Istanbul may not be the first place you think of to search for beer, but when Turkish Airlines offered a 30 hour layover on my way to Hamburg for a much lower fare than any other airline, I jumped at it and started my beer hunting plan. I also watched Kedi, read Fare cover to cover, and ignored the news. NB: An overnight requires a visa, easily obtained online for $20.
And in fact the first thing I saw when I emerged from my hotel was the first of many well-cared for cats (kedi) outside of a salon.
My cab driver from the airport was both Turkish and Australian- we talked about Melbourne where he grew up and I had had a lot of beer (see earlier post). When I told him my plan for the evening (to essentially walk around by myself with my loosely mapped out beer pursuits) he recommended doing pretty much anything but that. Of course I did it anyway. But I also arranged for him to pick me up the next morning at 7:00am. It felt good knowing someone would realize it if I weren’t there!
He drove me over this famous stretch of fishermen along Galata Bridge. Even overcast, it provided a beautiful view of Istanbul- both the European and Asian sides of the city. I asked him how to say “thank you” and he tried three times to teach me the five syllable phrase before giving up and saying “you can say sol for short.” “Sol sol sol!” I replied.
I checked into my hotel and began my search of Kantin, a restaurant featured in Fare with a firey red-headed owner (red hair being something, like one-off beers and cartographic book signings, I’ll walk the extra kilometer for. Or three.) I found an excellent Kolsch and lovely view and dance party at Populist (home to Torch Brewing), a crowd of young people all joyously belting out a song I’d never heard at Joker #19, and a mystery beer at Beer Hall. But neither I nor any cab driver or local could tell me how to find Kantin. Apparently it moved last year but forgot to tell Google or any local drivers.
Enough! I felt like something was missing but popped into a Tekel Shop for a Gara Guzu to drink alone in my hotel room. Sniff.
On the way to my hotel, almost across the street in the opposite direction from where I started out, I saw backlit books. A library? A classroom? I peered over the wall to a courtyard- lordy, it was a bookstore.
It was a beautiful evening. Did I mention that? Too early to tuck in for a solo beer. And when I looked over the side of the bookstore courtyard, I saw people at little tables. Drinking Turkish tea. And beer.
Book stores are a weakness of mine the way that Oxycontin is to others. Not making a joke- I become impulsive. I make bad choices. I rationalize spending like this: If I don’t have coffee for three weeks on the way to work- this book is free! My attraction to book stores, especially ones with- I almost can’t write it for believing such wonderful places exist and half believe they’ll disappear if said out loud- craft beer. My obsession has all the marks of addiction, but only hurts my wallet and may make my brain healthier.
Once inside and surrounded by books in English as well as Turkish, and believing I had already stumbled into the most magical place in Istanbul- I spotted a brown cardboard box. It was facing me, calling to me in small print: “Maps of Istanbul”. What? How did you know I was here to bring you home? Inside the cardboard box was another box- glossy and black, and inside that a rare, gorgeous, and affordable (at least in my thinking of that moment) book. Of maps. Of Istanbul.
The secret bookstore is called Minoa. I bought the book and a beer and sat outside. I lovingly turned its pages and read of Constantinople, of Istanbul, even of the locations where Anton Melbye (the painter whose show I was heading to in Hamburg- next post!) drew and painted from various vantage points as he broke from his precise Danish teachings and brought emotion to his work. To my right was a couple flirting quietly over tea. I ordered a real Turkish tea and asked my waiter how the locals drank it. “With sugar- I will bring it.” I ordered a craft beer back, of course. Once the tea cooled enough for me to pick up the glass, I sipped the intense bitter yet honey-sweet heat. Oh now I get it.
When the tea was finished, look at the surprise on the saucer!
While fully aware of what an ugly American I was about to sound like, I asked my waiter if I might buy the tea glass and adorable saucer. He said he’d check, and came back apologetically suggesting I try the markets in the morning. Completely self-conscious, I thanked him and said, “Worth a try it’s so cute!” and forgot about it.
I had a final beer and continued to read my new book before asking for the bill. It arrived, along with both waiters and a little bag.
“You may not buy the tea glass. Because we give it to you.”
Here are the details:
Minoa (bookstore, bar, and cafe)
I can’t find a website; this Tripadvisor review is the closest I could get: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g293974-d10207315-Reviews-Minoa_Bookstore_Cafe-Istanbul.html
Suleyman Seba Cad, Park No. 52A
34357 Besiktas Istanbul Turkey
Populist (Torch Beer)
Joker No: 19
Again with the TripAdvisor review site, as they don’t seem to have one: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g293974-d7706043-Reviews-Joker_No_19-Istanbul.html
Besiktas Cd No: 19
Besiktas, Istanbul, 34435, Turkey
+90 212 227 9395
I thought I’d found a website but it brought me somewhere odd. So TripAdvisor again: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g293974-d10227112-Reviews-Beer_Hall-Istanbul.html
Visnezade Mahalessi, Suleyman Seba Cd. No: 46, 34357
Besiktas, Istanbul Turkey
+90 212 219 6530
This is more a local brand of beer to look for than a place. It’s fairly easy to find in Istanbul, and good. In the airport, seek the upstairs bars- there is one that carries this in several varieties!
NB: Other airlines that offer one-night layovers include Icelandic Airlines (Rekyavik), Aer Lingus (Dublin- I did this once heading to Prague), and TAP (Azores).