The hearts and minds of those who have lived in this peerless city share a sentiment on a daily basis that could be described as a type of weariness. Orhan Pamuk, the city’s most famous author, called it hüzün, the defining and communally shared morose that each inhabitant lives with. Istanbul is a city which is at once alluring and abrasive; its virtues and vices pull and draw on each other in endless exchange. If, on any given day, you find yourself in the center of that polar struggle, it’s good to know where to go to take a breath and regain some composure.
Walking through the streets of Çukurcuma, there is an unassuming café that looks as if it’s been placed there by nature; the unobtrusive walls and tables scattered just beyond them seem like they’ve sat humbly in place for years. Holy Coffee sets itself in the quaint and friendly atmosphere of a neighborhood marked by antique shops and the retreating, beautiful decay of houses that are antiques in their own right. The café warmly welcomes anybody looking for a relaxing chair just a stone’s throw from Taksim. It represents the dichotic relationship many have with the city; nestled as it is in a peaceful corner, it affords a respite when the crowds get too overwhelming – as they inevitably do from time to time.
The café has a sort of loose feel to it – odd books ensconce the shelves here and there in no particular order or collection, hand painted t-shirts (custom made by a local artist) hang from the walls, knit socks and mittens occupy an obscure corner – but any more attention paid to the décor would come off as forced and ruin the at once calm of the place. The design has a sort of European aura, but it doesn’t feel as if it is trying to ‘Westernize’ itself in any contrived manner (however you may want to interpret that politically charged word).
Owner Arzu Kiraner opened the spot just last June. Her involvement in the coffee business stems from studying abroad, after which she took up waitressing and became interested in starting up a café herself. Çukurcuma presented a fine opportunity to do just that when the real estate freed up last summer. In its early days, the café only offered a slim fare of coffee and cakes, both of which Arzu and staff put attention and care into, and still do. As she puts it, “I don’t serve anything that I wouldn’t eat myself,” indeed a comforting retort of quality control you so often wish you heard elsewhere. These days, a wider menu includes salads, eggs, and sandwiches. Arzu’s personal recommendations include a great roast beef and cheddar sandwich along with something called “Gypsy Toast,” which features red peppers, onions, cheese, and mayonnaise resting on two toasted bread slices and topped with eggs. As for the crowd, the café drew mainly foreigners at first, but now that word has slowly brewed out, a healthy mix of Turks also frequent the spot.
Describing her ambition, Arzu aims at creating a relaxing space, something to disappear into as a recess from the flash and manic maneuvers that normally mark the Beyoğlu area. She draws comparisons to cafes she is fond of in places like Berlin and San Francisco. Indeed, one feels a bit like they’ve left Istanbul after only a few minutes have passed. So come; sit down and write your novel or read the book that inspired it, enjoy a light meal and great coffee, talk with a friend, or just watch things meander by. Holy Coffee is the perfect place to do it.