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The Oldest Venues of Istanbul

How much do you know about the oldest venues in Istanbul, a world metropolis with a history of 8500 years and the capital of 3 Empires and states?

For example, we all know that the oldest shopping centre in the world is in Istanbul, but have you heard of the oldest coffee shop in the world?

COFFEE HOUSE Coffee, which is produced in lands far away from Istanbul, was brought to the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s by Ozdemir Pasha, who was appointed as the Governor of Yemen. First consumed in the palace, coffee was offered to the public in a coffeehouse opened by two men named Hakem and Shems in Tahtakale near Egyptian Bazaar area today. After new restorations and initiatives in the region, this region is still the heart of coffee culture today.

LOKANTA The restaurant culture, which started in France in 1760, came to Istanbul 200 years later. In the Ottoman society, where domestic and foreign guests were hosted in houses, mansions and palaces and there was no restaurant culture, the first restaurant was opened under the name of Victoria with the desire of Sultan Abdülhamit II, who desired the development of a restaurant culture like in Europe.

Abdullah Efendi, one of the cooks of the palace kitchen, was put in charge of the restaurant opened in 1888 at the Karakoy pier, and the regulars called the restaurant "Abdullah Efendi Restaurant", not "Victoria". Today, the restaurant, which operates under the name Haci Abdullah Lokantası in Taksim Istiklal, maintains the tradition of training the staff who started working as apprentices and turning them into masters over time, and the service is offered without major changes in the menus. It is said that there are around 1500 recipes in the memory of the restaurant; 150 of these recipes are presented to the guests on a rotational basis.


Of course, it is unthinkable for such a multicultural and deep-rooted city to remain aloof from the entertainment life. We see that the entertainment life in Istanbul was first shaped in Direklerarası, where traditional theatre was performed. Direklerarası is the name given to the colonnaded bazaar and the street (today Sehzadebasi Street) on which this bazaar is located in the Fatih district of Istanbul, which was part of the complex built by Nevsehirli Damat Ibrahim Pasha in the 1700s. The Direklerarası bazaar, which was built to generate income for the Damat Ibrahim Pasha complex, consisted of 82 shops lined up on both sides of a long open road in front of the complex. During the 19th century road widening works, the shops on one side of the road were demolished; the shops on the other side were named "Direklerarası – which means between masts" because of the columns carrying the arches in front of them. In the 19th century, this place, which became a meeting point especially during Ramadan, became the centre of entertainment, culture and art events. The first theatres and cinemas in the city developed in Direklerarası. After the 1930s, the venue's characteristic as an entertainment and cultural centre diminished and was largely demolished during the urbanisation works in 1958. A very small part of it has survived to the present day.

Direklerarası was not the first place where the people of Istanbul were introduced to cinema. Direklerarası is only the place where the first regular cinema hall was opened in 1914. The first cinema film screening in Istanbul took place in 1897 at Sponeck Beerhouse in Galatasaray. Cinema and even theatre performances were held many times in this place, which was named as a beer house, and even the French illusion master Caseneuve brought his skills to people here for a while. Sponeck cinema, located on the top floor of Avrupa Passage in Galatasaray, served the people of Istanbul between 1870-1903. Years later, the Hard Rock Cafe took place there.

The first colour film screening in Istanbul was held at the Elhamra Cinema. Where the Alhambra Passage used to be, there was the Kristal Gazinosu (which means Casino, but don't think of gambling centers. In Turkish, casino is mostly used in the sense of an alcoholic entertainment venue) from the late 19th century. But it burnt down. Along with this casino, Dimitri Gambrinos Beer House, one of the famous beer houses of that period, was also here. The brewery was opened in 1899. According to the Istanbul Encyclopaedia (by Resat Ekrem Kocu), the owner, Captain Dimitri, opened this place for his zenana (boy lover), a young man from Chios named Andriya. The first waiters in Istanbul wearing white jackets, white dress shirts, black bow ties, black trousers and shoes were seen here.

Chios Greek Andriya wanted to run this place like the beer houses he had seen in French harbours.  Newspaper advertisements indicate that it was open until dawn. However, "Istanbul Encyclopaedia" implies that after midnight it turned into a kind of "gay club" in today's terms. Returning to the Alhamra, there is a photograph of Ataturk watching a film with his sister Makbule Hanim in this cinema. It is said that Ataturk loved this cinema. The Hard Rock Cafe, which is closed today, and the Elhamra Passage, which now sells costumes and accessories, are also very close to Flower Passage (Cicek Pasaji). DRINKING When we say Cicek Passage, it would be impossible not to mention Istanbul's meyhane (which means tavern) and beer house culture.  In meyhane, which literally means "drinking house", raki, a traditional drink, is served. In meyhanes, where many different alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are also served, it is also part of the tradition to eat hot dishes and appetisers specific to Turkish cuisine.

