Munferit (Istanbul): A contemporary Turkish tavern proves it’s not your baba’s meyhane

Munferit was designed to capture the essence of a classic Turkish meyhane, or tavern, but the popular Istanbul night spot bucks tradition with its contemporary design.  Photo by Ali Bekman

In Spain, they’re called tapas bars.  In Japan, they’re known as izakayas.  But in Turkey, the proper term is meyhanes.

They’re casual places where locals come to relax and chat over tasty small plates and glasses of their nation’s favorite libations.  (In Turkey, the favored drink is raki, a potent spirit, which is comparable to Greek ouzo.)

When Ferit Sarper decided to open his own Istanbul meyhane, he wanted to capture the Turkish taverns’ traditional warmth and inviting spirit.  But he also insisted that his gathering spot in the never-sleeps Beyoglu neighborhood have a more contemporary aesthetic.

Architect-designer Seyhan Ozdemir of Istanbul’s Autoban group used an abundance of natural materials and kept all the elements in harmony with one other.  Photo courtesy of Autoban

From a design perspective, many meyhanes “are dark and sad,” Sarper says.  “We tried to keep the dark and sad out and make it more pleasant and cozy, as it should be.”

Sarper enlisted the help of Autoban, Istanbul’s cutting-edge architecture and design firm.  Autoban’s co-founder, Seyhan Ozdemir, is Sarper’s wife.  Autoban went about converting a compact two-level retail space in a renovated 19th-century vintage building into a 94-seat meyhane hot spot.

Although a lot of the action takes place at Munferit’s outdoor tables, much thought was given to the two-year-old eatery’s handsome interior.

[In a first for Fine, I was unable to speak directly with the design team.  And because of the complicated logistics of coordinating an interview with Ozdemir, I agreed this time to submit questions to the firm, which were answered in a statement.]

“The main design approach was to combine all architectural elements without meaning to decorate primarily, but to keep them in harmony with each other,” Autoban says. “We always try to see the space as a whole and all elements — walls, flooring and ceiling — are complementing every other element,”

Both in the upstairs main bar and in the downstairs dining room, sumptuous dark rosewood panels serve as decorative wall coverings.  The Art Deco panels — which also share wall space with glossy, chocolate-brown subway tiles — “create a warm atmosphere,” Autoban says.

The lower-level dining room features floor-to-ceiling cupboards that house bottles of raki produced by owner Ferit Sarper’s well-regarded family distillery; the bottles themselves become part of the décor. Photo by Ali Bekman

The ceiling, which bears the same rectilinear pattern, “is to be understood as an extension of the wall panels,” Autoban says. “They are made of another natural material (zinc) and are of a slightly different scale.”

Stone flooring has a “tone that entirely rounds up the space.”  And the custom-made, marble-topped wood tables and wood dining chairs (midcentury modern in the bar area and arched-back in the dining room) that sit atop the stone floor fit right in with the other natural elements used in the space.

The Autoban team used lots of indirect lighting in the space, which adds a warm glow.  Pairs of globe sconces also grace the wall tiles and rosewood panels, and “bear the idea of using a lamp as a simple lamp, with just a simple touch of brass,” Autoban says.

The mehayne uses indirect lighting and pairs of simple walls sconces throughout the two-level space.  Photo by Ali Bekman

“This use is very suitable to the night atmosphere and the lighting can be adjusted to the current feeling of the place.”

A particularly meaningful and striking feature is the floor-to-ceiling “cupboards” that Autoban interspersed among the wall panels on the meyhane’s lower level.  The built-ins, which have geometrically patterned display doors, show off neat rows of raki bottles from Beylerbeyi, Sarper’s successful family-owned distillery.

“The lucidity and the original geometrical forms create an attraction [along] with the LED lighting that is placed inside those cupboards,” Autoban says.  “Since raki is the main object of the traditional cuisine, it was definitely crucial and thought to be a must to display as an object.”

Firuzaga Mahallesi
Yeni Carsi Caddesi No. 19
Beyoglu/Istanbul, Turkey

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