by Stuart Haggas

Passport Magazine
July 2009   


Said to be named after Mykons, the grandson of the god Apollo, the Greek island of Mykonos is a legend in its own right. The ancient Greek celebration of homosexuality and male beauty, and their penchant for decadence and debauchery, still flourish here during the midsummer heat. Famous for its idyllic clothing-optional beaches and hedonistic gay bars, this jewel in the Aegean Sea is the stuff of folklore.

Taking a water-taxi from Platis Yialos to Super Paradise last summer, our little vessel navigated around a vast yacht anchored in the bay of Paradise Beach. Painted a shadowy shade of black, it resembled a sinister military stealth boat. The group of young Italians beside me were nevertheless taking photos of it with their iPhones, adamant that it was in fact Main, the brand new mega-yacht of fashion superstar Giorgio Armani. Mykonos, however, is an island of many myths, not all of them true.



The previous evening in Agia Kiriaki square in Mykonos Town, I had spotted Matthew Williamson, the British fashion designer who counts the likes of Kiera Knightley and Mischa Barton as fans, suggesting Mykonos might be back on the fashion radar. Then that night, outside famous gay bar Pierro’s, there was a sudden change in atmosphere: a collective intake of breath that heralded the arrival of signor Armani himself, immaculately dressed and accessorized by an impressive entourage. With other celebrity sightings last summer, including actress and hip-hop recording artist Queen Latifah and hunky Australian actor Hugh Jackman, it seems that Mykonos is once again in vogue.

Celebrity and Mykonos first became bedfellows in the early 1960s, when Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onasis would arrive from Athens on his luxury yacht with his guests, including opera legend Maria Callas and former First Lady and future Mrs. Onasis, Jackie Kennedy. Film stars like Sofia Loren, Grace Kelly, Gregory Peck, and Brigitte Bardot gave the island their celebrity endorsement, and Mykonos became a fixture on the international jet set circuit.

The island’s first gay bar was opened in 1973 by Italian-American artist Pierro Aversa and Mykonos native Andreas Koutsoukos. Called Pierro’s, this intimate little bar made a big impact on the island and beyond. While some gay bars are clandestine, hidden behind unmarked doors in dark alleyways, Pierro’s liked to put on a show: its small, chalk white terrace overlooking Matogianni Street and Agia Kiriaki square became the hottest place to be seen. It’s often said that Pierro’s was instrumental in defining the profile of Mykonos’ evolving nightlife scene, attracting as it did a stylish mix of elite European and American gays and handsome young Greeks, all making fashion statements with big Bee Gees-style hair, flamboyant mustaches, tight white designer jeans, and tons of silver jewelry to complement golden tans.

Despite the throng of gorgeous models, actors, fashion designers, and drag queens, Pierro’s remained a friendly and welcoming place. In fact, I learned that Pierro himself would often cook and serve free food to his friends and customers on what became known as “Spaghetti Tuesdays.” With the opening of Manto next door and Icaros upstairs, this queer empire grew, Agia Kiriaki square earned the nickname “gay square,” and the legend of Mykonos as a gay destination gained momentum around the world.

Pierro’s remained the pulse of Mykonos’ gay scene throughout the eighties, nineties, and noughties—until the shocking news in 2007 that the lease on the building had expired and Pierro’s suddenly closed. This revelation was followed by a game of gay bar Tetris. Manto closed and was rebranded and reopened in 2008 as Pierro’s, just in time to celebrate its 35th anniversary (albeit next door to where it had all begun). Meanwhile, the site of the original Pierro’s was refurbished and reopened as a new gay venue called Coffee Cat. Opening early to serve breakfast, fresh brewed coffee, and organic snacks, it stays open late for cocktails.

Another long-established gay bar is Montparnasse Piano Bar in Little Venice, one of the island’s most photogenic locations. Little Venice is full of lovely little bars with wooden verandas hanging directly over the sea, and it’s a Mykonos tradition to gather around here at dusk to watch the sunset. Montparnasse is a friendly queer place to enjoy this tradition. Once the sun has set, guest entertainers take to the stage to belt out classic showtunes. Acclaimed New York-based cabaret diva Phyllis Pastore has been a regular performer here since 1993, accompanied by various other American expats including pianist David Dyer. Nearby Kastro Bar is a popular alternative for sunset cocktails.

A new arrival on the gay scene in 2008 was Jackie O’. Picturesquely situated on the waterfront, it features lounge music accompanied by champagne and cocktails.

