Istanbul is a city with many faces, and if Sultanahmet is the city’s historic heart, Beyoğlu is its modern centre of entertainment, with some of Turkey’s best restaurants and bars lining the famous Istiklal Avenue. In Beyoğlu, International events, concerts and art exhibitions frequently merge with the bar scene to connect people from all walks of life. Tedi Doychinova, an American who calls Istanbul home, lists her favourite bars in the neighbourhood.
Open from 8pm until 5am, Gizli Bahce, which means ‘secret garden’, is a bar that turns into a full-blown party as the night progresses. Enjoy a few well-priced drinks before the DJ set kicks off, at which point the uninhibited patrons of this venue will begin to dance and continue until the early morning. This is a small space that is usually packed at weekends, so expect some sweat thrown in with the good vibes.
Close to Taksim Square, Yuri Gagarin is a good choice for solo travellers, with an unpretentious and relaxed atmosphere where it’s easy to make friends. Come here for the cheap drinks and to mingle with the approachable crowd who spill into the street with drinks in hand as the sun goes down. The street location means you can fully immerse yourself in the city’s electrifying atmosphere, and at weekends (and some weeknights) local DJs play electronic sets to enhance the mood.
Considered a cult classic, this bar is a five-storey wonderland of unpredictable mash-ups. From a jungle swing set by the bar to smoke machines, neon lights, old-time furniture and a wide selection of board games, it would be easy to forget where you are if it weren’t for a window nook that looks out on the city. The rule here is that everyone is welcome to do their own thing, and let their freak flag fly. Papillion is particularly popular during Pride.
Istanbul is famous for its rooftop bars that offer majestic Bosphorus views, though most places with the view have a VIP price on their drinks to match. Balkon is a well-priced bar that boasts spectacular sunsets over views of the peninsula. It’s also a restaurant, so you could enjoy lunch and a lazy cocktail here en route to Galata Tower. Although they play soft jazz in the afternoon, the tempo is picked up in the evening with electro and funky house music. This is one of the most popular spots during the summer in Istanbul, although a visit in the winter is just as worth it. In true Turkish style, the outdoor terrace offers blankets and heaters so the view can be enjoyed year-round.
Arsen Lüpen is so well known, it is hard to find a young Istanbul resident who hasn’t been here. This dynamic venue has something for all tastes: you could catch an open mic night here on a Tuesday and a comedy show on a Friday. For an exceptional visit, check their Instagram for the week’s lineup and keep an eye out for BalFolk night. The folk music and dance night’s growing popularity among patrons is exciting to watch. One of the best things about Arsen Lüpen is that it’s open until 5am on a Monday, which tells you something about their clientele. Blend in with the party people by ordering a draft Bomonti, one of the best beers Turkey has to offer.
Peyote is a quintessential college bar with a chill vibe, live performances and late hours. Their terrace easily fits 100 people and the downstairs area is an active concert venue that tends to attract indie artists, garage bands and at times, international musicians. For those who love to dance, DJ sets here often go on until 4am. During the summer, Peyote organises dream pop and ambient events on Burgazada, one of the Princes’ Islands. This day festival takes place in a sea-view garden. For travellers interested in organising a private pub crawl, the Beyoğlu location is very near to Gizli Bahçe.
Ziba is one of the best bars in Istanbul for free live music. Its corner location allows patrons of the bar to spill out into the street, turning it into a massive block party. Fresh talent often get their start playing at Ziba, and DJs have grown their local following by cultivating a weekly set here. During massive celebrations like Pride, the bar takes over the abandoned ruins across the street and musicians turn it into a makeshift stage. Due to its prime location in the middle of Beyoğlu, Ziba is an ideal spot to meet like-minded individuals who crave an after-hours party.