By Vasilis Vasilas
What is amazing about certain Greek businesses is how they gain such a great reputation that decades may pass and people’s tastes may change, but their popularity remains firmly intact. And the longevity in their respective markets and industries only consolidates and strengthens their appeal; over the decades, they have successfully transcended beyond Sydney’s Greek market and entered the broader Australian one. In doing so, they have played a significant role in bringing the Greek cuisine and culture in mainstream Australian society.
One of Sydney’s socio-cultural institutions is undoubtedly STEKI Taverna, Newtown; it does not matter that is positioned on the narrow and dimly-lit O’Connell Street and it does not matter that it is a relatively small tavern. Through the front door, patrons enter a magical realm of live Greek music and φιλοξένια (filoxenia)…
STEKI Taverna’s history dates back to 1983 when Harry Tambakeras (and his partners) established it for university students to meet and socialise- as the University of Sydney was just down King Street. For a number of years, Nikos Antonoglou, Kostas Pinakis, Helen Bilinis and Kostas Thedoropoulos ran it. In those years, STEKI Taverna was more than a Greek live venue, as there were also Philosophy Nights, Jazz Nights and even Theatre Productions- as Nikos was a member of S.E.K ( Συγκρότημα Ελλήνων Καλλιτεχνών).
STEKI Taverna’s current owner, Paul Ioakimidis, was initially a regular customer; once Helen and Kostas Pinakis left the partnership, he took up the offer to become a partner. Over the next few years, Niko and Kostas Theodoropoulos left (at different times), leaving Paul as the sole operator and he has been running STEKI Taverna ever since.
With such a strong reputation of providing patrons with wholesome meals, memorable live entertainment and welcoming atmosphere, STEKI Taverna’s longevity reinforces its strong association with the inner city area- everyone simply knows it is there, operating Wednesdays to Sundays, with live Greek music Fridays to Sundays.
Although there are three different resident bands for each live music night, STEKI Taverna has also hosted some very popular Greek artists such as Dimitris Basis, Vasilis Lekkas, Stathis Aggelopoulos and Giorgos Xylouris. And then there are all the impromptu performances when touring artists and their entourages dine at STEKI Taverna and they get up and sing a few numbers- like Nikos Kourkoulis and his wife, Kelly Kelekidou.
Adding to these impromptu performances are the celebrity patrons such as Australian rock icon Jimmy Barnes, rock star Johnny Diesel and television celebrities such as the late Graham Kennedy and John Mangos, and this merely adds to STEKI Taverna’s mystique that you just do not know what surprise will arise there.
Asked what the secret of STEKI Taverna’s success is and Paul humbly points out, “My staff and I are very welcoming and friendly, and we work hard in providing our patrons with a great night.
“STEKI has a very friendly atmosphere; you come here for the first time and not know anyone here but when you will leave at the end of the night knowing everyone.”
And it is that same friendliness and φιλοξένια that draws so many non-Greek patrons to STEKI; as so many patrons tell Paul, many non-Greek patrons strongly associate their personal experiences in Greece with the live entertainment and warm atmosphere offered at STEKI.
“Greeks and non Greeks come to STEKI for the same reason- to have a great time. When everyone jumps onto the dance-floor, it does not matter what nationality they are- they are all one big group having a great time. And it is this warm atmosphere that makes STEKI so appealing for everyone,” explains Paul.
A business’ longevity deepens its roots in a local area and everyone associates STEKI Taverna with the inner city, as Paul points out, “People know we are here; we get young patrons telling us their parents and grandparents used to come here. People know we are open late, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, so we get patrons coming through the door after midnight- we are a place to go out after you have already gone out. So, people remember we are always there- where else can they still go out and have a good time at midnight?’
More importantly, STEKI Taverna’s longevity has experienced first-hand the successful integration and acceptance of the Greek culture and cuisine into the broader Australian community, as so many people associate ‘doing Greek tonight’ with STEKI Taverna in the inner city.
Seasons may come and go, demographics may have change and fads are replaced by new ones, but one thing definitely stays the same and that is STEKI Taverna and its warm hospitality and great atmosphere.