Meanwhile, the entertainment is more raucous at Ramrod Club, where a roster of outlandish drag acts and sexy go-go boys raises the temperature. Its upstairs terrace, overlooking Taxi Square, is a great vantage point.

Hidden away in the maze of narrow alleyways near the waterfront, Porta is a series of tiny interconnecting rooms that quickly fill up with friendly locals and tourists, and so the action inevitably spreads outdoors. More cruisy than other Mykonos gay bars, it soon became my favorite watering hole.



The surprising omission from Mykonos’ gay scene is that there isn’t a gay nightclub. If you can’t survive without dancing, then you could head to Cavo Paradiso, the famous megaclub on the rocks above Paradise Beach, where internationally renowned DJs play house music, and the youthful crowd parties beneath the stars until sunrise. Many gay men will find a nocturnal stroll around the island’s most famous church more rewarding. Panagia Paraportiani is a cluster of five chapels built during the 16th and 17th centuries. Of the 600+ churches on the island, this one is the most famous and most photographed. It’s also the scene of some serious, after hours gay cruising.

Founder of the Mr. Gay Greece and Mr. Gay Cyprus competitions, and publisher of the new Mykonos Gay Guide (www.mykonosgayguide.gr), Paul Sofianos told me his favorite times to visit the island are for Orthodox Easter and during June and September. “I never visit Mykonos in August,” he explained. “Too many people who love to gossip, and too many straight tourists.”

Daytimes are inevitably spent on one of the island’s idyllic beaches. One reason why Mykonos has such lovely beaches is that they require a modicum of effort to get to them. If you want to escape the hype and glamour that fuels Mykonos, there are isolated beaches on the north of the island where you’ll find blissful peace and solitude.

For most visitors, however, going to the beach is yet another excuse to see and be seen, which is why most head for the buzzy southern beaches. The most famous gay beach on the island (and one of the most famous gay beaches in the world) is the splendidly named Super Paradise. The traditional way of getting to Super Paradise is to first take a local bus from the terminal in Fabrica Square to the small resort of Platis Yialos; then from here take a caïque, a local fishing boat that’s been converted into a water-taxi.

 Super Paradise is usually the third stop, after Paraga and Paradise. Although gay men still favor the west half of this beach, it’s no longer the scene it used to be; voyeurs and exhibitionists will be disappointed to learn that nudity isn’t as prevalent. Situated just behind the gay half of the beach, Super Bar lounge and café serves cocktails, beer, snacks, and light lunches.

Most gay visitors to Mykonos now favor Elia, one of the island’s biggest beaches with fine white sand, crystal blue water, and nude sunbathing. As my guidebook delightfully puts it, “Homosexuals prefer the right side of the beach, while celebrities and common people make use of the rest of the beach.” Continue beyond those homosexuals, into the rocks, and you’ll find that it can get quite steamy! There’s a full bar and light lunch service on the sand itself.

Should you prefer something more sophisticated, there’s a handful of chic little beach bars with shady terraces that serve everything from cocktails to grilled line-caught fish. Elia is the last stop on the caïque from Platis Yialos, but it’s also easily reached via a direct local bus from Mykonos Town’s northern bus terminal. Although the bus is an adventure, some prefer to hire a scooter or quad-bike—but you should be aware that Mykonos doesn’t have any major roads or traffic lights, so drive carefully!

Mykonos Town itself (sometimes called Hora or Chora) is a labyrinth of narrow cobble alleyways lined with pretty whitewashed buildings, their wooden doors, balconies, and window shutters painted with splashes of sky blue, ruby red, and jade green. There are no high-rises, and new building is confined to the outskirts, so it’s remarkably unspoiled.

One of the town’s most photographed vistas is the row of famous old windmills overlooking Little Venice. With distinctive thatched roofs and spindly sails, these windmills have been an island landmark since the 16th century. They were built in the days when Mykonos was a significant stopover on the sea-trade route between Europe and Asia, to grind wheat to make bread for passing sailors. Nowadays, it’s mostly cruiseships that drop anchor; although I hear that the US Navy occasionally stops here for a bit of R&R, during which time the gay-friendly tourist haunt Scandinavian Bar becomes their favorite hangout.

