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A meyhane (from Persian: میخانه translit. meykhaneh) is a traditional restaurant or bar in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran and the Balkans. It serves alcoholic beverages like wine, rakı, vodka, beer with meze and traditional foods. "Meyhane" means house of wine and is composed of two Persian words: mey (wine) and khāneh (house). The word entered the Serbian and Bulgarian languages as mehana (механа, plural механе, in Bulgarian механи) and in Macedonian as 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
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The history of the meyhane starts in the Byzantine Empire. Meyhane culture continues in seaside cities where merchants 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 affect the number of meyhane. While the Muslim population usually complied with the religious rules, no one interfered in the conventions of the minority population. A major part of the minority population lived in Galata and, as a result, there were 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 was banned in Muslim districts.
In the 17th century the restaurants of what is now the 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 allowed the same behavior as janissaries and they could only drink while standing. 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 surreptitiously in grocery stores. Some of these “Koltuk Meyhanesi” were called “Kibar koltukları” and these types of meyhane served 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. Most of the proprietors were Armenians. These sellers would walking around Bahçekapı, Yemiş İskelesi and Galata. When they saw clients, they entered a grocery, poured the wine, which was warmed by their body heat, into a pot taken from their belt, and served it to their clients. Vagabonds and the others used fresh fruit as a meze. After drinking the wine they wiped their mouth with the back of their hands and left the grocery. This gesture was called “yumruk mezesi”.
Gedikli Meyhaneleri of Istanbul were famous for the cleanliness of their kitchen and the skills of their cook, especially in meals of fish and meat. This type of meyhane had tall ceilings. There was also a barrel that came from Malta or Aegean islands. On the tables there were candlesticks. 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 as the old days.
Until the 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 opened, particularly in Beyoğlu. Meyhane started to open in Asmalımescit, Çiçek Pasajı and Krepen Pasajı since 1930 and were popular until the 1980s. During that period, the tables were covered by white table cloths 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 grilled food. The owners of the meyhane began their work in meyhane when they were young. Meyhane always remembered their owners which they called barba and usually were from minority population. Most of the minority, especially Greeks, had to leave the country due to the population exchange.
In the 1980s, bars and beerhouses became popular and meyhane lost their popularity. Also, 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:
- Patlıcan salatası (eggplant salad)
- Semizotu with garlic yogurt sauce
- Pilaki (beans)
- White cheese
- Seafood; octopus, shrimp, marinated sea bass