popular practice until the 70’s. This custom, that has provoked many injuries, was forbidden by law. But Greeks soon found another, more “peaceful” manner to express their joy at bouzoukia; throwing carnations that are sold inside the bouzoukia-nightclubs.
- Ordering Songs at bouzoukia: 30 years ago any guest could ask the musicians at bouzoukia to play one of their favourite songs. Most of the times this special order would be accompanied with some money, for the special treatment. A traditional gesture was to approach the main bouzouki player, take in hand one banknote, spit on it and stick it on his forehead.
It might sound disgusting, but this is not the reason guests cannot order songs today. Bouzoukia tend to have a fixed program that the performers follow. The western pop music industry has influenced bouzoukia, too, and the performances of some Greek stars have evolved into shows, with dancers & ballets, special effects.
- Fights at bouzoukia: Another popular belief related with bouzoukia are the fights. Though it used to happen in the past, men in Greece do not fight anymore within bouzoukia premises. In 1973, during the dictatorship era in Greece, Nikos Koemtzis ordered a zeibekiko at bouzoukia.
Zeibekiko is a dance designed to be performed by one person only. Some people interfered during his performance by dancing simultaneously. This insult led Koemtzis to stabbing eight persons, three of which died. He was sentenced for life and granted grace in 1996.
Koemtzis’ order at bouzoukia became a front page story and few years later, in 1980, a movie
Read more: Surviving bouzoukia in Greece (coming soon…)