Due to its compact size, Mykonos Town’s main pedestrian routes can become congested, particularly during July and August, though it’s always easy to wander off and find a few moments of solitude, to breath in the sweet aroma of hibiscus that perfumes the air. The street layout is intentionally complicated so as to confuse the pilfering pirates who regularly raided the island hundreds of years ago. Today the maze of little alleyways

doesn’t so much confuse as charm the international visitor. No matter which direction you take, you won’t be able to escape the stylish boutique hotels, gourmet restaurants, and upscale stores that are all a distinct characteristic of the town.

Often referred to as one of the most important shopping districts in all of Greece, narrow Matogianni Street is the epicenter of Mykonos chic. As the in-crowd spends daylight hours at the beach, it’s most happening at night. Considering how small the island is, it’s remarkable to see how many major fashion brands are represented here. Mykonos’ fashion status is so important, however, that new designer collections will often arrive here ahead of Athens.

The bijou Mykonos store of designer Lakis Gavalas carries an edited selection of classic brands including Gucci, Burberry, Christian Dior Homme, and YSL Rive Gauche, alongside hot young labels DSquared2 and Paul&Joe. Other stores like Fürstenberg Boutique and Soho-Soho carry equally upscale and expensive merchandise. You should also stop at one of the local pharmacies as they stock luxury beauty products by organic Greek brand Korres that are popular with celebrities including David Beckham and Angelina Jolie.

As you might expect from such a renowned destination, there is no shortage of international dining options in fabulous settings. Although it is possible to grab a simple and inexpensive meal of gyros and fries in the streets of Mykonos Town, there are some great gourmet options here as well. These include Interni, a modern and expensive courtyard restaurant frequented by celebrities including Sarah Jessica Parker; and Mamacas, a chic, white, garden restaurant in a lovely old house, where traditional Greek dishes like keftedakia meatballs and local specialities like salty kopanisti cheese are given a contemporary twist.

Lovers of fresh-caught fish will enjoy eating alfresco at lively local tavernas like Kounelas, Sea Satin Market, and buzzy, affordable Nikos Tavern, where the day’s catch is cooked simply but perfectly on outdoor grills.

The color of traditional Cycladic architecture, known as “Mykonian white,” is a shade popular with local interior designers. One of Mykonos Town’s most fashionable hotels is the cool white Belvedere. Recently renovated by renowned New York architects The Rockwell Group, the white on white décor of this five-star bolthole will dazzle—so don’t forget your sunglasses!

The hotel is also the summer home of celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s latest venture. Already famous for his global empire of Nobu restaurants, with Matsuhisa he takes exceptional Japanese cuisine like delicious black cod with den miso and adds subtle South American flavors. They serve great cocktails, too, including a Japanese Bloody Mary spiced with wasabi and tonkatsu sauce; and Sakepirinha, a twist on the famous Brazilian cocktail that uses sake instead of cachaca. Beautifully situated outdoors beside the Belvedere swimming pool, the restaurant operates from June to September. Meanwhile, nearby Semeli Hotel is a serene design hotel with a similarly chic, neutral color-scheme. Formerly a private residence, this calm white oasis has a friendly feel.

If you prefer an injection of color, check out funky Mykonos Theoxenia Hotel. Adjacent to the famous windmills, this landmark 1960s property by revered Greek architect Aris Kostantinides officially reopened its doors in June 2004 following extensive renovations, and quickly earned itself a place on Condé Nast Traveler’s “Hot List.” Despite upgraded amenities (including a business center and a state-of-the-art gym and spa complex (the b-healthy Club), it still reflects the fun and frivolity of the swinging 60s with raffia egg chairs, retro-glam ambience, and splashes of juicy lime, orange, and turquoise to liven things up.

Less expensive hotels with a sense of style are also available. Thanks to its position just above Mykonos Town, the lovely pool and terrace of gay-friendly, family-run Hotel Alykon provides stunning vistas. If you follow the footpath beside the hotel, it’s a quick and relatively easy walk down into town, but the walk back up is more of a challenge.

Gay options include sexy and expensive Elysium Hotel, and the simple and affordable Fresh Hotel. Situated in the exclusive School Of Fine Arts District, Elysium Hotel boasts a large swimming pool where nude sunbathing is permitted; while centrally located Fresh Hotel compensates for the lack of a pool by having a pretty garden with a Jacuzzi.

