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Classic Turkish night: Istanbul’s meyhane culture and where to experience it

Classic Turkish night: Istanbul's meyhane culture and where to experience it
The meyhane is greater than a mere place to eat and drink. It’s where dialog takes middle stage, where hearts are poured out because the rakı flows. Many conventional institutions with lengthy and illustrious histories stay in Istanbul. However in recent times many new locations have additionally opened—providing an identical atmosphere, however with a contemporary twist.

The meyhane as we perceive it immediately—where individuals sit collectively round tables draped in white linen, choose mezze from trays, and sip rakı—is a comparatively current phenomenon. Meyhanes date again to the Byzantine period, however underwent a sluggish however dramatic evolution.

Evliya Çelebi, the famend writer of the seventeenth century ebook of travels Seyahatname, wrote that the neighborhood of Galata hosted an abundance of meyhanes. In accordance to Çelebi, there have been greater than a thousand meyhanes all through Istanbul at the moment; many have been taverns from Byzantine occasions, that had survived the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

However what have been meyhanes like again then? The city researcher Işıl Çokuğraş has described them as usually small, darkish areas, typically underground and with few or no home windows, with 4 or 5 picket stools, low tables by a bar, and casks crammed with wine lining the partitions. The time period meyhane means “house of wine.”

Photograph courtesy of Oğlak Yayınları, Istanbul

Ottoman meyhanes

Istanbul’s meyhanes have been owned by non-Muslims, who have been usually allowed to produce and promote their very own wine underneath Ottoman rule outdoors of Muslim districts and the historic metropolis partitions in neighborhoods similar to Galata, Beyoğlu, Tatavla (immediately’s Kurtuluş), fishing villages between Beşiktaş and Sarıyer, Haliç, and Kadıköy. Some Muslim shoppers went there secretly.

Nevertheless, not all meyhanes have been alike. The social standing of its patrons, in addition to the neighborhood by which it was situated, denoted its standing. Earlier than the nineteenth century, the meyhanes frequented by the higher heeled have been generally known as gedikli meyhane, licensed meyhanes which paid taxes to the Ottoman authorities. That they had names akin to Hançerli (the one with the dagger), Kürkçü (the fur vendor), and Yahudi (Jewish). A few of these meyhanes have been frequented by janissaries—the sultan’s elite guard—who would get higher service and consideration than the opposite clients.

Agora 1890

In accordance to Çokuğraş, these meyhanes had service counters crammed with numerous mezze for many who would moderately drink there than at a desk, and pitchers can be hanging above them. The remainder of the area would maintain picket tables and rattan stools. Some would even have small personal rooms that might be open to the meyhane’s regulars. Proper across the time of sundown, the meyhane proprietor would stroll round and mild the candles standing erect on terracotta holders, and service would start.

Koltuk meyhaneleri, however, have been illicit institutions serving these within the decrease social strata of Ottoman society referred to as the ayak takımı (these on foot obligation), similar to nook boys, porters, and vagabonds. These meyhanes would most frequently be hidden within the again corners of aspect road markets or grocers. A extra ‘civilized’ model of those meyhanes referred to as kibar koltukları served civil servants and clerks, who couldn’t drink at residence however nonetheless loved a sip from time to time.


Most fascinating, maybe, have been the ayaklı meyhane; the cellular, on-foot meyhanes of the Ottoman period. The alcohol sellers, lots of whom have been Armenian, would wrap sheep intestines crammed with wine round their waists, warmed by their physique warmth, with a funnel on the finish for pouring. Additionally they wore a cüppe sort of coat that would conceal a cup inside its internal pocket. When a passerby requested for a drink, the lads would shortly enter a aspect road store or a darkened nook, and pour alcohol into the cup, where the client would shortly take a swig. Most frequently, the client would wipe his lips with the again of his fist. This way of wiping away the mouth, with out having something to accompany the alcohol, was referred to as yumruk mezesi (the fist mezze), and was additionally an indication of indigence.

Meyhanes typically had a tumultuous relationship with the authorities. Many have been closed down by decrees from the Ottoman sultan, though some would later re-open once more. Round 500 have been nonetheless open by the early nineteenth century, in accordance to analysis by Çokuğraş.

Sofyalı 9

Change of occasions

The Tanzimat interval of political and social reforms (1839-1876) marked a definite change within the notion of meyhanes. New rights got to non-Muslim residents, together with the legalization of many illicit meyhanes. Over time, wealthier Muslims additionally started to frequent them. Within the mid nineteenth century the drink of selection shifted from wine to rakı.

Baloz meyhanes additionally emerged, and served as lower-class replicas of the balls loved by the modernizing Ottoman elite. These meyhanes appeared close to Galata, typically serving sailors, with ladies showing for the primary time within the meyhanes; singing, enjoying devices, and dancing.

