Given the vicissitudes of Athens nightlife, your best bet is to have a local friend; failing that, you have this guide and you can always ask someone at your hotel for a recommendation. The listings in the weekly Athinorama (Greek) or in publications such as the English-language Athens News, the Kathimerini insert in the Herald Tribune, and hotel handouts such as Best of Athens and Welcome to Athens, can be very helpful. If you ask a taxi driver, he's likely to take you to either his cousin's joint or the place that gives him drinks for bringing you.
If you head to a large club, you're likely to face a cover charge of at least 10€ to 20€, which will likely include a drink. Thereafter, each drink will probably cost over 10€. It's best to go only to clubs with or recommended by someone trustworthy who knows the scene or that have come recommended from reliable sources (such as this guide). In large clubs, don't sit at a table unless you want to purchase a bottle of alcohol (100€), whether you want it or not. If you hear music you simply must have, Metropolis in Omonia Square has a wide choice of CDs of Greek music.
Walk the streets of the Plaka on any night and you'll find plenty of tavernas offering pseudo-traditional live music. As noted, many are serious clip joints, where if you sit down and ask for a glass of water, you'll be charged 100€ for a bottle of scotch. At most of these places, there's a cover of 10€. We've had good reports on Taverna Mostrou, 22 Mnissikleos (tel. 210/324-2441), which is large, old, and best known for traditional Greek music and dancing. Shows begin around 11pm and can last until 2am. The cover of 30€ includes a fixed-menu supper. A la carte fare is available but expensive (as are drinks). Nearby, Palia Taverna Kritikou, 24 Mnissikleos (tel. 210/322-2809), is another lively open-air taverna with music and dancing.
Tavernas offering low-key music include Daphne's, 4 Lysikratous (tel. 210/322-7971); Nefeli, 24 Panos (tel. 210/321-2475); Dioyenis, 4 Sellei (tel. 210/324-7933); Stamatopoulou, 26 Lissiou (tel. 210/322-8722); and favorites Klimataria, 5 Klepsidrias (tel. 210/324-1809), and Xinos, 4 Agelou Geronta (tel. 210/322-1065).
Rembetika & Bouzoukia
Visitors interested in authentic rembetika (music of the urban poor and dispossessed) and bouzoukia (traditional and pop music featuring the bouzouki, a kind of guitar, today almost always loudly amplified) should consult their hotel concierge or check the listings in Athinorama, the weekly Hellenic Times, or Kathimerini (the daily insert in the International Herald Tribune). Another good place to ask is at the shop of the Museum of Popular Greek Musical Instruments. Rembetika performances usually don't start until nearly midnight, and though there's rarely a cover, drinks can cost as much as 20€. Many clubs close during the summer.
One of the more central places for rembetika is Stoa Athanaton, 19 Sofokleous, in the Central Meat Market (tel. 210/321-4362), which has been serving good food and live music since 1930 from 3 to 7:30pm and after 11pm. Taximi, 29 Isavron, Exarchia (tel. 210/363-9919), is consistently popular. Drinks cost 12€. It's closed Sunday and Monday and during July and August. The downscale, smoke-filled Rembetiki Istoria, in a neoclassical building at 181 Ippokratous (tel. 210/642-4967), features old-style rembetika, played to a mixed crowd of older regulars and younger students and intellectuals. The music usually starts at 11pm, but arrive earlier to get a seat. The legendary Maryo I Thessaloniki (Maryo from Thessaloniki), described as the Bessie Smith of Greece, sometimes sings rembetika at Perivoli t'Ouranou, 19 Lysikratous (tel. 210/323-5517 or 210/322-2048), in Plaka. Expect to pay at least 10€ per drink in these places, most of which have a cover from 20€ -- except Rembetiki Istoria, which due to its student clientele is more affordable than most such places.
A number of clubs and cafes specialize in jazz, but also offer everything from Indian sitar music to rock to punk. The popular -- and well thought of -- Half Note Jazz Club, 17 Trivonianou, Mets (tel. 210/921-3310; www.halfnote.gr), schedules performers who play everything from medieval music to jazz; set times vary from 8 to 11pm and later. (Cover is 30€ with one drink.) In Gazi, at the Art House, 46 Konstantinoupoleos (tel. 210/461-1535; www.art-house-athens.gr), you can often hear jazz from 11pm. (Cover depends on event.) Cabaret Voltaire, 30 Marathonos, Metaxourgeio (tel. 210/522-7046; Metro: Metaxourgeio), has live jazz every Sunday. Jazz n' Jazz, 4 Deinokratous (tel. 210/725-8362; Tues-Sat 8pm-3am), a small, cozy and charming jazz museum/bar in Kolonaki, is a great place to take in the vibe and listen to their extensive jazz collection. If you're visiting in late May, check out the European Jazz Festival at Technopolis, 100 Pireos (tel. 210/346-0981; www.technopolis.gr). Also check out what's happening at the Pallas Theater, 5 Voukourestiou (tel. 210/321-3100; www.ticketshop.gr), which hosts frequent jazz concerts. Also, the beautiful Athens Plaza Hotel (www.njvathensplaza.gr) hosts weekly live jazz performances.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.