Istanbul 101

Jan 26, 2000 at 12:00 am

From the hostel patios near the Blue Mosque, tourists watch fog creep up the Golden Horn. Far to the east, the suburbs of Asian Istanbul lie in rubble. Silence. Istanbul’s tourist district of Sultanahmet is closed for the night.

Across the Galata Bridge, though, in the "New City" that is as old as Christianity, Istanbul is just waking up. This is Beyoglu, the Turkish name for the 19th century neighborhoods of Pera and Galata. Its heart is one grand pedestrian boulevard, Istiklal Caddesi, or Independence Avenue.

This is Istanbul’s forbidden modern face, warned against in guidebooks. Yes, there are 1,001 nights to be lived in Beyoglu, but then there are the druggings and muggings and the desperate homeless.

Take just a small bite: 101 ways to escape history – both ancient and tragically recent – on Istiklal Avenue, its side streets and bazaars. Surely you didn’t come to Istanbul to be in bed by 10 p.m.?

Ride the Tünel, Europe’s oldest and shortest subway, up the hill to Istiklal Avenue. Hold your breath for the whole ride (That’s 1). Avoid the stylish Café Gramofon. On any side street, you can get your Turkish coffee fix for one quarter the price (2). Cash a traveler’s check to an earthquake relief fund (3). Follow the packs of pariah dogs (4). Are the mutts beneath the peeling filmfest posters Heinz 57 versions of Turkey’s fierce Kangal sheepdogs?

Discover the Sufi tekke temple. Lucky you: It’s time for the monthly whirling dervish ritual (5). On Sah Degirmeni Road, hope for an invite to a private gig in one of the studio practice halls (6).

Prepare for a big night with iskembe (tripe), the Turkish hangover cure (7). Or stick to carrot juice (8). Pay extra for classic Turkish appetizers among the old film posters of the Intermezzo Restaurant on Asmali Mescit Street (9), or join the crowds at McDonald’s (10).

Check out the, ahem, modern belly dancing in the saz ve jaz (rough translation: sass and jazz) bars (11). Explore the he-man betting clubs and müsikhöls off Balyoz Road (12).

Get scammed: Drink with a newfound Turkish "friend" and pay 100,000 Turkish lira "commission" on every drink (13).

Pray, at a mosque or church (14). Relax on the marble bellystone of the Tarihi Galatasaray Hamami, one of Istanbul’s great massage and steam-bath houses (15). Play backgammon (16). See an English film with Turkish subtitles at Sinepop. Tip the usher (17). Follow the kids in the Megadeth T-shirts to the tastefully seedy Lay Lay Lom Concert Hall (18).

Window shop the English-language bookstores for literature that will deepen your cultural understanding – Secrets of the Harem, for example (19). Read the latest on government corruption in the English-language Turkish Daily News (20).

Invade the Gothic privacy of the sullen teens in the Zurich Café Bar (21). Learn the card game Hokey from an angry young man (22). Get scammed. You order a beer and quaff it. "Fifty bucks U.S.," says the barkeep with the facial scars – and then shows you the menu to prove it (23).

See if a film is playing beneath the stern portrait of Kemal Atatürk, founder of modern Turkey, in the municipal "culture market" on Sahkulu Bostani Road (24). Look for art openings (25). "Art is a society’s mirror," said Atatürk. Count how many different versions of Gloria Gaynor’s disco hit "I Will Survive" you can hear in one night (26).

Go well behind the veil at Sinema Rüya, a stage theater-turned-porn picture house (27). Break a leg at the Molière Theatre Café on Lamartin Street (28).

Pay dearly for the life-in-Seattle experience at Sappho Café (29). Shoot to kill at Fun City arcade (30).

Seek out manti, the thumbnail-size Turkish ravioli (31). Or a Turkish vegetarian pizza (32): "biber, domates, patlican" (peppers, tomatoes, eggplant), the three vegetables so common in Turkish cuisine they’re immortalized in song. Or Inegöl köfte (a rich meatball) and Iskender kebabi (kebabs with burned-butter tomato sauce) (33). Or the panoramic steam tables of the Afacan Restaurant (34). Or try to find the latest ethnic restaurant to dare challenge the total supremacy of Turkish cuisine (35).

Shop (36). Jog (37). Search for tiny Demek Lane and the hidden James Joyce Pub, a bastion of exotic Occidental culture (38). Dance your last tango in Istanbul at the James Joyce’s not-quite-Irish tango nights (39).

Pick a kuaför for an evening haircut and head massage (40). Shop for a feather boa in the serene quiet of the Danisman Geçidi courtyard (41).

Taste the power and cigar smoke of the stately Çiçek Pasaji (Flower Passage) plaza (42). Uncover the underground second-hand book bazaar (43). Seek the shaven-headed "Budhist Medyum Guru" in his velveteen hotel suite (44). Before Çiçek Pasaji was remodeled for the rich, it was crowded with people seeking cheap eats and beer. Where are they now? Find out in the Balo Road tavernas (45).

