Out to Space

A freak who enjoys discovering and sharing a simple beauty of life even in a strange place

Drinking in Istanbul: Bottoms up to Familiar Culture Shocks

It’s been over a month in the city. One thing I am not lacking is in drinking…well…like anywhere else I’ve been to. But here in Istanbul, from my observations, it salutes me with some familiar drinking culture shocks.

Coming from Bangkok where there were restrictions on night economy in 2021, in the first week in Istanbul, I was perplexed to learn that live music in a random pub I went to in Taksim started at 1 am. That meant they closed around 6-7 am. 

Opening up late is a norm in nightlife districts such as Beyoğlu and Kadıköy. That gives me a notorious impression of how hard they party here. I leave it there with no desire to drink up all night with bunches of strangers—too old for it. Been there, done that in Bangkok and Sydney. No need to repeat it in Istanbul.

Fortunately, the place I’m staying in Kozyatağı is a few Metro stations away from the craziness in Kadıköy nightlife. There’s only one local pub in the neighbourhood. And they happen to have my beer of choice, stable wifi (believe me the Internet reliability here constantly frustrates you), and good music to sit, think, write, or even work there.

Speaking of choices of beers, there are one or two dominant breweries in the country. You cannot escape them. But there are some smaller players that brew some good stuff including independent/craft beers. I still have tried the national drink, rakı. That needs to be fixed.

Assorted bottled beers in Istanbul

Although partying looks wild, there is a good gesture regarding religion. Some pubs turn the music off during the prayers. This is an Islamic country after all. Drinking while hearing a prayer is such a nice juxtaposition! You can tell that Turkey is more open-minded about consuming alcohol than other Islamic countries. However, there could be a different attitude in other regions in Turkey, I was told.

A prayer heard in a pub in Beşiktaş

Another familiar culture shock is the unapologetic smoking of tobacco. I remember the time when smoking in pubs, bars, and nightclubs were allowed. This city brings me back to those days. Actually, it is legally banned. Clearly, no one gives a toss.  It is discouraging to hang out in pubs but doesn’t stop me.

One evening, working late in the local pub, I delved into the zone and was oblivious to the fume of cigarettes in the closed panel. After work was done for the night, I eventually got outside in the cold weather with my beer for fresh air. It was refreshing but also reversing.

Working late in the local pub, Kozzbeer, in the fume of tobacco

Living through the transitional time of the smoking ban in public spaces triggers my thoughts on public health policies, campaigning, and law enforcement. That’s a can of worms. No need to go there.  For now, I need to embrace being a passive smoker in most pubs, unfortunately. The airflow is getting better in spring, at least.

I have been drinking in different cities: from DC to Bangkok (where I spent my life in the past few years), from Mexico City to Tokyo, and from Russia to Jamaica (where I visited before the pandemic). Istanbul is definitely one city that I can’t get over it easily.

Now, the workload kinda slows down a bit, I can shift the gear to learn more about Turkish stuff not just about drinking culture. In the meantime, şerefe!

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