With this feature, we wanted to celebrate a little-visited and oft-overlooked area of Istanbul, a cosmopolitan area of the city where Armenians, Jews, and Greeks have historically dominated. It’s an area where you can find mosques, synagogues, and churches of all denominations a stone’s throw apart. Not only that, but here too are culinary specialists who have been perfecting their trades over generations, making it a foodie’s paradise.
This year, however (and not for the first time in the area’s history), everything is about to change. The city’s most prestigious live music venue, Babylon, is opening a new, larger space inside the old Bomonti Beer Factory, and the city’s late-night revelers will enjoy a new nightlife destination — because even buzzing Beyoğlu can feel a little limited. Whether this will change the character of the neighborhood, causing it to morph into another gentrified Karaköy or Moda, bursting with micro-roasters, hipster bars, and concept boutiques, is yet to be seen. But for now, we just want to celebrate all that it is and all that it was: a representation of Istanbul’s multicultural history.
To reach this lively area, take the M2 Metro to Osmanbey, follow the exit signs for Pangaltı and then Ergenekon Caddesi and emerge from the subterranean melee onto a disorientating street corner. Turn right and walk up the ever-bustling Ergenekon Caddesi. As you pass the Pangaltı fruit and veg ‘market’ on the left, keep your eye out for a street food vendor with the smallest set-up you can imagine, his shiny metal box containing only topik. This chickpea, onion, and tahini dish.
The reason is of course, that Pangaltı was home to one of the city’s biggest Armenian communities. The topik seller is only one of the clues. The Pangalti Armenian Cemetery, which used to occupy the space where Gezi Park and the Divan hotel now can be found, is long gone. Demolished in the 1930s, many of the marble tombstones were used to build Gezi Park. However, the Pangalti Armenian Catholic Church and school (both open since the mid-19th century) remain, on the other side of Halaskargazi Caddesi — on Süleyman Nazif Sokak. It’s on Halaskargazi Caddesi, too, where you will find the headquarters of Agos, Turkey’s weekly Armenian newspaper (outside of which its then-editor in chief, Hrant Dink, was tragically shot dead in 2007). Not five minutes from here, in Teşvikiye, are the offices of Shalom and El Amaneser – Turkey’s two Jewish publications.
Continuing on with your journey up Ergenekon Caddesi, you’ll pass the renowned Pangaltı İşkembe (tripe soup) restaurant as well as the Tuşba and Tadal meze specialists (that are also great spots for finding foreign food and alcohol) and come across a large, imposing stone wall. This surrounds the Feriköy Roman Catholic Cemetery. Established in 1863, this remains the largest of its kind in Istanbul. The entrance is via Teyyareci Fehmi Sokak, and if you ask nicely the caretaker might just let you have a look around this leafy oasis. Just across Abide-İ Hürriyet Caddesi is the slightly smaller Feriköy Protestant Cemetery. Divided into sections by country of origin, both of these cemeteries tell countless stories of the Levantine families, merchants, and foreign soldiers who lived and died in this city, and are fascinating to walk around.
Opposite these walls (on the other side of Ergenekon Caddesi) is the foodie paradise of Kurtuluş Caddesi. This is an old Greek neighborhood formerly known as Tatavla, which comes from the Greek word for stables. It was indeed where the wealthy Genoese colonists, and later the Ottoman sultans, kept their horses. It was settled in the 1530s by Greeks captured from the Aegean islands that the Ottomans took control of. It is thought that particularly those captured by Piyale Pasha in Chios in 1566 (known for their seafaring skills), who were brought back to work in the shipyards of Kasimpaşa, eventually settled here.
Initially a poor working-class area, it grew in status until 1793 when an unusual edict decreed it an Orthodox Rum (Greek) neighborhood which prevented people of other nationalities or religions from moving there and earned it the nickname ‘Little Athens’. The character changed though after two great fires swept through the (largely wooden) neighborhood. The first, in 1832, destroyed 600 houses, and the second, in 1929, took out a further 200. After that the area was rebuilt, much of it is as you see today.
