Taverns of Old Istanbul
Zat, Vefa. Eski İstanbul Meyhaneleri. İstanbul: İletişim, 2002, 248pp. 


Taverns of Old Istanbul

Eski İstanbul Meyhaneleri

This book is an autobiography and a historical study on the night-life and taverns of Istanbul in the twentieth century. 

The book is composed of five chapters corresponding to different periods in the author’s life. Each chapter gives the same weight to daily social relations in the public sphere as tavern culture and night-life. 

Zat begins by narrating his childhood in 1950s Aksaray, an old neighbourhood of Istanbul, and depicts local tradesmen frequenting taverns and tavern culture among the small tradesmen of the neighbourhood. He describes the delicacies and the food culture, providing recipes and details of table manners and the serving of traditional appetisers (meze). He also depicts the drinking customs and culture of traditional taverns where raki is served. 

The author then recounts his early youth in the Samatya neighbourhood of the 1960s, followed by a description of the night life in 1970s Beyoglu, Istanbul and Taksim. Zat recounts the changes that led to traditional taverns being replaced by popular cafés, cabarets and bars in the early 1970s, providing anecdotes on old taverns, famous bars and their regular customers. Finally, he revisits this transformation in more historical detail. He is particularly interested in the contribution of non-Muslims to the food and wine culture of Istanbul. He attributes the phasing out of the taverns in Istanbul to the emigration and exclusion of non-Muslims, after the events of 6-7 September 1955. 

Overall, the author’s nostalgic perspective results in a narrative that idealises the past. However, the book is a very rich testimony on the recent history of Istanbul, recounting the formation of the city’s public space and the evolution of the Istanbulites daily lives.

Helin Burkay
Burkay, Helin. '"English abstract of 'Taverns of Old Istanbul'". Translated by Helin Burkay. In Cities as Built and Lived Environments: Scholarship from Muslim Contexts, 1875 to 2011, by Aptin Khanbaghi, 39. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014.
Muslim Civilisations Abstracts - The Aga Khan University
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