The Best Of Istanbul's Historic Meyhanes

| © Feride Yalav
Feride Yalav-Heckeroth

The meyhane (or Turkish tavern) is not merely a type of restaurant, but a whole experience that involves a lot of conversation and one glass of rakı after the other. Of course, a table full of delicious meze varieties are also very important. So whether it’s heartbreak that needs to be mollified, or a certain joy that requires celebration, the Istanbul meyhane is the perfect place for a meal with close friends in a traditional atmosphere. We took on Istanbul’s most historic meyhanes, where the traditional rakı masası (rakı table) is set up every night.

1. Refik

Restaurant, Turkish, Halal

A classic meyhane in every sense of the word, Refik opened in 1954 and the evidence of its long history are apparent all over its walls, which are decorated with framed photographs and newspaper clippings. Quite the popular restaurant, the two floors are always full, so make sure to reserve your table in advance. We recommend ordering a big bottle of rakı and trying the arnavut çiğeri (Albanian-style fried and chopped liver) and patlıcan salatası (eggplant salad).

2. Asmalı Cavit

Asmalı Cavit

Another classic meyhane in the Asmalımescit neighborhood, (therefore befittingly named ‘Asmalı Cavit’) the owner Cavit Bey has been serving up good food and a welcoming atmosphere for years. From the old movie posters on the walls to the constant rotation of meze dishes from the open kitchen, everything at Cavit is thoroughly nostalgic. Some of the notable dishes include topik (an Armenian dish made with chickpeas, currant, and tahini) and yaprak ciğeri (thinly sliced and seasoned liver).

Asmalımescit Sokak No.16/D Asmalımescit, Istanbul, Turkey, +90 212 292 49 50

3. Tarihi Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi

Tarihi Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi

Established around the 1920s, Tarihi Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi (the historic republic tavern) is really a part of history, having once served dinner to the likes of Atatürk himself. As soon as you walk in, the framed newspaper clippings and photographs as well as the live fasıl (classic Turkish music) on the second floor will really get you in that perfect nostalgic mood as the delicious meze make their way to your table. Make sure to book in advance.

Sahne Sokak No. 27 İstiklal, Istanbul, Turkey, +90 212 293 19 77

4. Safa Meyhanesi

Safa Meyhanesi

Safa is truly a classic Turkish meyhane, complete with a chandelier hanging down from the wood-paneled ceiling, vintage Kulüp Rakı posters as decoration, and old paintings. One of the oldest taverns in Istanbul with more than 130 years to its name, the owners originally arrived from Albania and have continued to operate the restaurant one generation at a time. All the classic meze dishes such as paçanga böreği (pastry filled with melted cheese and cured beef) or pilaki (cold white bean dish with tomato sauce) are prepared to perfection, as well as mains such as grilled sea bass or lamb chops.

İlyasbey Caddesi No. 121 Zeytinburnu, Istanbul, Turkey, +90 212 585 55 94

5. Madam Despina’nın Meyhanesi

Restaurant, Turkish

Madame Despina
© Feride Yalav
One of the few taverns to have been operated by a woman, Gökçeada native Madam Despina, who opened her first meyhane in 1946 before moving to the Kurtuluş neighborhood in 1970. Today, her black-and-white portrait hangs at the entrance of this very classic meyhane where empty wine bottles are placed on tables to indicate a reservation. You won’t see a lot of tourists dropping by this restaurant, where the trademark topikand yaprak ciğeri are always prepared perfectly.

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