I was told that there are just 19 taxis on the island, so wherever you stay you should request a hotel transfer from the airport, or be prepared to wait in line at the taxi stand for a long time. Conveniently situated just a few minutes from Mykonos Town, the island’s airport remains small, and although it’s best-suited to accommodate private jets, European budget airlines like easyJet and German Wings are a common sight, demonstrating that Mykonos isn’t just for the elite.

If you can afford to take a break away from your busy beach schedule, visiting the sacred island of Delos is a worthwhile excursion. A short boat ride from Mykonos Town, Delos is one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Greek mythology, this small rocky island was the birthplace of the god Apollo and his twin sister Artemis. Here you’ll find the ruins of a place first inhabited in 3000 BC, and once home to 25,000 people.

Today the island has just 14 permanent residents. Although the Terrace Of The Lions, a row of snarling marble beasts dating back to 600 BC, is one of the most impressive sights, you should not miss the ruins of the Temple of Dionysus. Dedicated to the god of wine, here you’ll see two huge stone penises that, although castrated by time, have stood proud and erect on their plinths since 300 BC. Explore farther afield and you’ll discover a vast amphitheater, colonnaded courtyards, crumbling mosaic tile floors, weather-worn statues, and other echoes of a grand ancient civilization.

Afterwards, back in Mykonos harbor, be sure to keep a lookout for the island’s most enduring celebrity. While the likes of Jackie Kennedy and Sarah Jessica Parker come and go, Petros The Pelican has remained permanently on the island since being found injured after a storm in 1954, thus becoming the island’s official mascot.

Well, that’s only half true…the truth is that the original Petros died sometime during the eighties, and another pelican had to be found to replace him to keep the legend alive. As I said before, Mykonos is an island of many myths. Which makes me think: I wonder if that was the real Giorgio Armani I saw? He was looking remarkably good for a 74-year old.

Resources

As Mykonos Town is predominantly pedestrian-only many places don’t have proper street addresses, so remember to pick up a free tourist map to help you navigate the streets and alleyways, or ask your concierge to pinpoint the exact location.

HOTELS
Rates quoted are US dollars for a double room in medium season (generally June–September, excluding August).

Belvedere, School Of Fine Arts District, Hora. Tel: +30-22890-25122. A member of Small Luxury Hotels Of The World, this dazzling all-white designer hotel is also home to celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s hip Japanese and South American fusion restaurant. $300–$1,100. www.belvederehotel.com

Elysium Hotel, School Of Fine Arts District, Hora. Tel: +30-22890-23952. This sexy, hetero-friendly hotel boasts 40 rooms and two suites, and a large pool where nude sunbathing is permitted. Its Sunset Bar is a choice spot for sundowner cocktails. $270–$540. www.elysiumhotel.com

Fresh Hotel, N. Kalogera 31, Hora. Tel: +30-22890-24670. With 13 rooms, this simple gay hotel in the very heart of Mykonos Town is close to all the bars, restaurants, and shopping. It compensates for the lack of a swimming pool by having a pretty garden with Jacuzzi. $121–$162. www.marioshotel-mykonos.com

Hotel Alkyon, Argyraina. Tel: +30-22890-27366. Built in a traditional Cycladic style, this family-run, gay-friendly hotel is spectacularly situated above Mykonos Town with dramatic panoramas from its lovely pool terrace. Convenient for the bus to gay Elia beach. $87–$149. www.alkyonmykonos.gr

Mykonos Theoxenia Hotel, Kato Mili. Tel: +30-22890-22230. Located adjacent to the famous windmills, this funky boutique hotel has a fun 1960s vibe. Its 52 rooms and suites have either a balcony or a porch, with a choice of sea or garden views. Amenities include swimming pool and Jacuzzi overlooking the Aegean Sea, and state-of-the-art gym. $290–$920. www.mykonostheoxenia.com

Semeli Hotel, Rochari Area, Hora. Tel: +30-22890-27466. With 42 guestrooms and three suites, this stylish yet serene design hotel was, until recently, a private residence. Its large pool and terrace offer commanding views across the rooftops of Mykonos Town. $324–$1,200. www.semelihotel.gr

RESTAURANTS
Blue Ginger, Argyraina. Tel: +30-22890-27602. Located just above Mykonos Town, this gay-friendly Asian restaurant has a full menu of Thai and Chinese dishes. Popular with locals and tourists staying at neighboring hotels like Alkyon and Hermes. www.blueginger.gr

Casa di Giorgio, Mitropoleos 1 (behind the Catholic Church), Hora. Tel: +30-69325-61998. Gay-friendly Italian restaurant with outdoor seating in a beautiful location close to Little Venice, serving delicious pizza, pasta, and risotto dishes.

