From underground to over-the-top, a guide to Istanbul’s bar and club scene - in Beyoğlu and beyond
Whether you want to drink cheap beer or 35-Turkish-lira martinis, there’s a bar scene for you in Istanbul. The most happening part of the city for nightlife is undoubtedly Beyoğlu, particularly the area centred around İstiklal Caddesi, which is packed until the wee hours with people moving from bar to bar or just socialising in the street.
Going down İstiklal from Taksim Square, Mıs Sokak to your right and Büyükparmakkapı Sokak to your left are both full of largely interchangeable, but lively, bars with tables out in the street. Some offer nargile (hookah) pipes to smoke, along with serving alcohol, and many of the bars on Büyükparmakkapı Sokak also have live bands playing rock, blues, and Turkish music of varying quality (and typically including a lot of cover tunes). The music generally doesn’t get going until late; after 11pm at the earliest. Hayal Kahvesi (No. 19) is a good bet for a first stop.
Further down the main street, near Galatasaray Square, you’ll notice a large, ornate gate bearing the words Balık Pazarı (Fish Market). Though there are still vendors of (typically overpriced) fresh fish in the market, it’s now also packed with meyhane-style fish restaurants, the best of which are on Nevizade Sokak, a small, so-packed-you-can-hardly-walk-through-it street that connects the Balık Pazarı itself with Balo Sokak. All three streets have multiple bars interspersed among the restaurants, and stellar people-watching opportunities.
The James Joyce Irish Pub (Balo Sokak No. 26; www.theirishcentre.com) has live bands and weekly quiz nights, while Araf (Balo Sokak No. 32) and RittimBar (www.ritimbar.com) in the Balık Pazarı are unpretentious places to get your dancing groove on. The larger nightclubs Ghetto (Kamer Hatun Caddesi No. 10; www.ghettoist.net) and The Hall (Küçük Bayram Sokak No. 7; www.thehallistanbul.com) in the same general area both host higher-profile dance parties and occasional live music.
At the opposite end of İstiklal from Taksim, the area behind Tünel Square is another nightlife hub, particularly the intersecting streets Asmalımescit Sokak and Sofyalı Sokak, where the meyhane/bar vibe is reminiscent of the Nevizade scene. The lounge-y bar Leyla on the square itself (Tünel Meydanı No. 186) has a somewhat posher feel.
Beyoğlu isn’t all dive bars and dancing, of course. There are plenty of places to sip a cocktail in style, including a number of recommended restaurants that double as bars: Mikla, Cezayir, Leb-i Derya, and 5. Kat. All but Cezayir have fab views too.
The Cihangir neighbourhood of Beyoğlu has its own low-key café and bar scene, centred around Akarsu Yokuşu off the main square. Bar/cafes Kahvedan and Meyra (in the Hotel Villa Zurich are among the spots on that street that are busy until late.
Partying elsewhere in the city
The fancy Bosphorus clubs define “Istanbul nightlife” in the minds of many, though fewer have probably set foot inside their ultra-exclusive doors. Reservations are generally required, and good luck getting one, especially on the weekend. Proper attire is definitely de rigueur, and pulling up in a limo wouldn’t hurt either. Reina (Muallim Nacı Caddesi No. 44; www.reina.com.tr) - which touts Paris Hilton’s previous appearance at the club - and Angelique (Salhane Sokak No. 5; www.istanbuldoors.com), both in Ortaköy, are among the best-known names.
Ortaköy’s waterfront around the Mecidiye Mosque is a much lower-key place for a night out on the town; the House Café bar is a particularly popular spot. In the trendy shopping district of Nişantaşı, one of the best clusters of bars can be found inside - where else? - a shopping centre, the Milli Reasürans Çarşışı on Abdi İpekçi Caddesi.
The generally quiet Asian side of the city has its own bar and club scene centred around Kadife Sokak - known locally as “Barlar Sokak” (Bar Street) - in Kadıköy. Isis (No. 26) is good for dancing, while Arka Oda (No. 18A; www.arkaoda.com) brings in DJs who spin an eclectic range of tunes. The funky, multi-level bar Karga (No. 16; www.kargabar.org) has plenty of nooks and crannies to hole in up with a group of friends or a date. Nearby Gitarcafe (Sakizgulu Sokak No. 7; www.gitarcafe.com) is an intimate venue for mostly acoustic musical performances.
The ferry service between Asia and Europe stops at midnight, but continent-hopping bar-goers needn’t fret; you can find a dolmuş (minibus) to take you back across the bridge at any time of the night for about 5 Turkish liras per person one way.
There’s not much nightlife to speak of in Sultanhmet. Other than a few backpacker bars, most drinking opportunities can be found at hotel bars, which generally have a nice rooftop view to offer at best. The bars at the The Kybele Hotel and Hotel Nomade (Ticarethane Sokak No. 1; www.hotelnomade.com) have more atmosphere than most and are open to non-guests.
More expert advice on Istanbul
For suggestions on where to stay in Istanbul, see my Istanbul Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Istanbul page.
Read my nightlife overview on my Istanbul nightlife page.