Istanbul is most famous for its mosques and Ottoman heritage, but this cultural capital’s exciting nightlife should not be overlooked. Drinking culture is an integral part of life here, and from innovative cocktail bars to trendy breweries, Istanbul is full of characterful bars to enjoy after a long day of sightseeing.
A table equipped with mezes (appetizers), glasses filled with rakı (a Turkish spirit flavored with anise), and heartfelt conversations with close friends: these are the things that come to mind when one imagines a night of drinking in Istanbul. Meyhanes (Turkish taverns) are an indispensable part of Turkish culture; however, Istanbul’s drinking habits are not limited to rakı. In the past, Istanbul’s pubs and bars were gathered around the districts of Taksim and Kadıköy; now, bars have started to pop up across the city, each reflecting its distinct neighbourhood and offering something special to customers, from house-brewed beer to creative cocktails.
Formerly known as 5 Cocktails & More, one of the most popular cocktail bars in the district of Beyoğlu has made a comeback with a new name: Moretenders’ Cocktail Crib. The new bar’s motto proclaims it to be “funkier, cosier, and cooler than ever.” The cocktail menu has been renewed without compromising on quality, and if you like gin-based cocktails, bartender Akın Kayışoğlu’s Demonic Mix is a great choice. The aromatic gin drink is made with maraschino liqueur, cucumber cream, lemon and Peychaud’s bitters. The bartenders here also garnish their cocktails with adorable animal figures that are personalised and edible.
Bar, Gastropub, Pub, Restaurant, Pub Grub, Fast Food, $$$
Set within a former brewery dating back to the 19th century, Bomontiada reopened its doors in 2016 as a cultural centre. The Populist, a gastropub within the new venue, gives the neighbourhood’s all-but-forgotten beer-crafting heritage a new lease on life. Here you can find a variety of seasonal craft beers: from kölsch (a German beer) to scotch ale and more innovative brews such as honey pepper ale and tonka bean stout. Enjoy your drink in the outdoor seating area, or head indoors to get a feel for the venue’s history, where some of the barrels from the old factory are still standing.
Located in Etiler, one of Istanbul’s poshest neighbourhoods, Chicki Boom is another bar known for its signature cocktails. A magnet for Istanbul celebrities and high society, this is the kind of bar people go to to be seen on a Friday night. The dimly lit atmosphere is perfect for a date night, though the space is very small so make sure to arrive early to find a seat. If you’re in the mood for a Zen experience, be sure to order the Buddha – a gin drink muddled with ginger, coriander, lemongrass and clove.
Ask residents in Cihangir about their favourite local bars and most will probably say “Geyik”. Describing itself as a neighborhood coffee house and bar, Geyik Coffee Roastery & Cocktail Bar is vibrant and lively around the clock and lives up to its name – in Turkish, Geyik is slang for “a casual chat”. Besides the classics, the place has 18 signature cocktails on its menu, but the highlight is the Cable Car: dark and white rum accompanied by orange triple sec, this sweet and sour cocktail has a crunchy cinnamon and brown sugar blended rim that gives you a sugar hit with every sip. The Bogoss cocktail is also popular among those who love rum but enjoy drinks with a twist more than a classic rum cocktail.
If you are around Arnavutköy, a historic yet hip neighbourhood by the Bosporus, Alexandra Cocktail Bar is the perfect spot for an evening drink. With comfortable velvet sofas, retro wooden tables, and quirky wallpaper painted with bookcases, this bar looks like an old library at first glance. The cocktails stand out with their creative names, and Passiflora, Poseidon, Yuki, LX and Ap-Ranax are some of the house favourites. There are DJ performances on Friday and Saturday nights, while the rooftop terrace offers panoramic views of the Bosporus and beyond.
Staying away from everything that is mainstream, Arkaoda is where the cool kids of the Kadıköy district hang out. Opened in 1999, Arkaoda is much more than a bar: the space regularly hosts themed parties, DJ sets and concerts. Besides classic cocktails like the bloody mary and gin fizz, is offers numerous house cocktails – Pirot Punch, a rum and Red Bull Summer Edition-based drink infused with mint leaves, lemon juice and ginger, could be your new favourite summer drink.
The residents of Teşvikiye move from well-lit cafés to the neighbourhood’s bars when the sun sets. Socrates Bistro, which has been full every night since its opening, is a sports-themed bar named after the Turkish sports magazine Socrates. This is one of Turkey’s largest whisky bars, but if you’re in the mood for a cocktail, try the Hissikablelvuku, which means “foreboding” in Turkish. This whisky-based drink is infused with orange liqueur, passion-fruit purée and the secret Socrates mix.
Sip your drink away from the crowd at Soho House Istanbul’s exclusive bar, which has a short but concise cocktail menu catering to every taste. If you’re feeling experimental, try the Latife, made with rakı, vodka, lime, mint and parsley. Only club members can enter the bar at Soho House Istanbul, but if you do not have a membership, the Allis bar within Soho House also has a very vibrant atmosphere and is open to everyone. Rum accompanies lemon, ginger and green apple juice in the bar’s signature Apple Collins, a refreshing choice on summer days.