Drinking & Nightlife
When the sun goes down and the streets cool off, Greece wakes up. Older folks sit late into the night at coffee houses with a shot or two of ouzo while younger generations linger at sidewalk cafes sipping cocktails, and fill trendy clubs. Drinking is social in Greece and public drunkenness isn't cool. Heavily touristed towns and cities have bars with drink specials but they mostly draw foreigners.
While there is coffee strong enough to stand a spoon in and ouzo that will knock you flat, thankfully Greece also has plenty of tamer options for quenching your thirst.
The ubiquitous kafeneio (coffee house) is a time-honoured tradition, with older Greeks stationed over a cup of coffee, intensely debating local politics, football or gossip. They're often small and unchanged for generations, and it's well worth visiting at least one. The trendy cafes serving delicious iced coffees (frappé) are the modern answer to the kafeneia and are usually packed with a younger crowd.
Greek coffee is traditionally brewed in a briki (narrow-top pot), on a hot-sand apparatus called a hovoli, and served in a small cup. Order a metrio (medium, with one sugar) and sip slowly until you reach the mud-like grounds (don't drink them).
Ouzo & Other Spirits
Ouzo – Greece's famous liquor – has come to embody a way of eating and socialising, enjoyed with mezedhes (small plates) during lazy, extended summer afternoons. Sipped slowly and ritually to cleanse the palate between dishes, ouzo is usually served in small bottles or karafakia (carafes) with a bowl of ice cubes to dilute it (turning it a cloudy white).
Ouzo is made from distilled grapes with residuals from fruit, grains and potatoes, and flavoured with spices, primarily aniseed, giving it that liquorice flavour. The best ouzo is produced on Lesvos.
Tsipouro is a distilled spirit, similar to grappa, that is produced only in Greece. It's made using the leftover must from pressing wine and is usually enjoyed as an aperitif. Tsikoudia, also known as raki, is essentially the Cretian version of tsipouro.
If all of the above are too harsh a shot of alcohol for your tastes, you may well prefer the sweet sweet liqueur mastika, made with mastica resin grown on Chios. It's an excellent digestive.
Greece's wine industry benefits from some age-old indigenous varietals with unique character. The contemporary generation of winemakers are producing great, award-winning wines from Greece's premier wine regions, including Nemea in the Peloponnese, the vineyards of Santorini, the Iraklio Wine Country on Crete and Naoussa in the Cyclades.
Greek white varieties include moschofilero, asyrtiko, athiri, roditis, robola and savatiano; the popular reds include xinomavro, agiorgitiko and kotsifali.
House or barrel wine varies dramatically in quality (white is the safer bet), and is ordered by the kilo/carafe or glass.
Greek dessert wines include excellent muscats from Samos, Limnos and Rhodes, Santorini's Vinsanto, Mavrodafni wine (often used in cooking) and Monemvasia's Malmsey sweet wine.
Retsina, white wine flavoured with the resin of pine trees, became popular in the 1960s and retains a largely folkloric significance with foreigners. It's something of an acquired taste but some winemakers make a modern version. It’s popular in Thessaloniki (where the main brand, Malamatina, is made) and it goes great with salty mezedhes (share plates) and seafood.