Ergon House is an epicurean boutique hotel in downtown Athens. (I quote the blurb — I never write ‘boutique’ willingly.) Did Pericles know that Athens had a downtown? I shall dispense with the politics, except to say that we should return the Parthenon friezes, for it’s lonely on the Acropolis, and only a fool would insult Athena, the most interesting of the Olympian gods because she was less of a shagger than most of them.
Likewise, the next time the Venetians complain about cruise ships ruining their mouldering city, remind them that they blew up the Acropolis during a war with the Turks. During the Grand Tour it looked like a Cornish garden, but nowadays they are trying. They lay rubble in rows, or in stacks, and put plastic tape around them.
I see solitary columns and wonder why Lord Elgin left them here. Perhaps he didn’t have room in his luggage. He was the sort of person who steals all the bath products in hotels and then asks you to give him a hand with the furniture.
Athens was a boom town in 450 bc and I love it. I love anything that is a lost cause. (This is why I browse the web page of NAMBLA — the North American Man Boy Love Association, which wants to abolish the age of consent — while laughing.)
Aristotle’s Lyceum is a hole filled with poppies. Zeus’s temple — built by Hadrian, for the Romans happily shared power with the mythical — is felled. I increasingly hate the ancient Romans. They’re another lost cause, but the trouble is they remind me, dead and en masse, of George Osborne, who is currently doing to the Evening Standard newsroom what Titus did to the Jews. I can imagine him crucifying his hacks. Only the temple of the blacksmith Hephaestus — presumably the god of the combustion engine — is still complete.
Ergon House is a villa with columns and balconies on a noisy street. It is probably 18th century but who knows? Athens builds on its old places merrily. Nearby, the Electra Metropolis hotel has established itself over the Agia Dynami church, which was apparently in turn built on the site of Heracles’s temple. The scene looks like a fight with masonry that has played out through millennia.
Ergon House is beautiful in the way that hipsters love: bright, faux-industrial, comfortable. There is a wall of herbs; as Earth withers, our homages to its native state get wilder and more pitiable. There is a market — an agora — and even a tree. A restaurant clings to the sides and crawls up the mezzanine. There is a hotel above with kitchens for the guests to use, in case you cannot commit adultery without making a cheese sandwich.
The service is hopeless (so hopeless that I forgive it, as A.A. Gill was forgiven when he drunkenly insulted an IRA man. Gill, the man decided, was simply too pathetic to kill. It would be like murdering a child). They have lost our booking and try to seat us by the lift. It is true that, as ever, I look like I walked reluctantly out of a crack house, but even so it is unjust. I throw a #MeToo-themed tantrum by email and we are moved downstairs into the babble.
The food needed to be glorious, and it is. The tabbouleh salad is one of the most wondrous things I have eaten, with its snowdrift of feta cheese; the chicken, roasted with lemon and garlic, is likewise fabulous.
The gods are in the ruins. The hipsters are in Ergon House, and they seem happy enough. We’ll always have hipsters, as Rick didn’t say.
Ergon House, 23 Mitropoleos Street, Athens 105 57, tel: +30 21 0010 9090.