Istanbul by night
In Istanbul, after-dark activities range from casual eateries to jazz bars and superclubs. (Izzet Keribar/LPI)
The residents of Istanbul do many things extremely well. They shop with an almost religious fervour, they demand (and deliver) fresh and flavoursome food, and they work hard to maintain strong and supportive local communities. Most of all though, Istanbullus know how to party. When you visit, you will be both charmed and impressed by how much fun the locals seem to get out of life.
Take the much-loved meyhane. Scattered across the city but concentrated in the entertainment districts of Beyoğlu and Kumkapı, these casual eateries specialize in serving hot and cold meze (small plates of seafood and vegetable appetizers), followed sometimes – but not always – by kebabs or fish dishes. In Beyoğlu, located on the northern side of the Galata Bridge, and in Kumkapı, next to Sultanahmet, meyhane meals are accompanied by copious pourings of beer, wine or rakı (an aniseeed-flavour spirit) and are usually enjoyed by large groups of friends. In more conservative areas, alcohol is not part of the equation, but a great time is had by all regardless. Popular choices in Beyoğlu include Demetı, Feraye, Kalavi, Jash, Asmalı Cavit (Asmalımescit Caddesi 16; 0212-292 4950), Karaköy Lokantası and Sofyalı 9. In Kumkapı, Kalamar is a long-standing favourite. There is also a growing number of fashionable meyhane/restaurant hybrids, the best of which are probably Meze by Lemon Tree in Beyoğlu and Sıdıka in the Bosphorus-side suburb of Beşiktaş. At some meyhanes, live fasıl (folk) music shares the stage with the great food and raucous conversation.
Before and after dinner, locals can often be found sipping cocktails and showing off their most glamorous outfits at an ever-growing number of rooftop bars in Beyoğlu. Perennial favorites include Mikla, 360, 5 Kat, Litera and the three branches of Leb-i-derya. Formidably fashionable street-level newcomers include Münferit, Baylo and Le Fumoir at the Georges Hotel.
The city’s bohemian and student sets tends to gravitate to to the bars and clubs in Beyoğlu’s Asmalımescit and Nevizade enclaves, or head over the water to grungy Kadife Sokak in the suburb of Kadıköy on the city’s Asian side – known to everyone as Barlar Sokak (“Bar Street”). These are decidedly less glam and considerably cheaper than the Beyoğlu rooftop bars. Current favourites in Beyoğlu include Kiki, MiniMüzikHol and the tiny Off Pera in Gönül Sokak, Asmalımescit. In Kadıköy, Karga and Dunia (2nd floor, Kadife Sokak 19) always have a great vibe.
Jazz dominates the soundtracks at many of the city’s bars, but there is also a clutch of live jazz clubs in Beyoğlu and along the Bosphorus where aficionados congregate. The best-loved of these is Nardis in Galata, owned by jazz guitarist Önder Focan. But those in the know also keep an eye on the performance schedule at Istanbul’s best live-music venue, Babylon, to see when Turkish-American jazz saxophonist İlhan Erşahin is performing.
Finally, mention must be made of the famous “Golden Mile” – a string of superclubs dotted along the Bosphorus shore between the neighbourhoods of Ortaköy and Kuruçeşme. This is where the seriously glamorous and wealthy come to party – to join them you will need to dress to kill, tip the doorman lavishly and unblinkingly pay the stratospheric drink prices. The most famous of these clubs are Reina, Sortie, Supperclub, Anjelique and Blackk.
The entertainment options certainly do not stop here. Once in Istanbul, you will quickly realise that performances, parties and convivial bars are never far away.
Women will be treated respectfully at most venues, but may encounter some strange looks if they go to bars and clubs by themselves. Males travelling alone or in pairs should be wary of being adopted by a friendly local who is keen to take them to a club for a few drinks – many such encounters end up atpavyons, sleazy nightclubs run by the mafia where a drink or two with a female hostess will end up costing hundreds – sometimes thousands – of euros. If you do not pay up, the consequences can be violent.