It’s early evening in Gazi, a tranquil neighborhood in Athens. People potter about and stray cats mooch around as blue skies fade into pinks, oranges, and lilacs. The pristine white façade of the local Greek Orthodox Church electrifies the backdrop. It’s 6:13 p.m., and for reasons unknown, the bells are frantically chiming, piercing the silence: the doing of a rogue priest or tug-happy nun.
I’ve been sitting in Beaver for a couple of hours, soaking up the laid-back café vibes. Three generations of women (grandmother, mother, and newborn in a stroller) sip fruit smoothies. Two men converse earnestly as they nurse freddo cappuccinos (iced lattes but better).
Despite its appearance of normalcy, Beaver is no ordinary hangout; it’s Athens’ only women-run, cooperatively-owned café-cum-bar, and as the name suggests, there’s a bunch of lesbians behind it.
“Beaver has two meanings,” Maria, one of eight founding owners, told GO. The first is the rated G response that a beaver is “a hard-working animal, it works by itself, making its own house using wood. We created this space with a lot of personal work; we built the bar, painted the walls, repaired and reused old furniture,” she says. And it looks great — cool, unpretentious, DIY minimalist. There’s good lighting, a well-stocked bookshelf, and a leafy, fairy-lit patio out front.
The second is the R-rated answer that “beaver means cunt. We are all women, feminists, and lesbians. The name is symbolic but it’s also hidden, out there creating a public space. We found this very inspiring.”
And it gets gayer. Beaver was born eight years ago on none other than a basketball court. Every Sunday after their games, the dyke-packed team longed for somewhere to hang out and dyke about, so they started toying with the idea of making a space for themselves.
“We had weekly meetings for two years, organizing every detail. Then six years ago, Beaver opened,” Maria tells GO. “There were eight women at the beginning. We all knew each other in some way: through feminist, lesbian groups, or we met in queer spaces.” There are a handful of non-hierarchical women’s groups in the city. “There has always been the need for women to sit together and talk, take action and share experiences, and this is definitely still happening in Athens’ queer scene,” Maria says.
“Working in a collective reflects in everything in the space – from the decoration to the menu,” Maria says. “Everything is a product of collective work and not the decision of one person. We are all responsible for the space, so we all have the same concern and care for what is happening and how we solve the problems.”
Despite the frenzy of consensus-based lesbian activity behind the scenes, Beaver isn’t explicitly a lesbian bar. To this, Maria astutely remarks, “I believe that you don’t have to name something so that it becomes what you wish. It’s who you are that reflects to the space.”
True to this, as night fell, the men finished their coffees and headed back to their families, the grandmother rolled her grandkid home, and the Athenian lesbians came out to play.
Beaver was soon packed — a real hive of activity, but not frenzied or chaotic; a grounded, homely, dyke community space. Dykes came with dogs, wearing vests and smoking cigarettes. They ate club sandwiches and nursed beers; others were on double dates or sitting alone reading at the bar. It’s a mellow place where constructive conversations happen, where love blossoms, where communities form. It’s such a pleasure to experience.
Things are cheap too. Beaver is a not-for-profit venue and the owners intentionally keep prices low so more people can benefit from their space. This does wonders for the atmosphere; people drink at a leisurely pace, Beaver has open lunchtime until 2 a.m. every day, and no one minds if you sit for hours watching the ebbs and flows. There are often talks, discussions, and music nights after dusk — a drag queen read from her new book when I went.
As midnight approached, the doors stayed open, allowing a cooler nocturnal breeze to gently flow inside. The bar stayed full, the energy remained high; this is an exemplary community space and hands down — the best beaver dam the world has ever known.
Beaver Cooperativa is open daily until 2 a.m., Vasiliou Tou Megalou 46A, Athens, Greece.