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A meyhane is a traditional restaurant or bar in historical Iran, Turkey and Balkans region. It serves alcoholic beverages like wine, rakı, vodka, beer with meze and traditional foods. "Meyhane" is composed of two Persian words: mey (wine) and hane (house). The word entered the Serbian and Bulgarian languages as mehana (механа, plural механе, in Bulgarian механи) and in Macedonian is meana (меана, plural меани). In Bosnian language the word "mejhana" is used. A meyhane used to serve mainly wine alongside meze until the late 19th century when rakia established itself as the quasi-official national drink of Bulgaria. In Serbia, the word mehana is considered archaic, while in Bulgaria it refers to a restaurant with traditional food, decoration and music.
Meyhane in Turkey
The history of the meyhane starts from the Byzantine Empire. Meyhane culture continues in seaside cities where merchants would stop and spend their time and money on drinking. During the period of the Ottoman Empire the number of meyhane increased considerably. Some sultans prohibited alcohol at various times but it didn’t effect the number of meyhane. While the Muslim population usually complied with the religious rules, on the other hand no one interfered in the convention of the minority population. A major part of the minority population was living in Galata and as a result of this there are too many meyhane in that district. But there were also many Muslim clients who went there secretly.
During the period of II. Selim, Damat Ferit Paşa the meyhane re-opened and a period of pleasure started once more. However, when meyhane opened in a Muslim district sultan mandated a new law and according to it, opening meyhane were banned just in Muslim districts.
In the 17. century the restaurants of nowadays bosphorus used to be in haliç. In these meyhane janissary clients were called “Dayi” and everyone respected them. While the janissaries were in the meyhane, corner boys (baldırı çıplak) and vagabonds (külhanbeyleri) couldn’t enter. Even if they entered, there weren’t any janissary and they could only drink afoot. These type of meyhane were called “Gedikli Meyhaneler”. After Abdülaziz, their name changed to “Selatin Meyhaneler”
Another type of meyhane was called “Koltuk Meyhanesi”. These were for vagabonds and corner boys. These meyhane were illegal they were selling alcohol underhand in grocery stores. Some of these “Koltuk Meyhanesi” were called “Kibar koltukları” and these types of meyhane served to civil servants and clerks who did not drink at their home.
There were also “Ayaklı Meyhanesi” for vagabonds and corner boys. These were mobile meyhane and most of the sellers were Armenians. They were always walking around Bahçekapı, Yemiş İskelesi and Galata. When they saw their clients, they entered in a grocery, poured the wine into a pot taken from his belt which was warmed by his body heat and served to his client. Vagabonds and the others used fresh fruit as a meze. After drinking the wine they wiped off their mouth by the back of their hands and left the grocery. This gesture was called “yumruk mezesi”.
Gedikli Meyhaneleri of Istanbul were famous for their cleanliness of their kitchen and the skills of their cook especially in fish and meat meals. This type of meyhane had tall ceilings and also there was a barrel which came from Malta or Aegean islands. On the tables there was candlesticks and the meze plates were put around them. The chairs were usually short and wooden. “Safa” meyhanesi is the only meyhanesi today that has the same interior design of the old days.
After the 1830s Yedikule, Samatya, Kocamustafapaşa, Langa[disambiguation needed], Kumkapı, Fener, Balat, Galata, Ortaköy Arnavutköy, Tarabya, Büyükdere, Çengelköy, Üsküdar and Kadıköy became popular with their meyhane.
Until 1850s clients preferred wine to rakı however in those years rakı became more popular and thus meyhane changed to a place where people drank rakı.
During the Republic period meyhane in Galata started to close and new ones have been opened in Beyoğlu. Meyhane started to open in Asmalımescit, Çiçek Pasajı and Krepen Pasajı since 1930 and were popular until the 1980s. During those days the tables were covered by white table clothes and the clients wore neckties. Although there weren’t too many types of meze, they were all prepared in the restaurant. Besides meze some of them had fish and some of them had grill. The owners of the meyhane started to work in their early ages in meyhane. Meyhane always remembered their owners which they called Barba and usually were from minority population. Unfortunately most of the minority, specially Greeks had to leave the country due to the population exchange.
In 1980s bars and beerhouses became popular and meyhane lost its popularity. The other reason is when the Barbas left the country, new meyhane owners didn't follow the traditional meyhane culture and the quality level of meyhane dropped. Years later, trying to make meyhane popular again, meyhane owners raised the number of meze and meals and started to offer new activities like fasıl.
A typical menu in a meyhane
- Cacık (yogurt, cucumber, garlic)
- Patlıcan salatası (eggplant salad)
- Pilaki (beans)
- Feta cheese
- Seafood; octopus, shrimp, marinated sea bass