Interni, Matoyiannia, Hora. Tel: +30-22890-26333. Con-temporary and stylish restaurant and lounge in a lovely internal courtyard, hidden down a quiet alley off Matogianni Street. Its dramatic cactus-flanked staircase guarantees that celebrities are able to make a grand entrance. Expensive European fusion food. www.interni-restaurant.gr

Kounelas, Porta (by the waterfront), Hora. Tel: +30-22890-28220. A series of whitewashed rooms form this recommended taverna, almost hidden in the labyrinth of streets behind the port of old Mykonos Town. Simple but perfectly cooked fresh fish is the main attraction.

Mamacas, Matogianni Street near Taxi Square, Hora. Tel: +30-22890-26120. Occupying the palm-filled courtyard of a lovely house that dates back to 1845, this chic restaurant serves traditional Greek dishes like keftedakia meatballs, but with a contemporary twist. www.mamacas.gr

Matsuhisa, Belvedere Hotel, Hora. Tel: +30-22890-25122. The latest venture of celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa, this summer-only eatery occupies a poolside spot at chic Belvedere Hotel. www.matsuhisamykonos.com

Nikos Tavern, Porta (by the waterfront), Hora. Tel: +30-22890-24320. With a large outdoor seating area in a pretty and lively square behind the town hall, this inexpensive taverna is one of the most popular dining spots in Mykonos Town.

Sea Satin Market, beyond Little Venice, near Mitropolis Cathedral, Hora. Tel: +30-22890-24676. Situated at the end of a small beach beneath the famous windmills with postcard-perfect views of Little Venice and market fresh fish sizzling on the grill.

BARS AND CLUBS
Coffee Cat, Matogianni Street at Agia Kiriaki Square, Hora. Tel: +30-22890-79796. A new gay venue open early for delicious breakfasts, and staying open late to serve cocktails. www.coffeecat.gr

Icaros, Matogianni Street at Agia Kiriaki Square, Hora. Upstairs from Pierro’s, this lively venue with nightly drag shows provides a great panoramic view of the action on Agia Kiraki Square (aka “gay square”).

Jackie O’, Paraportiani Waterfront, Hora. Tel: +30-22890-79167. A new arrival in summer 2008, this gay lounge has a laid-back atmosphere and serves champagne and cocktails. www.jackieomykonos.com

Montparnasse Piano Bar, Agion Anargiron Street, Hora. Tel: +30-22890-23719. Gay cocktail bar in beautiful Little Venice, with a rear balcony over the Aegean Sea that’s a great place to see the famous sunset. Live piano music and showtunes from guest performers. www.thepianobar.com

Pierro’s, Matogianni Street at Agia Kiriaki Square, Hora. Tel: +30-22890-22177. World famous gay bar dating back to 1973. www.pierrosbar.gr

Porta Bar, Behind the old port, Hora. Tel: +30-22890-27087. A series of small interconnecting rooms along a narrow alleyway just off the waterfront, this fun and friendly bar is more cruisy than other gay venues in Mykonos.

Ramrod Club, Manto Square off Taxi Square, Hora. Tel: +30-22890-24301. Lively gay bar with an outside terrace, wild drag shows, and sexy go-go dancers. www.ramrod-gayclub.gr

SHOPPING
Diesel, 22 Matogianni Street, Hora. Tel: +30-22890-24495. Mykonos branch of the fashionable Italian jeanswear brand. www.diesel.com

Fürstenberg Boutique, 35 Mitropoleos Street, Hora. Tel: +30-22890-28795. Upscale designer boutique selling brands like Dolce & Gabbana and DSquared2, with several branches in Mykonos Town, including a dedicated swimwear store.

LAK, 5 Matogianni Street, Hora. Tel: +30-21062-83257. Exclusive line of clothes and accessories from Greek fashion designer and boutique owner Lakis Gavalas. www.lak.gr

Lakis Gavalas, Tria Pigadia, Hora. Tel: +30-22890-25872. Small but deluxe store selling leading international brands like Gucci, Burberry, and Christian Dior Homme. www.lakisgavalas.gr

Soho-Soho Men, 51 Matogianni Street, Hora. Tel: +30-22890-27670. Fashionable store selling fabulous jeans and beachwear by the likes of Etro and Armani.