As previously reported on this blog, bar and cafe owners in Istanbul's bustling Beyoglu district have been locked in an ongoing battle with municipal authorities, who recently initiated a crackdown on outdoor seating in the area. Although authorities are now planning a new "master plan" for the district, one that's supposed to provide new guidelines for outdoor seating, local business owners say the current ban has left them in dire straits. From the Tarlabasi Istanbul blog:
Mehmet Aktaş, who works in a traditional meyhane on Sofyalı Sokak says the restaurant is having serious trouble staying open: “We used to have about 18 tables outside, with room for 40 to 50 people. Now we have three tables left. Five out of eight employees are on unpaid leave, we are really struggling.” Like many bars and restaurants on Sofyalı Sokak, they, too, have seen their revenues fall by almost 80percent. “At this rate, we won’t survive very long. Restaurants and bars will start to close. This street will be dead without them.” Aktaş points out that the restaurants will not be the only businesses affected by the municipality’s policy: “We buy from fishermen, butchers and green grocers. Our restaurant used to buy 150TL to 200TL worth of fish daily from a local fisherman. Now we can only afford to buy fish for 20TL to 30TL every day.” He shrugs. “This will affect a much broader local economy. Even the children selling Kleenex on the streets will make less money.”
The owners of two small corner shops on Sofyalı Sokak agree; both have seen their business drop by about 80 percent. Many wonder why the Beyoğlu Municipality deliberately risks such economic loss, and the loss of so many jobs: According to bianet.org, the number of layoffs stands at 2,000 after only one month.
As recently reported on Eurasianet's Kebabistan blog, Istanbul municipal authorities have recently instituted a crackdown on outdoor seating in the city's Beyoglu district, known for its bustling bars and cafes. The street fight now seems to be escalating, with city inspectors confiscating the instruments of musicians playing in Beyoglu's streets and some 20 people being detained in a recent police raid after they refused to stop drinking in a makeshift outdoor space.
The Hurriyet Daily News has an interesting article up looking at the some of the underlying problems of the battle to control Beyoglu's outdoor life. From the article:
If Istanbul were a sky, there is little doubt that its famous Beyoğlu district would be a rainbow thanks to the diversity of colors existing side by side. Walking along the district’s iconic İstiklal Avenue, one can see a number of surreal juxtapositions that would rarely be seen elsewhere, such as a Santa Clause trying to coax people into a kebab restaurant or people angrily protesting cheek and jowl with a group of musicians.
But Beyoğlu’s technicolor landscape is slowly losing its vividness due to recent conflicts between Beyoğlu Municipality, area residents and business owners over the use of public space and noise coming from street musicians....
....Korhan Gümüş, from The Human Settlements Association, or HSA, a nongovernmental organization in Beyoğlu that focuses on issues related to local governance, said state officials in Turkey were not aware of how to use the public spaces.
“The use of public space also requires a cultural plan,” Gümüş told the Daily News. “İstiklal Avenue is an area that is especially like Turkey’s window abroad. There are opera singers there and there are traditional musicians; the municipality can control this by limiting the decibels. Taking away instruments is just despotism,” he said.
As previously reported in this blog, Turkey has recently been dealing with a flood of bootleg booze that has mostly impacted the country's lower-end tourist trade and has, tragically, led to the death of four Russian tourists.
Turkish authorities have responded with a crackdown on bootleggers and have started taking a closer look at just what is being served to tourists. As Milliyet reports, what they're finding out is pretty worrying. In Antalya, out of 54 bottles of booze sampled in various touristic facilities, a whopping 22 turned up with elevated level of methyl alcohol -- a compound which is directly linked with alcohol poisoning. In response, says Milliyet, authorities have announced a ban on the import of bottles of several brands of booze that, based on their names, should probably have never been let into the country in the first place. Among the illustrious brands being banned: "Mister Bourdon" and "Brave Harvey" vodka and whiskey, "Nordix Gin Party" and "London Dry Gin Guard Hause" [sic] gin and "838" vodka. (If you follow this link, you can see a photo of a bottle of "Brave Harvey" whiskey, proudly bottled in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.)
A yacht tour in Turkey has turned out badly for a group of Russian tourists, after three of them died after drinking what appears to be bootleg alcohol. More details here.
This is not the first time Turkey has had to deal with the death of tourists who had imbibed bootleg hooch. In the resort city of Antalya, a court is currently deciding the fate of a liquor distributor who is accused of supplying the bathtub booze that killed three German students in 2009. More on that case here.
