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Sing for your supper 24 mars 2012

Posted by Acturca in Art-Culture, Istanbul, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Guardian (UK) Saturday, 24 March 2012, p. 6
Travel section – City Nightlife

Alev Scott

Traditional Istanbul taverns offer raucous, raki-fuelled nights of Turkish fasil song and dance. Just be prepared to join in, says Alev Scott.

Fasil is what makes a good night great in a traditional Turkish meyhane (tavern) – a motley band of violin, lyre and clarinet-playing musicians and singers who usually mix classical Turkish music, well-loved songs from the 1950s and 1960s and sometimes a cheeky arabesque drumbeat to suit a crowd of diners. This kind of music is quintessentially crowd-pleasing, to the extent that, as the night progresses and the raki flows, the performance becomes the realm of the people and the diners themselves do most of the singing and a great deal of boozy dancing.

Fasil is to the Turks what karaoke is to the Japanese (and to a certain extent the British) – everyone gets involved, but it usually entails a certain amount of tipsiness. I once walked past the open door of a fasil-fuelled meyhane late one night while completely sober, and found it decidedly embarrassing. Grown men and women were singing lustily into a microphone passed around by hands holding glasses of raki and forkfuls of cheese, everyone swaying and hooting with laughter. They were having a whale of a time, just the right side of tipsy, warm with camaraderie and the buzz of being ridiculous with friends.

The great thing is that, even as a foreigner, you are never allowed to be an outsider in a fasil crowd. You may not know the words to the songs or how to dance, but everyone will be (literally) falling over themselves to get you on your feet and fully involved. If this sounds completely horrifying, my advice would be to have a drink and see what happens.

The ideal setting for fasil is unquestionably the meyhane. When performed on stage in a concert hall it is an absolute disaster – unremitting, with slow, dirge-like singing. Avoid at all costs. The good meyhanes in Istanbul are mainly in Beyoglu – this is because, in Ottoman times, Greek and Armenian minorities were allowed to have meyhanes and drink, even when officially alcohol was illegal. There were plenty of secret visits by Muslims too, but the meyhanes were situated firmly in minority communities.

Some Fasil purists insist that the music ought to be unmixed with arabesque-style dancing influences. Try telling that to a raucous group of friends having the time of their lives in meyhane mayhem.

Famous fasil taverns

Galata Meyhanesi
This great venue in the heart of Galata, Beyoglu, is very popular, so be sure to book. It is one of the few venues with performances on weekdays.
Istiklal Caddesi Orhan Apaydin Sokak 5/A, +90 212 293 1139, galata.com.tr

Siçanli Meyhanesi
This meyhane is rather out of the centre of town, but perfect if you want to combine the fasil experience with a location next to the Bosphorus.
Mektep Sokak 8, Çinaralti/Emirgan, +90 212 277 6303, meyhanefasil.com

Feraye Meyhanesi
This tavern is characterised by lots of boisterous revellers. The owner is very jolly, and usually to be found holding court on a Saturday night.
Istiklal Caddesi, Beyoglu, +90 212 244 7472

A night on the town… and the morning after

The night out

Revving up
Once a turn-of-the-century Italian school Cezayir (Hayriye Caddesi 12, Galatasaray, Beyoglu, cezayir-istanbul.com) is now a swish and sophisticated bar. On warm spring nights, head downstairs to the bar’s gorgeous back garden. Limonlu Bahçe (Yeniçarsi Caddesi 98, Galatasaray) is a secret courtyard garden (spot the bar’s tiny sign out front), where the city’s creative types sip mojitos among the lemon trees.

Why party on the land when you can bob between two continents? Su Ada (Ferry from Kuruçesme waterfront park, suadaclub.com.tr) is an artificial island floating in the middle of the Bosphorus. A stunner for aperitifs at sunset. Urban (Istiklal Caddesi, Kartal Sokak 6/A, Galatasaray, Beyoglu, urbanbeyoglu.com) is a hip neighbourhood bar in a beautiful old pastry shop.

Live music
Performers range from Turkish stars to international hip-hop, jazz and reggae bands at Babylon (Sehbender Sokak 3, Asmalimescit, Beyoglu, +90 212 292 7368, babylon.com.tr). Istanbul’s premier concert venue, it recently drew Manu Chao and Kate Nash.

