The destinations listed here include restaurants, pubs, bars, and water-pipe cafes. None of these charge a cover; but depending on the type of place you choose, it's perfectly acceptable to linger over mezes and raki, a cup of tea, or as long as it takes for the tobacco in the water pipe to burn down.
Taksim, Tünel & Beyoglu -- Taksim is undeniably the heart of this city's commerce, while the entire district of Beyoglu brings to mind characteristic back-street cafes, atmospheric bars, and stylish restaurants. While the tourists are shuttling between Taksim Square and Sultanahmet, the residents of Istanbul are making reservations in Beyoglu. Twenty years ago this was not so, when Istiklal Caddesi looked more like the pre-Disney 42nd Street than the open-air shopping mall it is today. But tucked inside this neighborhood of opulent 19th-century mansions and former consulates are some of the classiest bars in town.
Along the Bosphorus -- Istanbul's nightlife succumbs to the lure of the Bosphorus in the summer months (generally Apr until the end of Oct), moving alfresco and up to the seafront venues of Ortaköy and Kuruçesme. Names tend to change seasonally, but the locations and general theme stays the same.
The Rhythm of the Night
A certain rhythm predicts the way things roll out after dark in this great metropolis. The choices run the gamut to bars, restaurants, live music venues, dance clubs, tea gardens, water-pipe cafes (serving a menu of fragrant tobacco for use in a nargile or hookah pipe), and a variety of publike locales. More often than not, there is significant overlap. For example, the popular Bosphorus nightclub Reina has three restaurants and a number of bars on several open-air levels. At the traditional Türkü Evi, live Turkish folk music can more often than not be appreciated while dining on mezes, grills, and sautés. Tea gardens are often also water-pipe cafes.
Most restaurants move the dining upstairs to the rooftop in the warmer months. Some restaurants and nightclubs with locations "in town" (usually in Beyoglu) move the action up to a space along the Bosphorus in summer.
Cover charges ("küver") are customary for admission to nightclubs, but usually kick in only after 11pm or midnight. The cover charge is generally waived for guests with reservations at one of the in-club restaurants, which start serving dinner around 7pm. The atmosphere at this earlier hour is usually romantic, candlelit, and seductive. As the evening wears on, the music becomes edgier and louder. Most of the musical venues or concert halls also charge admission; tickets are generally sold at the box office or via Biletix (www.biletix.com), a sister company of Ticketmaster. As for closing hours, there rarely are any -- although a club may advertise a closing time of 4am, the truth is that sometimes the party just lasts longer.
So now it's 4am, your eardrums are busted, and you're ready to go home. Taxis wait outside the entrance to the Bosphorus nightclubs, but you can also ask inside for the manager or maitre d' to call you one. In Beyoglu, depending on the location and distance of your hotel, you can either walk or grab a taxi at one of the numerous taxi stands around the district. Taxi ranks in Beyoglu include those in Taksim Square and on Mesrutiyet Caddesi near the Pera Palace Hotel; you can also walk over 2 short blocks to the busy Tarlabasi Caddesi and hail one.
Nighttime in Sultanahmet is a bit more sober, although the restaurants, tea gardens, and water-pipe cafes provide more than an ample number of choices. By 10pm in the Old City, the streets have already gone quiet; it's pretty safe to walk around (or back to your hotel), preferably in pairs, but it's also best to stay in areas that are well lit. If "home" is in Beyoglu, the tram operates until midnight or 12:30. Unfortunately, the taxis waiting at taxi ranks, particularly in Sultanahmet, are predators, so best to have someone (a hotel receptionist, your waiter, your carpet salesman) call you one.
Safety for Single Men
Scenario #1: You're wandering around Taksim and pop into a bar for a quick beer or two. Before you know it, you're surrounded by lovely women and even doted on by the owner. But 2 hours and two beers later, the check arrives: $500. I wish that were a typo. Refuse to pay, and the big boys come out of the woodwork; you may even find your life and limb threatened. It's startling how many times this scenario plays out in seemingly innocuous-looking "establishments" around Taksim. One way to counter, I suppose, is to dispute the charge with your credit card carrier once the bill comes in. But the best way to handle the situation is to avoid it altogether. Stay away from anything with neon and the word "nightclub" or "club" in the sign. But sadly, there is no absolute guarantee. When in doubt, follow the advice of this guide, or stick to the hotel bars.
Scenario #2: You're taking an innocent evening stroll through the back streets of Sultanahmet. Suddenly, you are accosted by four young boys who identify themselves as police. Having done nothing wrong and always mindful that you are in a foreign country, you cooperate. They manhandle you (perhaps looking for ID, or even drugs) and then send you packing with a shove. It all happens so fast, except that now your wallet is empty. Unfortunately, with the migration of organized crime, nowhere is safe anymore. Don't walk anywhere alone, and avoid badly lit streets after dark.
Scenario #3: You're out and about or at a bar and you've managed to connect with some very friendly and cool locals. Next thing you know it's the next morning, and you're sans wallet, camera, or whatever, stranded and groggy in some sleazy hotel. You can avoid this by walling yourself off in a protective bubble, or you can never, ever let your drink sit unsupervised by you or someone you trust.
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.