There are two types of bouzoukia, or pistes, which literally means ‘stages’. First there are the big ones. Think of them as a cross between an indoor concert and a club. You’ll find these venues around Iera Odos in the Gazi neighbourhood and Syngrou Avenue during the winter, and on Posidonos Avenue, which runs along the city’s southern coastline, in the summer. This is where you get to see the biggest stars of the Greek popular music scene: Sakis Rouvas, Anna Vissi, Antonis Remos, Despina Vandi, Giorgos Mazonakis, Paola, and so on. You’ll notice giant posters of these singers stuck onto lamp posts and billboards all over Athens. Acro, Athens Arena, Hotel Ermou, Fever, Iera Odos and Kentro Athinon are the hottest venues for the big names. In the summer, when the bouzoukia scene moves to the seaside, it’s hard to say until the season starts where the big names will be performing. But once you’re here, it won’t be hard to find out.
Then there are the smaller, borderline cult stages, that we call skyladika, which literally means “where the dogs hang out.” There’s an interesting backstory here. Skyloudes, which translates to “female dogs”, was the slang name given to sex workers who walked the streets without the protection of a brothel or a pimp. As time went by, this word was used for the female singers at these marginal venues, then it came to include the patrons, and eventually the whole scene. Think of these as the B-list versions of the glamourous bouzoukia, where the singers, musicians and booze are second-class, where the flowers could have been stolen from a nearby cemetery, and where many of the customers are dodgy characters of the night.