Monday, August 1, 2011

Seating Raid

Today I read a good description of what is going on in Beyoğlu on the great blog Istanbul Eats. The municipality has confiscated all street-side seating without warning, something that surprised me upon returning from my travels. As I was sitting having a tea at my street's "Börekci" the Zabita, a kind of civil police, came in a big parade down the street with a few journalists trailing them to document the event. They looked at me and gruffly ordered me to stand up and then violently toppled the table where I had been sitting and threw it in the back of a truck in a manner more reminiscent of a dramatic child pornography warehouse raid than that subtable for a café. I was left, startled, clutching my tea standing on the street as confused as everyone else around me.

Later in the week I saw cafe owners clinging to the back of Zabita trucks refusing to abandon their tables. Istanbul's cafe culture is entirely outdoor and the raid has made a huge, and negative, impact on the city. I've heard several rumors about the reasoning behind it. The first is a secret religious agenda to block drinking from the streets during Ramadan. The second is that the prime minister was recently in Istanbul and made an offhand comment about a crowded street and that the municipality is subsequently reacting.

It's important to realize that although this is really hurting bar owners, like Bade who is mentioned in the article, it has a broader impact. There is a whole economy around Beyoğlu's sidewalk bars and many people depend on it for their income by selling snacks, souvenirs, napkins, or playing music for people drinking. 

Read the Istanbul Eats article about it here.

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