While Turkey is officially a Muslim country, not everyone in the country refrains from alcohol. There are still plenty of locals who enjoy nothing more than heading to a tavern for a drink or two. If you enjoy similar things, or simply wish to enjoy a drink in Istanbul surrounded by locals instead of other travellers, then you’ve come to the right place. A majority of the partygoers head to the Beyoğlu district on Friday and Saturday nights to have a good time and let loose a little. From modern rooftop bars to raucous, small indie clubs to sleepy, basement jazz clubs, it’s safe to say the Beyoğlu is the heart and soul of good-time fun in Istanbul. There are also traditional Turkish folk venues that welcome anyone and everyone.
Araf is a no-nonsense place where you’ll spend a majority of your night jumping around (in time to the music or not—it’s up to you). The space is big enough for the crowds of people that head to Araf for a night full of dancing and fun. Entertainment is all but guaranteed as you won’t be able to hold back when you’re surrounded by the upbeat and positive energy of the people around you. If you don’t like crowds, Friday and Saturday nights are predictably the busiest.
With views stretching over Istanbul in all directions, as the name suggests, glamorous 360 is worth visiting for their views alone. Instead of booking dinner, come here early, persuade the waiters to give you a coveted window seat, and sip your drink very slowly. We’d suggest passing on the menu as the food doesn’t match the exorbitant prices and instead getting a better value (and better-tasting) meal once you leave 360.
Built in 1881, the Grande Hotel de Londres (or Büyük Londra) is an amazingly nostalgic piece of Beyoğlu's past. It clearly intends to relive the heyday of the bohemian vibes in Turkey but the dowdy furnishings and talking parrot in the ground-floor bar take you back to a more recent time, before local money made Istanbul more modern. The lobby bar is hardly ever crowded, but creates a unique ambiance to enjoy a cold Efes Pilsen. If you prefer a view, head to the rooftop bar where the decorations are slightly less old world and where you can look out over the Golden Horn.
Urban has managed to consistently maintain a casual but animated atmosphere while never seeming to become outdated. It’s a solid mix of bar and café and it’s tucked away on a little side street where tables and chairs spill into the road during warm summer days. This is where you’ll find Beyoğlu's boho set enjoying their first beverage of the day as the sun sets. The darker it gets outside, the livelier Urban becomes. Thankfully, the fun doesn’t go away when it gets cold—simply head inside for an old-fashioned but cosy bar where you can relax and spend a quiet night.
Susam Sokak (which roughly translates to “Sesame Street”) is one of Istanbul's most charming nooks in the heart of the Cihangir neighbourhood. The café is a friendly and local café that is a destination in and of itself. The place starts to liven up on weekend nights when a mixed bag of regulars – from local hipsters to foreign newspaper hacks – invade the bar downing great cocktails while lounging on mismatched furniture. Most, however, come to soak up the atmosphere on the cafe's street-side terrace, so if the weather is cooperating when you visit, be sure to check out the terrace scene as well.
Located in a sunken courtyard behind the Blue Mosque, Meşale is a tourist trap par excellence, but still manages to have loads of charm. Generations of backpackers have joined locals in claiming one of its cushioned benches and enjoying a tea and hookah. It has sporadic, live Turkish music and a bustling vibe in the evening. Even if you don’t stay for long, passing through Café Mesale is a rite of passage in Turkey.
Whether you choose to imbibe or enjoy the café culture in Turkey, it’s an enjoyable experience worth having. There’s nothing wrong with a wild and crazy night on the town or a quiet evening spent over a steaming cup of Turkish coffee. Don’t forget that there is a whole lot more to Turkey than the nightlife, though. As you explore the country, keep yourself covered against unexpected problems with a policy from Cover-More.
Image courtesy of Flickr userErik Cleves Kristensen