Best Bathroom in Istanbul?
March 22, 2011
It’s not always easy to rate the best bathrooms in a city. You usually only get 50 percent of the story, of course – especially in Turkey – and everyone has different criteria. Do you value highly amenities like automatic sinks that allow you to not touch anything except the toilet seat and the door? Are you willing to overlook possible shoddy plumbing in favor of things like Italian marble, bidets, bronze sink knobs, etc?
Lo, I have found what I believe is the best lavatory in Istanbul hands down. It’s located at Zeyrekhane, which is in Unkapani, off Ataturk Blvd., up the hill 100 meters on the right side of the road as you are headed south toward the airport. Built by the Byzantines, the arch-filled dining area of Zeyrekhane and its courtyard were once part of the medrese of the Mulla Zeyrek Mosque. Today it is a refurbished fine dining establishment with amazing deserts. The restoration was carried out in 2007 by the Rahmi Koc Vakfi (foundation) along with the local municipality. I am not sure to what degree he still controls the restaurant, but the restaurant’s website is routed through the foundation.
Anyway, men’s rooms visitors are greeted by a large fez hanging from the door, refreshing in an officially fez-free society. Inside its salmon colored stone walls with abundant pencil and ink illustrations of Ottoman buildings. The flowers by the sink and mirror are comfortably effeminate in a Mediterranean way, as if to say, “Hey I am comfortable enough with my sexuality to proclaim my love of flowers in the bathroom!”
The decorations are not kitsch: it’s all tasteful blend of gentle bathroom decorum, surreal enough to get comfortably distracted from what you are doing, but not so in your face as to be reminded that someone who shouldn’t have been in charge was a bit too liberal or otherwise tasteless. There are ceramic plates with the star and the crescent, a tip to the hat of modern statehood in an otherwise Ottoman/Byzantine place.
Of course, the hane is why you are here, right? Ottoman cuisine is served breakfast and dinner, but the place is recommended as a sort of “high tea” place on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Sip demleme (Turkish) tea and stare at the giant gold-colored samovar, while eating the highly recommended susam sepeti icende bogurtlenli muhallebi (milk pudding cakes with blackberry served in a sesame basket). Fortunately, the place wasn’t converted into another iskender or high-class kebap house, a dime a dozen in the city.
The conversation seems to go like this:
(Rich conservative restaurateur says: what should we serve at our awesomely renovated new place?)
(Rich buddy: I know! How about Iskender kebap, and maybe some Adana and Urfa kebap, too!)
(Restaurateur: Great idea! What would I do without you?!)
But Rahmi Koc is more worldly and in the billionaire class so he trampolines out of that nouveau-riche discussion, fortunately. The point for you is a pleasant stroll around the garden afterwards, with views of the towering Suleymaniye Mosque in the foreground and the Galata Tower on the other side of the Golden Horn. Enjoy.
And if you know of a “must pee” (bad-a bing!!) bathroom in Istanbul, let me know.