Primarily a destination for those seeking historical enrichment and a taste of the exotic, Istanbul presents itself to visitors in a number of unexpected ways. One of those ways is as a sophisticated, citified, cosmopolitan denizen of the night. When the sun sets and the spotlights go on, Istanbul squeezes into a slinky black dress and invites its various and varied communities along for the ride. Dozens of rooftop lounges and exclusive Bosphorus-front restaurants are transformed into the living rooms of the smart set. Informal and sometimes raucous restaurants or tavernas teem with the pent-up energy of the long workweek. Students gyrate to the futuristic sounds of techno music while some of their classmates, with arms raised in the air, snap their fingers to the percussive rhythms of traditional Anatolian folk music. The energy is palpable, and as new and innovative nighttime destinations open up weekly, Istanbul is fast becoming a credible rival to Europe's other nightlife meccas.
Taking in Turkish Nightlife
A typical evening on the town will involve large amounts of food accompanied by even greater amounts of raki, that aniseed-flavored spirit known as "lion's milk" -- traditionally consumed in a meyhane, a tavern or pub where patrons gather to eat and drink. Where meyhanes were once the realm of men only, today they are a hybrid of the lively taverna and sophisticated restaurant, the most popular ones found primarily in the back streets of Beyoglu. On summer evenings, the main dining room moves to the rooftops (if it's not already there), where guests are treated to the twinkling lights of a timeless city.
The saraphane or wine bar and the counterpart to the birahane, or beer hall, is a more recent nightlife trend in Istanbul thanks to the ever-improving quality of Turkey's wines.
Live music is a staple of Turkish nightlife, and Istanbul's cafes, clubs, and Turkish Houses (Türkü Evleri) all provide inroads to the niche of your choice, be it jazz, pop, funk, rock, techno, or traditional Turkish folk music. Bars, cafes, and nightclubs in Istanbul are generally not categorized according to the type of music they play, choosing to book instead groups with different styles from night to night. A good rule of thumb is: the earlier the hour, the softer the music. Rock and pop resounds onto Istiklal Caddesi, where bars, cafes, and clubs, a few of them seedy, are too numerous to cover. Another good rule is to avoid spots with neon lights and security guards and anything with the word "nightclub" or "club" in the name, as these have the reputation of being the seedy places where bad things happen to good visitors.
Türkü Evleri are cozy little cafe/restaurants that book Turkish folk musicians performing typical Anatolian ballads to the accompaniment of the saz and drums. Clustered around Büyükparmakkapi Sokak in Beyoglu, the cafes also serve basic Anatolian fare in a cozy setting, usually a narrow room with banquettes lining the two walls with just enough of an open aisle in the center for dancing as the hours wane.
Meanwhile, no denizen of the night will be able to look him/herself in the mirror without having stood at the velvet ropes of one of Istanbul's mega-clubs on the Bosphorus. While different years find these multiplexes with ever-evolving names, the themes and locations stay the same and invariably involve multiple candlelit restaurants, numerous bars, a dance floor, strobe lights, and fresh breezes off the Bosphorus, only inches away.
Clubs that book popular musical acts may sell tickets or impose a cover charge where normally there is none, but unless the headliner is very popular, tickets to most performing-arts events and concerts can be purchased at the location the day of the performance. For tickets to the city's main events, contact Biletix (a Ticketmaster company; tel. 0216/556-9800; www.biletix.com).
Hotel lounges or rooftop bars provide a mesmerizing alternative to wall-to-wall smoke-filled cafes. All over the city, splendidly romantic views present themselves from almost every rooftop, or you can succumb to the dubious appeal of one of the several Turkish Night shows around town.
The neighborhood of Ortaköy is particularly vibrant on summer evenings, when streets lined with outdoor vendors selling crafts, jewelry, and the like create a festival atmosphere. Hip waterside restaurants and coffeehouses are open until late, or you can graze through the stalls of food and gorge yourself on stuffed mussels.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.