This was also the location of the legendary Baklahorani (from the Greek for ‘I eat beans’) street festival, celebrated by the Greek Orthodox community on the last Monday before Lent. It was traditionally a masked parade that began in different parts of the city but ended in a square in Kurtuluş and was a riot of singing, dancing, feasting, and playing. It was banned by the Turkish authorities in 1943 but revived by Turkish historian Hüseyin Irmak and Greek musician, Haris Theodorelis Rigas — who wanted to celebrate the city’s multicultural past once more.
Once you’ve had your fill of Kurtuluş, return to Ergenekon Caddesi, keep walking up, and soon you’ll enter Bomonti proper. This area has experienced something of a development frenzy of late. Once the property rates of nearby Nişantaşı reached silly heights, property developers started casting their eyes around for an as-yet-undiscovered gem and found Bomonti. Since then various tower blocks have shot up, and the big chain hotels have moved in.
But as you walk around there’s still a sense of old Bomonti here. Small-scale tailors, bakeries, and offal shops sit resiliently amongst the banks, design studios, and construction sites, serving to the same families that their ancestors served to before them. There’s a former Georgian Catholic Church on Kazim Orbay Caddesi that is one of the few of its kind in the world. It was established in 1861 to serve the Georgians in the Ottoman Empire and is now in the hands of the Italian Catholics. The walls around it sport colorful street art — the faded remnants of an urban festival held here in 2011.
The one striking feature here is the old Bomonti Beer Factory (which gives the area its name). Although the Swiss Bomonti brothers began the first modern production of beer in the Ottoman Empire in 1890, they moved their factory to this location in 1902. The building itself is painted mustard yellow with exposed red brickwork. An imposing seven-story building, its pointed spires give it something of a fairy castle look, while the machicolation and turreted effect make it look like it’s ready for battle (perhaps with a charging dragon?).
In 1912, it merged with a rival company to become Bomonti-Nectar Combined Beer Factories Company. However, the government later set out to nationalize alcohol production and acquired the factory in 1934, renaming it as Tekel Birası. It’s for this reason that most locals still refer to liquor stores as ‘tekel’ shops. As new units were added to the factory (expanding to cover 40 acres) beer gardens opened and remained popular with beer-drinking society up until the 1950s. However, the building was abandoned in 1991, and since then, although various projects have been posited, nothing has taken shape... until now.
Babylon finally looks set to open its much-anticipated new space inside the grounds of the old brewery in September 2015, bringing beer-loving society back to this unusual and historical space. Anyone who has ever been to Babylon’s Asmalımescit venue on a sold-out night will easily agree that it could certainly do with the extra space. It has a reputation for bringing some of the best underground and more commercially popular (but always with a certain musical edge) acts to the city, and we can’t wait to grab a beer and see what the new Babylon has to offer.
But Babylon is not the only new tenant, there’s also rumours of a new brewery set to to open in late Spring, returning at least part of the building to its original purpose. ATÖLYE Istanbul, an innovative shared community workspace and ‘interdisciplinary creativity platform’, is also moving in — bringing the city’s young creatives into what they hope to be an inspiring new space, taking up 700 square meters of the 12,000 square meter structure. We asked them what it means to be in Bomonti.
“Istanbul is a very rich and inspiring city with its layered history, deep craftsmen culture, and diverse industrial production areas across its periphery. Yet, the city does not contain too many buildings of industrial heritage — they were few to begin with, and most of them have been torn down to make space for new uses".
Bomonti Beer Factory stands out among the remaining ones, with its landmark tower, central location and a vast enclosed yet open space. Over the last few years, the Factory has been renovated by the award-winning architect Han Tumertekin, and is now a core-shell-ready space for new cultural and commercial uses. Currently, its diverse portfolio of 11,000-square-meter spaces are being programmed and developed with a diverse set of stakeholders, including but not limited to a concert hall, brewery, restaurants, cafes, exhibit spaces, offices and more. The common denominator is placing the act of ‘making’ food, music, arts, design and technology into the center of Bomonti’s existence, and thus seeding new threads of culture for the city.
ATÖLYE Istanbul participates in this new hub as a co-working, rapid fabrication and event space, specifically focused on the creative sector. More than 50 members will be able to use ATÖLYE to produce professional work and collaborate across diverse disciplines, whereas visitors and event attendants become part of the larger community of co-creation.
