A View from the City: Istanbul

22 January, 2016

Hamish Smith speaks to Ibrahim Bulut, bartender at Hudson Cocktail Bar, about Istanbul's bar scene 

Tell us a little about the history of Istanbul’s drinking culture.

Islam has continued to affect the use of liquor in Turkey, but alcohol use dates back to the ancient times.

Istanbul’s history brings to mind both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, including rakı, wine, kumis, boza, Turkish coffee and Turkish tea.

Turkish tribes of Central Asia have spread to every region of Eastern Europe where statues can be found holding a glass of drink in their hands. According to legend, the very first wine was produced in Anatolia in about 4000 BC.

How have restrictions on alcohol in Turkey impacted your work?

Restrictions on alcohol in Turkey have always had an impact although, unofficially, a part of the population was against them. However, this did not prevent the development of a culture.

Although alcohol has not specifically been prohibited in recent times, we sometimes have difficulty finding products as bartenders. But it helps us to have to overcome these issues so we develop ourselves more. People continue to buy alcohol, and especially cocktails have been produced at the highest level in the past few years.

Which cocktails are popular in Istanbul?

Turkish bartenders are following world trends very closely. So lately Negroni, Manhattan and other old classics have been very popular.

Now, each cocktail bar has its own presentations in the foreground. People go to bars to drink something specific to the place. Bartenders are also constantly renewing themselves and developing to meet this need.

Sour cocktails are particularly suited to our taste buds – Hudson Mule, using my own ginger ale in my own cocktail bar, is an example of this.

Who and what are the pioneer bartenders and bars?

I have to say that there are many cocktail bars which have opened in Istanbul recently and many are nice. One of them is called Escale bar, managed by Cevat Yildirim, my mentor, and I owe him a lot. He is one of Istanbul’s most established mixologists.

Efendi, managed by Ugur Tekebas, is multi-disciplinary and innovative at the same time. Finn Karakoy, with bartender Onurcan Gencer, Turkey’s World Class winner in 2014, first became famous for his vegetable cocktail.

Nidal Egehan is the bartender at Frankie. There are very few female bartenders. Lucca’s bartender Yigitcan Gencer attracts attention with innovative cocktail presentation. Finally, the Hudson bar manager is my friend Mehmet Ali Pisgin.

Kitchen appliances are used in the bar which has a culinary history of syrups, purees and bitters, and it aims to develop innovations such as molecular gastronomy.

Meanwhile, Nopa Bar, managed by Kevin Patnode, reflects the traditions of Turkish American customers in the cocktails.

Who do bartenders look to for inspiration outside of Turkey?

Certainly David Rios. He was Diageo Reserve World Class 2013 global champion and his techniques gained worldwide recognition. How to answer the question must be to look at a bartender’s personality. Mixologists look to examples of Istanbul bartenders with entertaining personalities. Other than that, World Class founder Barrie Wilson.

What are the challenges the city’s cocktail scene faces?

The most difficult issue we face as bartenders is prejudice, but that has been broken in recent years and people have started to look at this work as a professional career.             

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