For years, Varan Suzme has frequented the Kiral Coffeehouse near his home, where men of his Istanbul neighborhood while away hours chatting, sipping from tiny, steaming cups and playing backgammon and cards.
“Every day I used to come here,” said Mr. Suzme, 77, a retired textile salesman. “This is our second home. It’s a place I love, I see my friends, and I am happy and I play games.”
Until the pandemic. A lockdown this year closed coffeehouses across the country, along with bars and restaurants, and when the government allowed them to reopen in June, it forbade the usual games, saying they increased the risk of viral transmission.
Customers, who are mostly middle-aged or older, stopped coming for fear of the virus, and with games banned, coffeehouse owners saw business dwindle. Even before another lockdown took effect this month, they had been worried that the coronavirus could endanger the survival of many coffeehouses, robbing the country of a hub of Turkish life.
A uniquely male preserve, the Turkish coffeehouse is everything from a post office to a social club, fueled by cups of coffee — or these days, as tastes change, tea. In every neighborhood, from Istanbul’s narrow back alleys to the ancient towns spread across the country, it is where men stop on the way to and from work, where pensioners meet and swap gossip, and where political parties campaign.
“We miss our friends and playing backgammon,” said Mamuk Katikoy, 70, when he came by the Kiral Coffeehouse, which is in the Istanbul neighborhood of Yesilkoy, for an interview recently. “I haven’t seen this man for eight months,” he said, greeting a 90-year-old friend who had also stopped by.