Osman Baycan ahead of a guest shift in Mexico City's Hanky Panky

Osman Baycan on hospitality, community and creating a new cocktail culture

30 January, 2023

In 2020 Goose No. 25 opened on the waterfront of Istanbul’s Beşiktaş district, a year later the same team launched the cocktail-focussed restaurant Pigalle Suadiye, two leading lights in the city’s recently-minted but rapidly-evolving cocktail scene. 

Now ahead of the launch of two yet-unnamed new venues, Drinks International sat down with Osman Baycan, the man helping to put Istanbul on the cocktail world stage.

“In Turkey the craft cocktail scene only really started in 2015 buts bars have been here since the beginning of civilization. So, we’re starting from the beginning really. First, we made cocktails that fit the Turkish palate and then gradually we can teach people about cocktails by going deeper into the classics. It takes time for palates to get used to those kinds of drinks. In a month in Goose, we serve around 15,000 cocktails, less than 10 of those are Martinis, 50 might be Negronis.”

But while cocktails might be relatively new on the menu, there is the benefit of being in one of the world’s great food cities.

“There's a strong food culture in Turkey and so of course we are influenced by it. We’ve just developed a cocktail based on baklava with pistachio paste and fig sherbet and crispy baklava dough that we took directly from a baklava shop. In Istanbul every morning you see people walking on the street with a bagel and a tea or coffee, so we made an espresso martini style drink with a toasted bagel cooked with coffee liqueur and bagel sherbet that almost same recipe that bagel shops use and toasted sesames for garnish.”

And it’s not just the culinary side of Turkish culture that Goose draws on and makes Istanbul an easy fit for high-level cocktail-led hospitality.

“Hospitality is so important in our culture. If you’re the guest in someone’s house, you must take their bed and the owner will sleep on the couch. The guest is the most important person. In my family home, there’s a room called the guest room that we were only able to dine in when we had guests, there was even special cutlery sets just for when guests visited.  We want to show our guests that it’s not just about the money, or business, the biggest things is hospitality.”

Long before Goose, Pigalle, and Istanbul, in his hometown, the seaside village of Tirebolu, on Turkey’s northern coast, Baycan had his heart set on becoming a professional footballer.

“Growing up, I was a football player, I’d quite high school so that I could go to training and that was the path I was on, but then I broke my shoulder badly and had to quit. So, I moved to Istanbul when I was 20, I had less than five lira in my pocket. I went there with three bags of luggage, and I had to take them from the bus station to my aunt’s house one by one because I couldn’t afford a taxi.

“But there are a million opportunities in Istanbul. I got work as a rescue swimmer for the Fire Department working three or four days a week. At the time, one of my friends, who worked in a bar, cut his hand and asked me if I could cover his shifts washing the dishes. I went there and I was just amazed by the vibe in the bar. I realised there was something for me there.

“The owners of that bar liked me and asked If I’d like more shifts but when they found out that I wasn’t studying at university, they said they couldn’t hire me. But that company had another bar, so I went there and this time I told them that I was studying sport at university, they hired me as a full-time bartender and I worked there for six years. I even took my days off on the exam dates of the university! Becoming a football player was my biggest dream, but right now I couldn’t be happier with how my life turned out. I might’ve been richer as a footballer but I’m living a life that I never could’ve imagined.”

Baycan describing himself just as a full-time bartender at this time is underselling it, he went forth and prospered. Five times, he was named national champion in cocktail competitions that included Bacardi Legacy in 2017 and Diageo World Class in 2019, and it was these competition successes that exposed Baycan to the world that bartending could offer.

“It was the first competition that I won, Havana Club, that I had a trip to Cuba, and I realised there was so much to the world and to the industry than the perspective that we have in Turkey. I decided I wanted to help young bartenders in my country so, in our company, we don’t hire people with more than four or five years’ experience, if we are able to hire someone new to the industry then we’ll do it right away because we want to give them a good start to their career.

“I want to host seminars for the bartending community for free and if I’m able to help them I want to be able to. I was lucky to have a helping hand from someone to be something else so as a responsibility from that, I have to be a hand that helps someone else up.

“At the moment, Turkey is experiencing an economic crisis and so by building a network around the world we can help our customers and the local bartending community to experience a bar like Himkok or Hanky Panky. Travelling from Turkey to Mexico is expensive but we can bring the team to us. I want Goose to be a Bosporus Bridge between the world and Turkey.”

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