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Feb 05
Reviews (Drinks)
Istanbul Eats Drinks: Asma Altı Café Bar

Models don’t hang out at Asma Alti Café Bar and Mustafa, the bartender, isn’t experimenting with lost Ottoman-era concoctions or any dry ice hocus-pocus. In fact, order anything but an Efes draft – an Efes Light, for instance – and watch the waiter scramble off to the corner store to fetch your order. But still, this lovable little dive bar in the back of the Beyoglu fish market has something special going on, a certain vibe on that makes us want to spend time here, regularly.

Maybe it’s the music? Mustafa’s got a mean archive of MP3’s and he is not afraid to take chances. On one recent visit, we identified Queen’s Radio Ga Ga, something by Rage Against the Machine and Tom Sawyer by Rush, all within the course of one beer. The mix may seem very carefully orchestrated, but, in fact, Mustafa’s just got it on shuffle.

To go along with the music, Asma alti has a one-of-kind approach to bar snacks, with its own in-house kelle paca – boiled sheep’s head – vendor. Despite the sound of it, kelle paca is actually a perfect accompaniment to a cold brew, the meat – which is served room temperature and chopped up into bite size pieces – flavorful yet mellow and pleasantly fatty.

As much as we love hearing a little BTO on the sound system and downing a beer along with some kelle paca, it’s the vibrant street scene outside Asma Alti that keeps us coming back. Istanbul is obsessed with its manzara, or views, usually referring to those of the Bosporus or the Marmara Sea, but at Asma Alti, regulars turn their stools out in the Parisian fashion to feast their eyes on the carnival that unfolds in the backstreets of the fish market. Scenes from a typical day, as witnessed from Asma Alti: A calliope-like symphony of car horns start up as an impossibly obese street dog lounging in the middle of the street defies all laws of physics by rising to its feet and making way for traffic. A sea gull the size of a small car, precariously perched atop an awning, swoops out to catch bits of scrap liver tossed in the air by the offal butcher on the corner. Groups of Roma musicians dressed in black suits carrying instrument cases make their way to work at the numerous meyhane of the fish market. And then, just in time for another round, comes that familiar sound of the low spark of high-heeled Beyoglu boys – five o’clock shadows, pushup bras and all.

Address: Kalyoncu Kulluk Caddesi 13/a, Beyoglu
Telephone: 0537-407-5877

(photo by Ansel Mullins)

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