Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ten Thoughts on a Low Dive

While we were lolling about in Istanbul, Mr. Muscato and the Egyptian boys decided they wanted to see the real Turkey, to go off the beaten tourist track of Taksim and Sultanahmet.  Through friends of friends, they had heard about a little pub on the wrong side of the tracks, frequented by the right sort of clientele.

That's how we found ourselves, latish one night, rattling along in the tram out past the bright lights of touristland, out along an avenue that grew progressively less cosmopolitan with every stop.  The slight lip-service of at least a little English on signs seen elsewhere in town disappeared, and soon enough we appeared to be the only non-Turks aboard.  I had been the Internet researcher that turned the boys' vague memories of friends' accounts into a name and an address, and so I led us at what seemed to be the right stop out into the darkness.

It turned out I'm a better navigator than you might have thought; we found the place.  It was all that it had been painted, and more.  I'm pretty sure that almost everyone there was a direct descendant of one of the gentleman above.  Hell - I think some of them might have been the gentlemen above.

Following, in no particular order, are the things I learned about a night out at a wholly non-Westernized Turkish nightspot catering to (to steal a phrase from Papa Hemingway) Men without Women:

1.  Nowhere else on earth will you ever feel so completely not-Turkish.

2.  Not to mention not-butch.  In this joint, Charles Bronson would feel like Totie Fields.

3.  When compared to about 80% of the men present, that is.  As one’s eyes adjust to the dim light, one realizes that she was in fact a good deal butcher than about 15% of these boys.

4.  The remaining 5% may in fact be Totie Fields.

5.  Wherever they register, however, they all have moustaches.  If they’re really butch, their moustaches have moustaches.

6.  In general, this is a very good thing indeed.

7.  In the hands of the right house band, Turkish pop combines the energy of its Arab counterpart and the melodramatic darkness of Slavic folksongs.   The result is disconcerting but not unalluring.

8.  Especially when it’s making half of those present dance, and the other half weep.

9.  Whether dancing or weeping, however, everybody’s singing.

10.   When you find yourself dancing, weeping, and singing, it’s time to go home.

In short, we had a Very Good Time. 

A couple of things surprised me about the joint.  For one, even though Turkey remains a country ferociously devoted to smoking as a nearly mandatory social pastime, the place scrupulously observed the no-smoking-in-public rules flouted in cafés and restaurants all across Istanbul.  For another, there was a casual cheerfulness about the place (even with all the minor-key induced weeping - it really was as if every other song were a cross between "Danny Boy" and "Leavin' on a Jet Plane," albeit with a belly-dance beat, from the reaction they were getting) that belied its outside grittiness.  It sort of gave you the impression of a gay Turkish Cheers, if Cheers had been ten times more crowded, and Carla had been a man (actually, one of the barbacks was disctinctly rheaperlmanesque, right down to the perm).

And the regulars really had a very Turkish kind of charm.  They tended either toward the mature:

Just a snap found online, but it conveys, I think, the butch-Totie conundrum...

Or the less so, but still not uninteresting:

Although, just to clarify, everyone that night stayed full dressed.  Pity.

We missed the last tram back to the more-traveled side of town, but all agreed it had been worth the excursion.  Once we stopped weeping and singing, that is...


  1. This is certainly Not the Istanbul that I saw some 20 years ago. Color me jealous....and (from the reading) highly entertained!

  2. Why do I hear Eartha Kitt Uska Dara playing in my head? "Oh, well, that's Turkey"... Jx

  3. Muscato - we DO have similar tastes! It all sounds utterly fabulous. Club 'something' on Taksim much closer in clientele to the latter pic than the former, although I'm now desperately trying to work out the location of said pub for my own return visit next month!

    1. Well, it really was rather a hoot. Drop me a line if you like - I can send you the name (and there was a great deal more of the former than the latter. If I weren't a married man, I tell you...).

    2. cheers - line duly dropped @hotmail.

  4. Sounds a bit like Club Lelabelle in Amsterdam, without the thieving.

  5. Mature Turk for the win, please. Make mine a double.