Osman Baycan and the Secrets of Turkish Hospitality

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Cultures from every corner of the world merge and mix in a rainbow of humanity in Istanbul, Turkey. With more than fifteen million inhabitants, the city of the world’s desire is the most populous city in Europe, and sits on the doorstep of two continents. In fact, the Bosporus Strait splits the city in two, with each side belonging to a different geographical area (Europe and Asia). The influences from both environments are clearly felt, moving from one border of the metropolis to the other; bazaars and skyscrapers, mosques and clubs, all living under the same sky. It poses the question – how does such a diverse and multicultural city manage to stay glued together?

The answer lies within hospitality as Osman Baycan, owner of Pigalle Suadiye and Goose no.25, would tell you. “Istanbul is the knot between two continents, historically speaking one of the most diverse and bustling sites in the world. It is like a country itself – people with any kind of background, religion, culture are here, thus diversity and a multicultural environment is our normality. Bars are amongst the most important elements through which people are connected. They are gathering places to share common interests”. History and traditions are so deep and rich that the bar industry is constantly working to celebrate them. “We are always open minded and try to create a team as rich as possible to keep up with this multicultural city. The role of the bars is to link everybody, a thread between the past and the future of our culture”.

Born and raised in a tiny village on the Black Sea side of Turkey, Osman, who’s one of the main characters in Campari Academy’s Perspectives first episode, moved to Istanbul and joined the local fire department. It took him very little time to understand that his mission was to devote himself to others but in a different way. “Eleven years ago, when I covered a shift for a friend of mine and washed glassware, I was captivated by the bar vibe, so I kept working there part time. Six months later, I realised this was the job I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I resigned from the fire department and started full time as a barback”. Now a six times national champion in several brand competitions, he travelled extensively to soak in experiences and different insights from all around the world, much like Istanbul has.

“My first trip as a bartender was to Cuba, it opened my eyes on how diverse this industry can be. I attended conventions and bar organisations, investing my own savings”. The major plot twist came from the Bar Manager role for Alexandra Cocktail Bar, for which Osman is a key contributor to it reaching world class recognition. Within that, he created the Desk of Fame project, which has a significant impact on the Turkish bartending scene: “It’s like a bridge between the Turkish bar community and the world cocktail scene, with guest shifts and seminars from the best bartenders around the world. It’s a chance to push our local movement, because if you know your way around and really understand Istanbul, it’s a city with many possibilities and opportunities”.

Istanbul is a unique treasure in which bars fit perfectly as gathering hotspots, despite probably the biggest challenge ever for a bartender – the majority of locals don’t drink. “According to research, in 2018 the percentage of alcohol consumption amongst the Turkish population was just 22.1%. Being a part of this industry comes with many obstacles, such as a lack of available liquors, therefore I can only find one vermouth brand here. Also, you feel a bit of pressure from the local community. In 2017 we wanted to implement a handmade box to present one of our cocktails, but when the artisans realised their creation would be used to contain alcohol, they refused to help us due to religious reasons”. It’s a non-stop juggle to provide guests with quality craftsmanship at the bar. However, Osman always sees the glass as half full. “Adversities make you creative, and finding solutions is one of the main tools in a bartender’s arsenal; overcoming this kind of situation allows us to really appreciate our achievements”.

So what is Turkish hospitality really all about? What has made this country so admired since the start of time? “It’s all about the details and the comfort that you create for your guests without them even knowing”, Osman insists. “One anecdote perfectly explains Turkish hospitality: guests always sleep on beds, hosts always sleep on couches. We have this ingrained idea of giving up on our comfort for someone else to be hosted as perfectly as possible. That’s why I pay attention to details to provide that feeling for our guests”. This strong belief is handed down to Osman’s team every day. “Hospitality starts with the people you hire. We can teach them how to serve, but we can’t teach them how to be a good person. Hospitality is something that should come from the bottom of your heart, and you should give it with everything you have. You can’t fake it. Our mantra is that we don’t sell, we serve. You could buy a drink from anywhere, but you can’t buy true hospitality. People can forget what they drink or eat in your bar, but they will never forget how they felt when they were there”.

Carlo Carnevale