Dogz Star (Kartal Sokak 3, Galatasaray, +90 212 244 9147, www.dogzstar.com) is Istanbul’s best venue for reggae, dub and punk shows.

Ghetto (Kamer Hatun Caddesi 10, Beyoglu, +90 212 251 7501, www.ghettoist.com) is a petite club that acts as a magnet for international biggies, including Tricky and The Charlatans.

Indigo (Istiklal Caddesi, Akarsu Sokak 1-5, Beyoglu, +90 212 244 8567, www.livingindigo.com) is a heaving little hotspot popular for electronica and alternative gigs.

The legendary Nardis Jazz Club (Kuledibi Sokak 14, Tünel, Beyoglu, +90 212 244 6327, nardisjazz.com) is famous for jazz and blues nights.

Dance till dawn

Head to the Hodjapasha Culture Center (Hocapasa Hamam Sokak 5, Sirkeci, hodjapasha.com) for Whirling Dervish sema ceremonies and traditional dancing.

The gaudy grande dame of Ortaköy’s string of alfresco Bosphorus-side nightclubs is Reina (Muallim Naci Caddesi 44, Ortaköy, reina.com.tr), where the city’s elite groove to house and and electro. Nearby Blackk (Muallim Naci Caddesi 71, blackk.net) and Sortie (Muallim Naci Caddesi 141, eksenistanbul.com) are equally entertaining. The best club for hip-hop is Riddim (Siraselviler Caddesi 35/1, Beyoglu, riddim.com.tr), where Ja Rule, Busta Rhymes and Lil Jon have recently played.

The place for cheesy, fun and very boisterous dinner and belly dancing shows is Sultanas Nights (Cumhuriyet Caddesi, Kahan 40-D, Taksim, Beyoglu, +90 212 219 3904, sultanas-nights.com).

At W Lounge (W Hotel, Suleyman Seba Caddesi 22, Akaretler, Besiktas, wistanbul.com.tr) Turkey’s top DJs shower the dance floor with house, funk and soul tunes; take a breather on W’s moonlit terrace with a signature gingerita cocktail (tequila, orange liqueur and fresh ginger).

The recovery

Kahvalti (breakfast) often includes baskets of stuffed puffs of pogaça bread, herby cheeses, homemade jams, marinated olives and much more. Expect to spend around £7 a head for a classic breakfast; £15-£40 for an unlimited Sunday brunch.


The tiny Bosphorus-side Kale Café (Yahya Kemal Caddesi 16, Rumeli Hisari, kalecafe.com) sits in the shadow of a 15th-century Ottoman fortress. Tables tremble under stacks of gözleme (savoury stuffed crepes). Save space for a portion of kaymak (rich clotted cream) and honey. Turkey’s eastern provinces are said to offer the best breakfasts. Try Van Kahvalti Evi (Defterdar Yokusu 52, Cihangir, Beyoglu) where you can tuck into chunks of otlu peyniri (salty, feta-like cheese with herbs), tahin pekmez (tahini and grape molasses) and menemen (eggs scrambled with tomatoes and peppers).

All-you-can-eat Sunday brunch

Pace your way through more than 100 breakfast platters from the southern province of Hatay, including herby salads, pastries, nuts and cheeses at Akdeniz Hatay Sofrasi (Ahmediye Caddesi 44, Aksaray, +90 212 531 3333, akdenizhataysofrasi.com.tr). Trendy rooftop restaurant Vogue (Akaretler Spor Caddesi, BJK Plaza, A Blok, Besiktas, +90 212 227 4404, istanbuldoors.com) overlooks Dolmabahçe Palace and serves a spread including spinach-stuffed börek, miniature smoked salmon bagels, eggs Benedict and sesame-sprinkled, spiced pumpkin dessert. Reservations required; dress to impress … or to get a good table. At the Four Seasons Istanbul in Sultanahmet (Tevkifhane Sokak 1, Sultanahmet, +90 212 402 3150, fourseasons.com/istanbul) toque-topped chefs serve sushi rolls, French pastries and barbecued lamb in the glorious inner sanctum of Istanbul’s former prison.

Kathryn Tomasetti and Tristan Rutherford are the authors of Istanbul à la Carte (alacartemaps.com, £9.95), a map/guidebook/work of art.


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