Sulemaniye Mosque from the Eminonu District.Article by: Virginia Maxwell, April 2008
If you're looking for a good time in İstanbul, turn your gaze up to the sky - the city's rooftop bars hold the key.
If you think İstanbul is just mosques and museums, think again. Though the city is replete with historical attractions, modern İstanbul is now as famous for its nightlife as it is for its monuments.
The prohibitively expensive superclubs along the Bosphorus are the realm of the bronzed, botoxed and blinged. Fortunately, there's an equally glamorous, but much more affordable, alternative - the city's rooftop bar scene. Although these bars might not have the same sybaritic sheen as the superclubs, they certainly have their fair share of style.
İstanbul's sensational skyline and wonderful waterways provide the perfect backdrop for a rapidly growing number of rooftop bars. Those we've reviewed here offer spectacular views; some also provide live music, morphing into dance clubs after midnight. They rarely sting you for cover charges and their dress codes are relatively relaxed, though you should don the best your suitcase has to offer. Drinks average between YTL15-20 ($12-15).
Sultanahmet's Sole Choice
- Hotel Nomade Terrace Bar (Ticarethane Sokak 15, Alemdar; tel: 212 513 8172; noon-11pm) The intimate terrace of this boutique hotel in Sultanahmet overlooks Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque. Settle into a comfy chair and enjoy a glass of wine, beer or freshly squeezed fruit juice. The only music that will disturb your evening’s reverie is the Old City's signature sound - the call to prayer.
- Leb-i Derya (Kumbaracı Yokuşu 115/ Kat 7, Tünel; tel: 212 293 4989; Mon-Thu 11am-2am, Fri 11am-3am, Sat 10am-3am, Sun 10am-2am) Ask İstanbullus to name their favourite watering hole and many will nominate this unpretentious place. It's located on the top floor of a dishevelled building off İstiklal Caddesi and has wonderful views across to the Old City and down the Bosphorus, so seats on the small outdoor terrace or at the bar are highly prized. The crowd is predominately young(ish) professionals.
- Leb-i Derya Richmond (Richmond Hotel, İstiklal Caddesi 227/Kat 6, Tünel; tel: 212 243 4375; Mon-Thu 11am-2am, Fri 11am-3am, Sat 10am-3pm, Sun 10am-2am) This sleek sister to the original Leb-i Derya is more restrained and decidedly more chic than her little sis and attracts an older, more cashed-up crowd to match. The views from the huge windows include Topkapı Palace, making it a top choice for a sunset aperitif before kicking off to dinner somewhere off İstiklal.
- 360 (Mısır Apartmenti, İstiklal Caddesi 311/ Kat 8, Beyoğlu; tel: 212 251 1042; Mon-Thu & Sun noon-2am, Fri & Sat 3pm-4am) This is the city’s most famous bar, and deservedly so. If you can score a bar stool here you’ll be happy indeed - the extraordinary view here takes in the Old City, the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and Beyoğlu. There’s live music or a DJ most nights and the place functions as a club late on Friday and Saturday.
- 5 Kat (Soğancı Sokak 7/ Kat 5, Cihangir; tel: 212 293 3774; 9:30-1:30am) This İstanbul institution sits on the fifth floor of an apartment block in the fashionable suburb of Cihangir and it's a great alternative for those who can’t stomach the style overload at 360. In winter drinks are served in the boudoir-style bar; in summer action moves to the outdoor terrace. Both overlook the Asian Shore and the minarets of Üsküdar. The DJ spins an eclectic mix of European lounge music.
- Vogue (Spor Caddesi, BJK Plaza, A Blok, Kat 13, Akaretler, Beşiktaş; tel: 212 227 4404; 12pm-2am) This sophisticated bar-restaurant in an office block in Beşiktaş opened just over a decade ago, but it feels like it's been around for ever. It’s a favourite haunt of the Nişantaşı powerbroker set, who love nothing more than a drink at the terrace bar before moving into the restaurant for some pricey sushi.
- Nu Teras (Meşrutiyet Caddesi 149/ Kat 6, Beyoğlu; tel: 212 245 6070; June-October only: Mon-Thu & Sun 6.30pm-2am, Fri & Sat 6.30pm-4am) This summer-only terrace bar is a great place for a sunset drink. Its view is unusual in that it focuses on the Golden Horn, but it’s no less spectacular for that. Expats and locals alike love to nosh on the ufak yemekler (small tapas-like dishes) on offer. It functions as a club late on Friday and Saturday.
- Mikla (Marmara Pera Hotel, Meşrutiyet Caddesi 167-185, Beyoğlu; tel: 212 293 5656; noon-2am) Not content with being the city’s best restaurant, Mikla is also one of its most romantic bars. Sink into an Alvar Aalto lounge chair, soak in a view of the city’s twinkling lights, lazily peruse the excellent wine list and let attentive but unobtrusive staff take your order.