And in 2005, more than 20 people died after drinking bootleg raki, the anise-flavored spirit that is Turkey's national drink. Details here.
Strict new regulations introduced by the Turkish government had put many of the country's drinkers in a funk. Among the new regulations were ones that tightly controlled who could buy alcohol at festivals and other large events and also made it more difficult for catering companies to serve alcohol at events.
But some of those regulations have now been suspended by a Turkish court. More from the Hurriyet Daily News:
The ruling party tabled one of the most disputed articles in the law, one which had banned alcohol sales at events and activities “for children and young people,” dealing a blow to festival and concert organizers and attendees.
The regulation had come under particular fire for defining “young people” as those up to 24 years of age, a provision the court said contradicted existing laws that set 18 as the minimum legal age for buying and consuming alcohol.
The Council of State made its decision as it continued to examine a petition by the Ankara Bar Association seeking the annulment of the entire bill. It also suspended a second provision of the law that had prohibited shops from selling liquor in small bottles, which regulators argued made alcohol easier to access for young people.
The regulation was passed in January by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, with the aim of protecting young people from alcoholism. Its adoption triggered protests saying that the party was targeting liberal lifestyles.
The San Francisco-based Vinography blog has a very nice roundup that reviews several Turkish wines. The article can be found here. If you're in Turkey and want to try some of these wines, a New York Times article of mine about new wine bars in Istanbul can be found here. And for more wine reviews, check out Istanbul Eats' review section, here.
Istanbul Eats' latest Turkish wine review features a bottle made from an obscure grape known as the "forgotten Thracian prince." The grape, Papazkarasi ("priest's black" in Turkish), is grown almost exclusively in the Thrace region, near Turkey's border with Bulgaria and Greece. More details here.
With its latest round of regulations targeting the sale, promotion and consumption of alcohol, the Turkish government has run into a storm of accusations that it is working to impose a conservative agenda (i.e. a dry one) on the country. Newsweek takes a look at the developments in its latest issue:
The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was so fond of raki that he died of liver disease. But alcohol is becoming the latest battleground in Turkey’s culture wars. New regulations introduced this month by the conservative, Islamic-leaning AK Party government have caused a storm of protest from the imbibing elite.
On the face of it, the restrictions aren’t very draconian—banning alcohol advertising at sports or youth-oriented events, and outlawing the sale of alcohol on highways. Turkey’s alcohol-licensing laws remain far laxer than in the U.S. or most of Europe. Nonetheless, critics of the AK Party fear this is just the beginning of a “government-coordinated campaign to make alcohol socially unacceptable,” says Ilker Gul, an Istanbul bar worker.
The Islamic-rooted government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has defended the new restrictions, saying they are about "protecting young people" from the dangerous effects of alcohol. But critics point out that the latest restrictions come hot on the heels of yet another increase on the tax levied on alcohol, which has created the suspicion that the government's true intention is to keep booze out of the hands of Turks of all ages.
While local Turkish liquor producers have been complaining about new government taxes that they believe will hurt their business, the Wall Street Journal reports foreign booze companies are increasingly eyeing Turkey and its hot economy and young population. From the WSJ article:
With countries like Spain, Italy and Greece, where they traditionally sell alcohol, plagued by economic troubles, liquor-company executives are turning to a perhaps unlikely Mediterranean market: Turkey, whose mostly Muslim population hasn't ranked among the world's big drinkers historically.
Tapping nontraditional markets while established regions stagnate is a strategy that other industries are also pursuing, and the challenges that liquor makers face in Turkey echo the kinds of dilemmas that those industries confront as well.
Turkey, for instance, offers a fast-growing economy, but liquor companies must navigate high taxes, advertising restrictions, and a lack of familiarity among some consumers with the finer points of their products.
"In developed countries, consumers are much more familiar with products," says Robert Furniss-Roe, vice president of Bacardi Ltd. "In these new, emerging economies you have to go back to basics in some ways and explain things."
But the economics are alluring. Turkey's economy grew about 10% in the second quarter compared with a year earlier, and its population is young and urban. The country's economic growth is also providing young Turks with more disposable income, and they are using it to travel or study abroad, bringing back some new tastes.
"Young people in Turkey are changing very quickly," says Mr. Furniss-Roe. "There's growth in disposable income, and young Turks want to spend it on status."