ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
A venerable institution in Asmalımescit, the meyhane Yakup 2 was key to revitalizing a neglected corner of Istanbul and has now become a reference point for hundreds of cozy places spread across the city with its provision of rakı, olive-oil dishes, meat and fish
Daily News Photos, Emrah Gürel
When Yakup Arslan moved to Istanbul as a very young boy to help his restaurant owner uncle in early 1950s, the bumpy Asmalımescit district streets, which connect to the heart of the city’s entertainment area on İstiklal Avenue, constituted one of the darkest and dirtiest sides of the metropolis.
What changed the environment in time were Yakup and his uncle Refik’s meyhanes that began to attract intellectuals, diplomats and businesspeople with their taste and owners’ sweet tongue – a must for a full-course meyhane evening.
Meyhanes, the traditional Turkish restaurants that offer alcoholic drinks along with a large scale of olive oil dishes, meat and fish, usually look like each other with decoration and menus, and Yakup 2 is today a reference point for hundreds of cozy places spread across the city.
Just like the Asmalımescit Street itself, Arslan’s road to gaining a deserved fame in the meyhane business was a bumpy one, his son Yıldıray Arslan and the staff of Yakup 2 say. A proud photo of the “founding father,” showing him sitting in front of his restaurant, proves that it was worth it.
Yıldırım Kılınç (L) has been working for Yakup for more
than 11 years.
“Losers and winners meet at Yakup 2,” Yıldırım Kılınç, the manager of the restaurant, told the Hürriyet Daily News. “This place is no more a meyhane than a family house. The meyhane business is not only about serving rakı, but sharing people’s problems and good times.”
This is one of a set of rules Yakup Arslan passed on to the next generation.
Salted tunny is another rule. Yıldırım said Arslan was once driven nuts when he heard of a suggestion to prepare salted fish from bonitos, which is “a definite violation” of the original recipe.
Kılınç, one of the newest members of the staff, has been working at Yakup for more than 11 years.
Cemal Güler, the commander-in-chief in the large kitchen, has been there since 1977, the year Yakup 2 was founded.
There is no Yakup 1 today since Yakup Arslan handed the place founded in the 1950s to his uncle Refik, who passed away in 2011.
Life in the kitchen starts at 6 a.m. in the morning. The two sons, Yıldıray and Ufuk, are personally involved in the purchasing of materials. A special olive oil is used in both cooked and uncooked dishes, and sea beans come from the Aegean on a daily basis.Fifty kinds of mezes
Yakup 2 is also famous for its meatballs, with daily consumption standing at around 35 kilograms, Yıldırım said. Fried liver is another specialty.
They prepare around 50 kinds of mezes every day for up to 650 people.
Meze is the common name for small dishes served with rakı across the Balkans.
“We try to offer mezes from all across Turkey, but Aegean mezes are the king,” Yıldırım said.
The two-story meyhane’s first floor is decorated in a rather “old-fashioned” way and patrons usually prefer to sit down there. The open-air second floor is home to a special library also, where autographed books by writers who frequent the establishment are displayed. A rather small veranda at the entrance is another place to enjoy Yakup 2 dishes while watching a street that is by no means dark and isolated today thanks to many new restaurants inspired by Refik and Yakup.
And if you’re lucky enough, you might just come across Yakup Arslan, who still visits the restaurant a few times a week.