By the early twentieth century many meyhanes had additionally grow to be unique locations of leisure, with spotless tables and dinnerware, meticulous service, and small plates of mezze. The purchasers wouldn’t have to order nor pay for them, just for the alcohol they consumed.


It was solely after the founding of the Turkish Republic that ladies started getting into meyhanes as clients. When he opened his first meyhane in 1938, Kör Agop is claimed to have declared: “we want men and women together in life and at the table.”

For Yorgo Okumuş, a Greek-Turkish meyhane proprietor, the arrival of feminine clients was a milestone. “Where there are women, there’s civilization. Before the women came to meyhanes, it was a rowdier place,” he stated in an interview with The Information Istanbul in 2014.

Having moved from Gökçeada to Istanbul on the age of 15, Okumuş began working first as a busboy, then as a waiter, till he took partial possession of İmroz meyhane within the 1970s.


Okumuş didn’t permit music in his meyhane, encouraging his visitors to converse. Some now refer to the rakı desk as çilingir (“locksmith”) sofrası; alluding to the best way the secrets and techniques of the guts are unlocked and spoken round this desk.

When Okumuş moved İmroz to Nevizade in early 1980s “there was nothing but repair shops, a funerary home, every building was single storied, there wasn’t much else.” Now one meyhane after one other strains the road. Whereas meyhane culture thrives in neighborhoods throughout Istanbul, it has come a great distance from its Byzantine origins.

Krependeki İmroz

Conventional meyhanes in Istanbul

A number of meyhanes in Istanbul date again many years and, whereas quite a few elements have pressured many homeowners to replace their places and service, many retain a nostalgic aura and prize their heritage—permitting you to briefly step again in time:

Agora 1890

  • Asmalımescit in Beyoğlu is where a number of the greatest classics cluster: Asmalı Cavit, Yakup 2, Refik, and Sofyalı 9. All of them assure an unique meyhane experience.
  • Wanting considerably just like the door to Narnia, the primary road entrance of Agora 1890 will transport you again in time. When visiting, ensure you’re not misled by google map to the close by competitor with an identical identify. Mürselpasa Caddesi No.185, Balat; T: (0212) 631 21 36
  • Situated in a bit of white Greek home on the Asian aspect, İnciraltı is known as after the fig tree which has been a function of its backyard because the 1960s. Arabacılar Sokak No.four, Beylerbeyi; T: (0216) 557 66 86
  • Opened in 1938, Kör Agop is legendary for its top quality seafood dishes and stay music. Its fish soup continues to be ready utilizing the eighty-year-old recipe by Agop’s spouse. Ördekli Bakkal Sokak, No.5/A, Kumkapı; T: (0212) 517 23 34
  • Situated in the direction of the top of Nevizade Sokak, Krependeki İmroz is an previous Greek-style tavern established within the 1940s and thought to be one of many first opened within the space. The outside courtyard could be very well-liked in the summertime. Nevizade Sokak No.16, Nevizade; T: (0212) 249 90 73
  • Stored in the identical household who got here from Albania within the late nineteenth century, all the things in Safa Meyhanesi is nostalgic and genuine. İlyas bey Caddesi No.169, Yedikule; T: (0212) 585 55 94

Sofyalı 9

Trendy meyhanes in Istanbul

Many “modern” institutions don’t try to replicate the nostalgic meyhane. They have a tendency to be airier, extra minimalist in décor, and typically attempt for magnificence; serving acquainted meals with a twist. Such a meyhane appears to be efficiently spreading round city, and The Information Istanbul has its personal favorites on this class:


  • With its scrumptious menu, spectacular Golden Horn view at sundown, and a hip terrace bar above the primary eating space, Firuze provides the right mix of previous and current in your night time out. Şişhane Sokak No.5, Nejat Eczacıbaşı, Şişhane; T: (0212) 238 50 50
  • It’s not all consolation meals at Aila; chef Cem Karakuş ups the ante in Istanbul’s mezze recreation and that aspect of shock retains us returning. Plus, it additionally options the most important rakı bar on the town. Büyükdere Caddesi No.76B, Mecidiyeköy; T: 0531 258 33 33
  • Köprüaltı’s menu covers all the things you may anticipate from a meyhane, topped off with a contact of the proprietor’s finesse. Yahya Kemal Caddesi No.four, Rumelihısarı; T: (0212) 287 73 23
  • With solely seven tables and a scrumptious, do-it-yourself mezze choice, Yedi Masa is the obvious various to a comfortable night time at residence within the nostalgic atmosphere of St Joseph Faculty’s alumni affiliation. Hülya Sokak No.56, Moda; T: (0216) 338 25 61
  • Having simply settled in at its new location in Nişantaşı, Nuran is an instance of house cooking like no different. Ferah Sokak No.eight/B, Teşvikiye; T: (0212) 586 82 49


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