The Gilded Serpent presents...
The Taverna Athena
Beginning in 1970, I worked on and off for a couple of years at the Taverna Athena in Jack London Square in Oakland. It was a wonderful place, full of the atmosphere one expects of a Greek taverna, and with wonderful food (they fed us, too!). The dancers performed on a raised platform that rolled out from under the musicians' stage and then retracted, keeping it fairly clean for us to dance on. The dressing room was in a little alcove just by the front door, and it had no heating whatsoever - fine in the summer, but freezing at other times of year! The band varied, but it was always led by Lolos and his Farfisa organ - the music was traditional Greek and very professional. In between shows I joined in the folk dancing (Anna Efstathiou taught folkdance classes there regularly, so there were a lot of folks who came to practice and enjoy the dances she had taught them), except for the last time I worked there, at which time I also acted as hostess and seated the customers. For that I wore a short wig, though I doubt that anyone actually thought I was a different person from the dancer! Since I knew a great percentage of the regular customers, anyway, they got a kick out of my "disguise".
There was only one dancer per night there, and usually the same dancer performed four or five nights a week, leaving one or two nights for another girl who was trying to get a toehold. Galya was working there when I first started to go in to watch, and later there was (among others) a dancer named Kahraman (another of Jamila's students), a real cupcake of a girl that the Greeks called "Chocolata". She went out with the owner for a while and then married another Greek who obliged her to quit dancing in public.
In the late summer of 1970, I was told that the owner's new girlfriend wanted to dance in the Taverna, and so I needed to take a hike for a while. The manager, a small and nervous man named Leo, promised that I would have my job back in a month. Well, I wasn't delighted, but I had the chance right then to go to Alaska, where my oldest brother was just getting out of the Air Force and was planning to build a cabin. Therefore, I took my son Adam and my third brother, we picked up my second brother, who was a cowboy in Salmon, Idaho, on the way, and we all went up to Alaska to help my oldest brother clear the land and build his cabin, 50 miles from the nearest town of Tok, (this is a whole different story by itself), and we returned to Oakland in a month. When I went back to the Taverna Athena, I was told that, although the girlfriend was gone, Leo had been fired, and no one remembered that I was supposed to come back. I don't remember how it happened, but I was soon back working there once more.
One night there was a horrible fight in the restaurant! I didn't see just how it happened, but evidently a couple of brothers from Cyprus were hired to put the Taverna out of business. The waitresses and I were herded into the women's bathroom and "guarded" there by a rotund (and cowardly) waiter, and we only came out after it was over.
Before we went in to hiding, I saw a man take a carafe of hot coffee off the burner and break it over the owner (who, by the way, was a dead ringer for Tom Jones) and saw the owner rip the other man's shirt mostly off.
While we were in the bathroom, though we couldn't see, we could hear, and the sounds of that fight were much uglier than you will hear in the movies or TV. Grunts, yells, screams, and lots of swearing in Greek. Happily, none of the musicians' instruments were wrecked, and somehow, Lolos didn't use that pistol he kept under his Farfisa (the one to protect him from jealous husbands!).
Something did happen that night, however, that changed his life: in the course of the fight, someone pulled off his hairpiece (a very well-kept secret - no one that I know of even knew that he wore a rug!) and threw it up into the rafter decorations, where it hung for all to see - and, of course, comment on!
And something that happened after I returned to work after my Alaska trip changed my life. As I have said, there were a lot of people who came in to folk dance, both American and Greek. I had become part of a group of young folks who loved to dance and came to do so almost every night. There was one Greek in particular I had my eye on, but when I got back from Alaska, it was to find that one of the other girls had him firmly attached. I reminded myself that I didn't want to go out with any more Greeks anyway, after having had an unfortunate experience with one of the waiters at the place down the Peninsula where I worked while waiting to return to the Taverna. And then my former target's brother, Milt, came in, and that was that! A while later I married Milt (and was with him for 20 years) and thus began the next stage of my career.