“Life in Eleusis is monotonous; only in the evening does our little town comes to life as it wakes up from its lethargy. When the sun rises it meets … but a few boaters who return to port tired from fishing all night and go straight to their homes to sleep … when the sun disappears behind the pine-clad slopes of Mount Trikeri, things start stirring in Eleusis and the paved road fills with people. Among them we can see young women dressed in white; they hold tennis rackets and are accompanied by gentlemen who escort them to the tennis court. The quay receives its first visitors … they take their seats at the coffeehouse of Paschalis, located almost in the sea, and participate in various games, until at long last the clock strikes one and they return home, at which point life in Eleusis comes to an end for the day.” Thus does the correspondent of the newspaper Empros describe life in Eleusis in August 1928, inadvertently identifying the most important landmarks in the coastal zone of the city.
The beautiful beach
The beach was one of the most important attractions of this otherwise industrial city. From the “Titan” cement plant to the small harbour (where even today fishing boats still dock), the waves gently washed the crystal clear sand, while the sea itself was shallow to a distance of forty meters from the coastline. The “attractive ladies” of Eleusis went there to swim, although they often had to face little rascals who refused to leave them alone.
The mild climate and the beauty of the beach attracted many Athenians, who came here by boat from Piraeus and Megara. The morning arrival (and departure) of the boats, shortly after the return of the fishermen, was marked by a real pandemonium as the captains blew the whistles and the deck hands yelled at the top of their lungs. Many visitors came to Eleusis specifically to enjoy the delicious local green mullet, named after a characteristic green line on its body.
The coffeehouse of Paschalis
Paschalis Konstantinidis married a girl from Eleusis and decided to open a café on the beach, near the neoclassical mansions that had only recently appeared near the archaeological site and along Pangalou Street. In a way, the shop was “upgraded” by its association with the dynamic bourgeoisie of the city. Its varied clientele included the scions of the local wealthy families, office workers, and industry laborers. On Sundays and during important festivities and celebrations the coffeehouse was full of Athenians who came to Eleusis to enjoy the sea and the good food.
The coffeehouse of Paschalis had courteous staff and affordable prices. There was a piano and the large hall accommodated dances and charity events. Another indication of the respect that Paschalis enjoyed among the Eleusianians was the presence of young unmarried girls; their parents deemed the coffeehouse as perfectly appropriate and the girls could spend a few pleasant hours there without the neighbours raising an eyebrow.
Gkiokas’ fish tavern
The harbour was also popular with fishermen and sailors, but there was no place for them to relax. Spyros Gkiokas (a fisherman himself) decided to set up a shop to serve them. He chose a small piece of land at the corner of Kanellopoulou and Kontoulis streets. The plot was partly occupied by the house of Anifantis, a fisherman, as well as a large yard full of rushes (there is a playground there today). Gkiokas erected a wooden hut and started serving coffee, soft drinks and fish. The tables reached all the way to the beach in front of his tavern, while love songs emanated from the loudspeakers to the merriment of his clients.
In the late 1920s, the expansion of the harbour destroyed the beach, but Gkiokas seems to have anticipated this development. He turned the wooden hut into a proper fish tavern. The place became very popular with retired soldiers and politicians, who enjoyed the quiet atmosphere, the fresh fish, and the opportunity to hold a serious conversation. Theodoros Pangalos was frequently there, since the tavern was only a few steps from his house. Pangalos usually brought his own fish, which he had caught earlier in the day during a fishing trip with the boat of a Muslim acquaintance called Hadji.
The murderer’s kiosk
A third establishment, which appeared during the interwar years, was the kiosk operated by Antonis Fonias (“Murderer”). It was located at the end of Nicolaidou Street and sold cigarettes and other trifles to the passersby and beach visitors. It was probably the only beachfront store that was not negatively affected by the German occupation during the Second World War. While the crowds that gathered in Gkiokas’ fish tavern scattered after the Germans entered the city, and the merry atmosphere of Paschalis’ coffeehouse was lost, the kiosk of Fonias became a meeting place of sorts. Members of the local resistance groups met there on the pretext of purchasing cigarettes since Fonias was someone they could trust during this troubled period. His kiosk (which still stands, albeit in poor condition) was an oasis of activity at a waterfront that seemed devoid of life while the people anxiously awaited the liberation of Eleusis.