Alex’s Place – First Night, First Bar

During the Berlin Bar Convent a helpful young man saved my digital life with the help of iPhone Search. This young man was the talented Osman Fethi Baycan, who works as bartender and bar manager at the Alexandra cocktail bar in Istanbul. Alexandra Bar helps Alexandra Barstalker. A good reason for a new adventure. Why would one travel to go on a bar tour in a country where alcohol is technically illegal? But the raki culture is as old as the Ottoman empire itself, and constitutes a sociable event. The classic bar scene in Istanbul is still young and waiting to be explored. There’s a trend moving away from raki and beer consumption to handmade cocktail pleasures. Paired with Turkish hospitality, this is the perfect occasion for a new adventure.

After a late start in Berlin and a long line on arrival in Istanbul, I arrived fairly late in the evening. The “Sub Karaköy“ Hotel Osman had booked for me is a modern design hotel located in the historical district Karaköy. This was also where Alex Kratena was staying, who was going to have a guestshift during the following days at the Alexandra Bar. The Alexandra Cocktail Bar and the guest bartenders have their own stories. I stored away my luggage and went to the lobby to wait for Osman and Alex.

The first bar during my Istanbul visit was the “Bar with no name “ or simply “Alex’s Place” (Gönül Sokak No.7B, Beyoğlu). Osman chose this bar not for its name, but for its history. Alex Waldman arrived in Istanbul over a decade ago and opened the bar 4 years ago. Originally a film maker, he taught himself all the skills a good bartender needs. He just happened to be standing in front of the bar’s nondescript entrance and was quite surprised when I introduced myself as Alex. Three Alex’s in one spot – that called for a refreshing rum cocktail. And off we were into the small bar. Brownstone creates a cozy cave with a tiny bar and very few seats. I would guess it’s about 4 sqm. The back board is home to popular spirit brands. On the upper shelves, mason jars and bottles with house made ingredients stand in a row. Only a few bitters are available in Turkey, and syrups like falernum are very rare. And so, Alex started to make the ingredients himself early on. We were allowed to try a few of these products. The cherry syrup tasted of coconut and chocolate; the house made falernum had the typical notes of spice.

 The bar has its own flair, personality and character. The music was a perfect match. A bar that was and continues to be formative Bar.

This was a great kick-off, and I was happy that I’d lost my cell phone. Alex Kratena capped off the evening: could anything better happen to a barstalker than being out and about with the best bartender in the world? A tasty Boulevardier ended the evening; a real Turkish Dürüm kebab ended the night.

Alex Bar is likely one of the first bars in Istanbul offering serious cocktails with house made syrups and high-quality alcohol. Alex himself told me that he discovered a Turkish cocktail book from 1963. Of course, there’s always been a bar before the first bar. Especially the bar world has plenty of stories and myths. Its unique position between two continents and two marine areas made Istanbul one of the most important cities in history. Istanbul is an impressive city with much history and culture. The cocktail culture has already begun.