Western style bars and nightclubs are being tweaked to appeal to religiously conservative segments of Turkish society in a trend that is gaining ground.
The luxury haunts, which include alcohol-free nightclubs, are mainly frequented by wealthy Turks who desire to merge a modern life style with their practice of Islam.
Huqqa, located near the Bosphorus in the Kurucesme district of Istanbul, is one of those alcohol-free spots where you can order a virgin mojito while listening to thumping lounge music. The selection of the district is also meaningful as Kurucesme is home to some of the most famous nightclubs in the city, such as popular party joint Reina.
Having opened three years ago, Huqqa describes itself as a “trendy conservative Muslim place” and is active between 10 am-4 pm on weekdays and between 9 am-4 pm during weekends with a DJ who takes the decks on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Huqqa has branches in Istanbul, the capital city of Ankara as well as the western resort town of Bodrum and it isn’t rare to see a slew of luxury cars – red Ferraris and expensive 4x4s – parked outside the venues.
Offering menus on an iPad with over a hundred dishes with halal-certified meats and non-alcoholic drinks, Huqqa’s Kurucesme branch hosts about 1500 clients each day, 55 percent are women and 40 percent of the total visitors are tourists, mainly from Arab countries, according to the head of corporate affairs, Efe Dogan. Huqqa, not to be outdone, also has its own prayer room.
Speaking to Al Arabiya English, Dogan said Huqqa was initially criticized by some secular segments of society on the grounds that they don’t sell alcoholic beverages.
He retorts that places like Huqqa provide conservatives and seculars in Turkey’s polarized society with an opportunity to come together in a single space.
“Surprisingly we saw afterwards that some people from the very same secular segment became our regulars because they were pleased with the high quality service we provided them,” Dogan said.
Similarly, Al Fakheer Shisha restaurant is another luxury entertainment venue with dozens of special VIP suites where wealthy customers can get together, choose from 54 different kinds shisha and enjoy soft drinks. Sazeli, named after the Shadhili Sufi order, is another conservative-style café and restaurant that is one of the first of its kind in Istanbul. It is located on the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus, and is again frequented by conservative people from high society.
Ayse Nazli Oruc, a research assistant and owner of a baklava chain in Istanbul, is a regular of Huqqa and sees it as a good alternative to the alcoholic places in Istanbul. But, she is troubled with the widespread presence of “nouveau-riches” in these places.
“I think that the rise of such non-alcoholic Islamic entertainment places in Turkey is the result of the deep polarization within the society between seculars and Islamists,” Oruc told Al Arabiya English.
“However, I see that secular and non-covered ladies are also coming to such places in recent years maybe out of curiosity or maybe due to the high quality service of these restaurants,” she added.
Hasan Huseyin Aygul, assistant professor at the Sociology Department of Akdeniz University, commented to Al Arabiya English on the phenomenon, saying that since the 1980s Turkey saw an uptick in entertainment spots catering to conservative segments of society.
“Spatial segregations like conservative-friendly hotels, shopping centers, restaurants and entertainment areas make observant Muslims much more visible in the public space, however it also enables the preservation of the already existing physical and mental distance between the secularists and conservatives in Turkish society,” Aygul told Al Arabiya English.