Benders in The ‘Bul: A Loose Guide to Istanbul’s Night Life
DISCLAIMER: My memory of Istanbul after nightfall is considerably hazy, so this guide will contain mostly incohesive descriptions of where to go and what to do.
Despite still being a heavily Muslim country that is relatively removed from Western European influences, Istanbul is a pumping cosmopolitan city and has a surprisingly good music and party scene. I loved it so much the first time round that I went back for a second serve at the end of my Turkey trip.
1. The Beyoglu district (aka Taksim Square) is the main party area and is made up of a system of convoluted alleyways which look alarmingly similar and will undoubtedly have you scratching your drunken head in bewilderment. These alleyways are rammed with people enjoying al fresco dining and are just wide enough for a cab to squeeze through, forcing pedestrians to fling themselves against walls as they hurtle recklessly past at 400km/h.
2. Raki is the national beverage of choice. It’s a clear liquor that tastes like ouzo (read: tastes like shit) and is only mixed with water and ice so will always taste like ouzo (shit).
3. Dinner is a big part of a night out in the Turkish culture. These guys tend to eat late, often at the fish market while downing a few rakis, and then progress on to a bar or club after midnight.
4. Istanbul has a sick live music scene featuring local and international artists, so do some research before you head out and see what’s on. I recommend using songkick – it covers most of the live music venues. We went to German DJ gig at Indigo nightclub with some Dutch students I met at the hostel and it was awesome!
5. It’s legal to smoke inside bars and restaurants, and everyone in Turkey smokes, so just accept the fact that you will wake up smelling like a filthy ashtray. Surprisingly, this will not be medicinal for your brain-crushing raki hangover.
6. I have no idea what street it’s on, but my friend’s Turkish lover introduced us to this wicked pop-up cocktail bar that is comprised of one skinny little man in a window which opens directly on to the street. His tiny stall is lined with shelves of delicious liqueurs and he makes some really fucked up concoctions served in paper cups. I vaguely remember this goblin green one that kind of tasted like Listerine… very vaguely.
7. Despite their awesome street bars, don’t party in the alleyways. Turns out it’s pretty dangerous. We were dancing and drinking and carrying on down a random side street when all of a sudden we were confronted by a group of about eight dudes who were yelling and started advancing on us pretty rapidly. I may not speak Turkish, but something in the reptilian part of my brain told me we were in deep shit if we didn’t get out of there fast.
8. The streets are cobbled, so if you thought you might want to bust out your sparkly gold seven-inchers, I hope you invested in medical insurance.
9. Due to Turkey still widely abiding by Muslim customs, there will be no unaccompanied females on the streets after dark and thus it is not safe to walk around as an all-female group and definitely not safe to walk around as a lone female (or male for that matter). In our drunken ignorance, we let a female friend walk home alone, and she ended up being followed all the way to the hostel by some creep who then proceeded to try and break into the hostel and had to be beaten away with an umbrella by the night receptionist. Not cool.
10. I highly recommend staying out until dawn and watching the sun rise over the Bosporus strait. Pretty special.
Check out these night spots:
- Roxy – A well-known hot spot with local live music and DJs
- Machine – An underground prison-cell-like club. You won’t be able to see through the ciggy smoke.
- Indigo – Dual level electro club. Good for DJ gigs.
- Rehab – International Top 40 dance club.
- Reina – Overlooks Bosphorus bridge and is slightly out of the main tourist area.