Join the futbol crowd (46) around a street-side radio. Quest for the obscure but beautiful Panaya Isodyon Greek Orthodox Church (47).

Make a meal of skewered fried mussels (48) or the intimidating kalkan, a flatfish with red blisters for skin (49). In the fruit market, mix a salad in the two halves of a muskmelon (50). Watch the modern buskers: Young couples with portable karaoke machines (51). Investigate the Istanbul saying, "Downstairs clubs only promise sex; upstairs clubs provide it." (52)

Get scammed (53). A single man, you walk into a club. An attractive woman invites you to join her. She drinks like a camel! A muscular bouncer delivers the bill. You thought the "whisky dolly" was buying her own?

Enjoy a night on the town, Muslim-style: Endless coffee and tea, smokes, soda and desserts (54). The hangover is worse.

Check the price of gold in the jewelers’ shops along Avrupa Pasaji (Europe Passage) (55). Buy Turkish delight from the descendants of its inventor at the Ali Huhiddin Haci Bekir shop (56). Stroll Yesilçam Street, the "Turkish Hollywood." (57)

Pause on Istiklal Avenue to appreciate the one street in Istanbul where the car is not king (58). Wander buildings in search of dusty chandeliers, gilt balustrades, and other reminders of Ottoman splendor (59). Compare the embassies and consulates of France, Italy, Spain, Britain, the Netherlands, Russia and Sweden (60).

In a tiny Muslim graveyard, admire Ottoman-era tombstones capped by concrete turbans that represent the deceased’s social rank (61). Wonder at the cultural significance of the many racy lingerie shops (62).

Translate a street name (63) – e.g. Büyük Parmak Kapi Sokagi means Gate of the Big Finger Road – and explore its attractions. The Mojo, a rocker bar where the guys dress like ‘50s toughs but aren’t tough enough to dance (64). Blacksea Tattoo parlour (65). Traditional sing-alongs under the neon Salbar sign (66). The BaB Bowling Café (67). Nature & Peace restaurant, habitat of the rare Turkish vegetarian (68).

Engage in a spirited discussion with the politicos and artists gathered at al fresco tables (69). Smoke a ridiculous meerschaum pipe carved with the visage of Selim the Grim (70).

Learn a little Turkish (71): Avrupalilastirilamiyanlardanmisiniz means, "Are you one of those who can’t be Europeanized?" Try your "Turklish" on a child (72). Enjoy the company of people who see Christianity as a puzzling cult (73).

Join the yuppies at the Kaktüs wine bar (74), or mock the yuppies at the Peyote punk bar (75). Line up for chocolate custard pudding at the Inci Pastanesi (76). Look through the veil of wild consumption to the poverty beneath (77).

Graffiti: Burada yatmak yasaktir? (Here, to sleep is forbidden?). From a gypsy vendor, buy ayran (a salted yogurt drink) (78) or adaçay, a sage tea (79).

Watch the kaleidoscope of lights pass the blue glass windows of the one-car street tram (80). Watch women roll gözleme (stuffed flatbread) at the Babane Manti-Gözleme ve Ev Restaurant on Sakizagaci Street (81). Wonder if they hit the discos after work. Take in the fez-wearing waiters at the ridiculous Ottoman theme restaurant next door (82).

Hit "Istanbullshit" night at The Shebeen bar (83). Admire the view over the Golden Horn from the graffitoed plaza of the Pera Palas Hotel (84). Ask if anyone’s holding a séance in the Agatha Christie Room (85).

Marvel at Taksim Square, an intersection of working Turks, diplomats and gay culture (86). Pick a likely looking side street for a café-crawl (87), or an unlikely looking side street for a pub-crawl (88).

Consider this description of the Taksim opera house: "Here they occasionally stage mockeries of Verdi, or make strange noises which the program would like to attribute to an innocent Mozart or Beethoven." (89)

Buy seed from a quake refugee and give the pigeons a feast (90). Copwatch at the police no-go zone on the west of Taksim Square (91): Are they playing patty-cake with kids, or ducking nailbombs? Buy a carnation from the flower market; stick it in a gun barrel (92).

Have a late-night picnic on the grass of Taksim Square (93), then join the package tourists as they’re hauled up to belly dance at the Maksim casino (94). Ponder Turkey’s strict gender divisions among the transsexual clientele of Pub 1001 (95). Order straight raki, the anise-flavored national liquor (96).

Get scammed (97). Some erudite new friends buy you a drink ... now you feel woozy ... blacking out ... Hope you told the muggers where you’re staying so they have somewhere to dump you.

At dawn, talk a taxi driver into switching the meter to the cheaper day rate (98). Thank Allah that Western pop culture appears unable to utterly transform the Turkish worldview (99). Listen to the ancient Persian strains of the muezzin’s dawn call to prayer floating out over Istanbul at the dawn of a new millennium (100).

Morning already? Time for a classic Turkish pastry breakfast at the Taksim Börekcisi (101).