When the cat from Senegal [a fancy lad] pulls out his congo I figure things might get a little rififi. Then the guy from Romania whips out his violin and it’s flat out on! Afro jazz beats slap up against the gypsy fiddle and a fire is set down one more time at Emin’s.
Nightlife in Sultanahmet being non-existent, Emin’s Place is a godsend during my first week in Istanbul. Decidedly under the radar I stumble upon Emin’s rabbit hole my first night in town. It’s 3am and I’m walking around taking pictures when I spot a total Alabama outsider artist business sign touting beer,raki etc. I’m photographing it when a car pulls up and Emin [it turns out] hops out. He’s very proud of his art and a stranger taking pictures of it pleases him greatly.
He offers to buy me a beer so we step inside. His little joint is perhaps 10 feet wide and 20 feet deep with a dozen or so itty bitty chairs scattered about the room. He cracks open an Efes tallboy, places a tray of salted pistachios in front of me then claps one hand on my shoulder looking me directly in the eye “my friend, where are you from?” We take it from there and are soon fast friends.
Occasionally Emin builds a fire in his streetside grill and sets to cooking his version of Istanbul street food. I sample one of his offerings; a Turkish po boy I reckon with grilled lamb stuffed into a loaf of bread then topped with tomato and onion dusted with sumac. Simple and delicious, the smoky meat and fresh,bright tomato complement each other nicely.
Most of the late night patrons are musicians still breathing fire after their gigs in Beyoglu. They come to Emin’s to have a cold beer and if one of them starts sawing on a fiddle and playing it hot then like as not the other one will start beating on a drum or two.
Emin’s Place is an anomaly in the staid Sultanahmet section. It’s a little wild and wooly. You might walk up and hear a chair getting knocked over accompanied by boisterous laughter. The Efes and Raki flow freely. Most nights we simply drank them til they were gone. It was dawn or so by then so we would take that as a sign it’s time to go home.
Some of my best Istanbul memories are conjured up from those early morning walks home,my mind still ablaze with the camaradarie of evenings spent at Emin’s.
Akbiyik Caddesi, near Cooking a la Turka
Opens around 4 pm daily but hours tend to be erratic