There are also many meyhanes with live music or dance shows in different styles. It is rumoured that the oldest meyhane in Istanbul was opened in Yedikule, one of the historical districts, and that the building, built during the Ottoman period, was frequented by railway workers. The place, which today serves under the name of Safa Meyhanesi, took its present form in 1948 and took this name.

Cicek Pasaji, which has been famous for its pubs and taverns since the 1940s, was not originally built for this purpose. Completed in 1876, the building had 24 shops underneath and 18 luxury apartments above, arranged in the Parisian style, which was fashionable at the time. The passage formed by the shops was called "Hristaki Passage" and the building was called "Cite de Pera". In 1908, the ownership of the building was transferred to Grand Vizier Sait Pasha and the passage was named "Sait Pasha Passage". 1940 During the Armistice years, florists started to settle in the small shops in the passage. White Russian women, baronesses and duchesses fleeing from the October Revolution were some of the flower sellers here.

When Cite de Pera started to be used as a flower auction place for a while, the florists in Beyoğlu gathered in the passage and the name of the passage became "Cicekciler Passage". Cicekciler means florists. Starting in the 1940s, the beer and taverns opened gradually moved the residents and florists to other places and only the name "cicek" remained. Yorgo Efendi was the first to open a tavern in the passage. In the following period, the building was restored to its original condition. After the restoration in 1988, it was reopened for use as a tavern and in December 2005, the last maintenance and renovation works were carried out. Today, it accepts its visitors in its most lively form.

The first brewery in the Ottoman Empire was established in Istanbul during the reign of Abdulhamit II. The Swiss Bomonti Brothers transformed their brewery, which they established as a small workshop in 1885, into a factory in 1893. This is where the Bomonti neighbourhood got its name. Is it possible to establish a brewery but not a brewery? In the late 1800s, breweries started to open in major Ottoman cities. In 1888, there were 31 breweries in Istanbul, 15 in Beyoglu, 8 in Galata and 8 in various neighbourhoods. It is said that the first large brewery opened in Istanbul was the aforementioned Gambrinus. Today, the Bomonti brewery serves as a restaurant and entertainment complex. CASINO Another important part of Istanbul's entertainment life is the gazinos (casinos). Documents reveal that there was a casino at Karakulak Han in Beyazit in 1873. Later, we see the casinos opened around Galata, the most popular entertainment district of the 1900s. Gazino was often characterised as the modern versions of the taverns of the period. Arkadi Gazino, opened in Galata in the early 1900s by former police chief Arap Enver, is one of the first gazinos in Istanbul. Since it was frowned upon at the time for Muslims to perform in gazinos, Greek and Armenian artists were seen to perform in these venues. After the 1917 revolution in Russia, many Russians sought refuge in Istanbul, including theatre actors, dancers and musicians. An American who ran a club there took refuge in Istanbul and opened the Maksim Gazinosu next to the Majik Cinema on Siraselviler Caddesi, starting the era of gazinos that marked a period in Turkish cultural life. The best jazz orchestras played here, and popular dances of the period such as foxtrot, shimmy, and the çarliston were performed here. Until 2004, Maksim remained in operation as a gazino at intervals and closed permanently on this date. Currently, Taksim Sofitel Hotel is located in its place.

Bonus: Let's leave a sweet flavour in your mouth by telling about the first patisserie and confectionery in Istanbul. SWEETS We see that the first patisserie in Istanbul was Lebon, opened in 1886 by Eduard Lebon, a member of the French Consulate. The historical place frequented by famous artists, poets and writers was unfortunately closed in 2022. Nowadays there is a clothing store in its place.

The Şekerci Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir, opened by Hacı Bekir in Bahcekapı in 1777, is the first candy shop in Istanbul. Sekerci means candy shop owner. We also recognise Haci Bekir as the first producer of Turkish delight. Haci Bekir, who was deemed worthy of the title of Sekercibasi by the Ottoman Palace with the confectionery and Turkish delight he made, also participated in the dessert competitions organised in Europe at the time and won many gold medals. Although it was renamed "Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir" with the name of his grandson, it continues to produce confectionery and Turkish delight with many branches today, and the Louvre Museum has Haci Bekir's famous "Turkish Delight" painting. The first branch in Bahcekapı is still active as a confectioner and welcomes shoppers.


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