Before coming to Istanbul I worked at restaurants in some capacity for over a decade. There are certain things I miss about working in the service industry: the camaraderie, the schoolyard shenanigans, and the daily rituals of a restaurant manager. None of those rituals were as rewarding as the post-work drink.
All around the world there are servers, cooks, hostess, and overwhelmed managers who are settling in for a shift-drink right now. Maybe they are sitting at the bar they work at, or maybe they are settling in for a long night at their favorite joint where the bartender knows their name and their poison of choice.
It’s a ritual. It’s an unwinding. It’s a peace offering to yourself at the end of the day or the beginning of the night.
My ritual of choice was a glass of bourbon. Sometimes it was an Old Fashioned, sometimes it was straight, sometimes it was both. Often times I’d take mine at the bar my wife worked at. I’d sit over a cup of Old Grand-Dad Bourbon while she polished wine glasses and stacked chairs. Once the doors had been locked, drinks were poured, and everyone cleaned, joked, bitched and laughed about the day. Living in Istanbul, removed from the bourbon and the restaurants I worked and came of age in, I realize the ritual wasn’t in the glass of bourbon. The ritual was the community – time designated to being with peers and friends. It was a sense of belonging. In a city as sprawling and diverse as Istanbul, it can be hard to find that feeling, but the closest I’ve come so far was at House of Hops and Barley, sipping a glass of bourbon.
House of Hops and Barley is located in the heart of Beyoğlu, tucked in an alley off Istiklal near Galatasaray. It is dimly lit (as all good bars should be) and the music is loud. The bar area is small, with eight seats, but tables extend the seating area to the back, where there is a small smoking section. The upstairs is open on weekend nights and features an additional bar and seating for large parties.
The House of Hops and Barley menu is extensive and features spirits of all varietals, but primarily focuses on whiskey. We went there for the bourbon.
On cold nights drinking bourbon warms you from within. As the old adage goes, it’s like wearing a sweater on the inside. True bourbon is whiskey made with at least 51% corn and is produced in the United States of America. It has to be aged in new charred oak barrels and must be higher than 40% alcohol when bottled.
While Hops and Barley doesn’t have my old standby, Old Grand-Dad’s, they do offer a nice selection of Kentucky’s finest and also offer a “Bourbon Tour”. You can go on what they call a “Journey” (“Highland Tour”, “Johnny Walker Tour”, and the aforementioned “Bourbon Tour”), which is four to five tastes of spirits for a set price.
The Bourbon Tour consists of five bourbons: Bulleit Bourbon, Four Roses Single Barrel, Jim Beam Black, Woodford Reserve, and Wild Turkey 101. These five bourbons cover many bases of bourbon drinking. Bulleit, which Hops and Barley use as their primary mixing bourbon for cocktails, is made with rye and packs a big flavorful punch, while Jim Beam Black and Wild Turkey 101 are heavy burners that leave your chest tingling. The Four Roses Single Barrel and Woodford Reserve, while more expensive, deliver a deep full-bodied flavor that finishes long and smooth and leaves you wanting more.
The cocktail menu features 14 of Hops and Barley’s own creations plus an additional 10 classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned, Negroni or a Dry Martini. In addition to spirits and cocktails, Hops and Barley offers an array of beers from around the world and has a large selection from Turkey’s microbrews.
Each beverage at House of Hops and Barley is served with a custom-crafted snack that complements your drink. There is no set snack with every order, but the bartender works from an arsenal of nuts, dried fruits, and candies that pair with the known flavor of the cocktail or beer of your choice.
The food menu offers upscale yet affordable bar food and western-style large plates with a slight Turkish flair. If you are drinking bourbon, be sure to try the deep-fried pickles; the sweetness of the bourbon complements the tang from the pickles and will be sure to transport you to the American South.
House of Hops and Barley is open everyday from noon until 4 a.m. It is located at Akarsu Sokak No.6, Beyoglu.
You can follow them on Facebook.
All photos by Svetlana Nekrasova.