As this new post-industrial center becomes live in the coming year, we expect it to exert a magnetic effect on the cultural landscape of the city.”
This is Istanbul, and we know that even the weight of history can’t prevent it from moving on. Yet we hope that the neighborhood doesn’t change beyond recognition, that the local traders don’t get priced out, that Bomonti proves that new and old Istanbul can co-exist harmoniously, just as different cultures have done here in the past. We’d also like to raise a glass (of beer, what else?) to this little corner of the city, and wish it the very best for the future.
THE SWEET (AND SOUR) TASTE-MAKERS OF KURTULUŞ CADDESI
Damla Dondurma ve Boza was established in 1989 but moved to its current location in 1994. This tiny old-school joint serves up delicious, chewy Turkish ice cream in various flavors, made fresh with the milk you can see getting delivered daily. It also specializes in the unusual drink called boza, a thick tangy drink made from fermented millet, that locals swear has many health benefits.
Kurtuluş Caddesi No.110/A;
T: (0212) 233 49 25
Göreme Muhallebicisi is frequented by retirees in the mornings, but by the evening everyone comes in to have a taste of the shop’s lovely puddings to eat in or take away. This is a family business that prides itself on using the freshest ingredients and recipes, unchanged for decades.
Kurtuluş Caddesi No.60, Kurtuluş;
T: (0212) 246 53 67
Nazar Profiterol is the city’s real champion of creamy puffs slathered in gooey chocolate sauce. Six out of seven members of our staff in a taste test agree on the superiority of their dark chocolate sauce recipe and on the not-so-heavy weight of their cream fillings over Istanbul’s other leading profiterole purveyors.
Kurtuluş Caddesi No. 182;
T (0212) 225 27 46
Pelit Turşucusu has to be one of the street’s most colorful shops, as it serves 35 different types of pickled fruits and vegetables, and these colorful jars line the windows. Do as the locals do: buy a kilo of whatever varieties take your fancy and ask for a glass of the pickle juice to drink neat.
Refreshing! Kurtuluş Caddesi No. 121A;
T: (0212) 232 66 30
MAKE A NIGHT OF IT
If you find yourself heading to the new Babylon location for a concert, why not make a night of it and grab some food in one of the following locations?
Adana Ocakbaşı serves traditional dishes from the Adana region, including Adana Kebab, Urfa Kebab, and many other meat-based delicacies. This is also the place for offal, including uykuluk (lamb sweetbread), böbrek (kidney), yürek (heart) and ciğer (liver). Get a seat by the open grill if there’s space.
Baysungur Sokak No. 8, off Ergenekon Caddesi, Pangaltı;
T: (0212) 247 01 43
Mantıcı is set down just below street level and doesn’t look like much... until you see the place packed out on a daily basis. This is not the place for a leisurely dinner (indeed, no alcohol is served) but if you want something hearty and filling, you can’t go wrong with their low-priced delicious mantı (mini meat-stuffed dumplings) in a garlic yogurt sauce, drizzled with chili-infused bubbling butter.
Teyyareci Fehmi Bey Sokak No. 10, off Ergenekon Caddesi, Pangaltı;
T: (0212) 232 32 76
Despina’nın Meyhanesi is one of Istanbul’s most famous restaurants, and the black and white portrait of Madam Despina, Turkey’s first female meyhane proprietor, hangs in the entrance. Before her passing in 2006, her last wishes were for the new proprietors to preserve the authentic and salaş (endearingly informal) outlook of the restaurant. It can be said that this promise was kept successfully — to the point where its beyaz muşamba örtüleri (off-white tablecloths), made famous by a Sezen Aksu song, still remain today.
Açıkyol Sokak No. 9, Kurtuluş;
T: (0212) 247 33 57
Or simply kick off your night in style with a pre-gig cocktail:
Cloud 34 offers a whole new spectacular view across the city from its towering position on the 34th floor of the Hilton Istanbul Bomonti Hotel & Conference Center. Not only does it serve a variety of classy cocktails and bar food, but it also hosts local and international DJs behind the decks. The hotel actually overlooks the Bomonti Beer Factory, so if you’re planning to dance without a care, then maybe check into one of their rooms — to really make a night of it.
Silahşör Caddesi No. 42 Bomonti;
T: (0212) 375 30 00