‘It was about time they cleaned the mess up around there’, says my Turkish friend S. I look at him surprised, and ask him if he is being cynical. ‘No, I’m very serious’, he replies. ‘You couldn’t even walk there properly. The bar owners protest now, but they really don’t have my sympathy.’
We talk about Asmali Mescit, the area with bar streets at the end of Istiklal Caddesi. The area has been covered with outdoor seatings for years, but now the municipality put an end to it. They removed all tables and all chairs. Just while tourists and locals were sitting there, pouring half liters of beers in themselves: hop your chair please, and hop the table too thank you. I wish I had been there to watch it really. But I couldn’t make my mind up about it. What was going on here? Was this just a big fat shame, or was there more to it? I needed some time to figure it out and talk to people, but I think I made up my mind now: I agree with friend S. and am not totally shocked and enraged by the events.
Don’t get me wrong. I like a beer and I’ve poured quite a few into myself right at those outdoor seatings. But from what I’ve heard about it till now, the municipality has tried to somehow keep the seatings under control and within defined area’s, but the bar owners just couldn’t be bothered. They acted like they owned the streets. That’s sure how it looked: every meter was taken by tables and chairs. Which was also disrespectful to other venues in the streets, like galeries and shops. Their banners and racks were sometimes just taken away and replaced by tables, and against a huge majority of bar owners nothing much could be done against that.
So, to be honest, I think the bar owners are crying crocodile tears. I went to a protest yesterday evening in Istiklal Caddesi (their second against the cleaning up) and the banners were kind of pathetic: ‘Step by step we are moving towards an alcohol ban’, and ‘How do we explain this to the tourists?’. I understand it’s their income being touched, but an alcohol ban? Also outdoor seatings where no alcohol is served were cleared (like famous Ara Café), the bars weren’t closed and alcohol is still widely available in Beyoglu (as anywhere in Istanbul and in fact in Turkey as a whole).
And how to explain this to tourists? Well, just say that things were getting out of hand and that things got cleaned up. Direct them to the dozens and dozens of other venues where they can still drink outside, likeoutdoor seatings on roofs. Tell them from where the boat to Kadiköy leaves, because outside life on the pavements is still going strong there. Tell em to buy cold beers at a Tekel shop or a supermarket and drink it under a tree in the park.
If you are a good business man, you have some savings to help you through rough times. Use it now. Stop your anger and re-focus. I heard that the outdoor seatings are not gone forever, but that the municipality is working on a new policy that will be made public probably in September. They want to be stricter with the areas that are designated for tables and chairs, and most probably they will raise the prices for licences. I see opportunities for bar owners. If I was one, I’d invest in nicer furniture and more choice in drinks, and get ready for the new outdoor drinking culture. Attract richer clientele, leading to a more profitable business.
Imagine what the new bar streets will look like in some time. Bars with outdoor seatings, with good chairs, good tables, more choice than between a 30 cl beer or half a liter. You can actually walk through the streets, and find not only bars, but also nice shops, galeries, restaurants, etcetera. Actually, I heard that was how it used to be. Not too long from now, we’ll be so glad the municipality took a broom and cleaned things up! Cheers!