Karakoy is situated along the shore of the Bosphorus across from Eminonu and the old city. It was once the financial center of the Ottoman Empire. The elegant facades of many of the buildings in the neighborhood have slipped into an unfortunate state of decay. This area of the city was overlooked for years. The city developed and changed around it. The financial center of Modern Turkey moved to Levent and Maslak. Hardware shops dominate many streets.
Ten years ago nobody would have ventured to Karakoy by day or night. Now, it is becoming a destination. New galleries, cafes and restaurants are popping up left and right. Many say the crowd that once reinvented Nevizade, Tunel, Galata and Asmalimescit will make Karakoy the next hip neighborhood of Istanbul. The neighborhood’s slow transformation is impossible to ignore. Empty warehouses sit next to bustling new restaurants and bistros. This is the magic of Karakoy, the most recent discovery and destination for Istanbul’s hipsters, trendsetters and yuppies.
We went on Saturday night to see for ourselves. Our destination? Bej, a bistro could easily be located in the heart of New York City or London. With small appetizer plates and a comprehensive wine list, this restaurant attracts the glamorous and hip 30-something crowd. Shiny BMWs surround the restaurant. A DJ sat inside spinning an eclectic mix of club music. The menu touted an interesting array of fusion cuisine. We sipped wine and nibbled on the Caprese salad, sesame chicken and kebab on a bed of humus. In three plates, we tasted authentic Italian, Chinese and Mediterranean flavors in one sitting. We watched as an accordion player passed through the crowd, TV personalities walked by and this forgotten neighborhood proved it was full of life, charm and promise.
We spent last night with friends at Quick China. This is one of my favorite restaurants in Istanbul, and offers the best Asian food in the city. It is dark, intimate and oh-so-chic. It is walking distance from our apartment, and offers some of the best sushi I have ever tasted. This is an incredible statement to make because excellent international cuisine is almost impossible to find in Istanbul. Of course, there are numerous restaurants in the city that offer an array of Japanese, Indian, Chinese and Thai cuisine, but rarely do you leave successfully satisfying your craving. They are often incredibly overpriced, and they are often foreign dishes made with Turkish ingredients. I admit, I have been very spoiled in my life. On the small island where I grew up, there were a plethora of restaurants that met every craving and represented the best in international cuisine. As I search for these flavors abroad, I have come to appreciate the diversity of flavors and cuisines that exist in the United States.
For my birthday, we reserved a table for 16 and enjoyed the company of friends as we ate sushi, fried rice, dumplings and more. Both my current and my beloved past teaching partner were in attendance, as well as many co-workers and friends. I felt very loved and very happy. We chatted into the evening, and the waiter spoiled us with late-night treats, ranging from jasmine tea to caramelized walnuts and fortune cookies. It was nice to catch-up with new and old friends, and to be surrounded by so many people who I love.
There are secret gardens hidden throughout Taksim and Cihangir. They rarely advertise, and often require a special introduction by a friend. Some are situated on quiet residential streets, and others are surrounded by loud bars in the center of Istanbul’s nightlife district.
White Mill in Cihangir contains a large secret garden, which I discovered for the first time last night. Situated on a residential street, as you walk by you only notice a small gallery space on the ground floor. However, if you wander inside and up the stairs you find a fabulous restaurant that opens up to a beautiful garden. At night, you can observe friends celebrate special occasions and couples sharing intimate moments with one another. The garden is lit primarily by candles and lanterns. The branches of the tall trees planted throughout the garden serve as a natural ceiling, and the autumn breeze gently passes through the space.
The menu offers strawberry mojitos, wraps and excellent pasta. We gathered at White Mill last night to celebrate the birthday of my friend Neslihan, and shared an unforgettable evening with friends. It was full of laughter, travel stories and great food.
As many of you may know, I have a very special connection in the Turkish media sector. There is one notable benefit that accompanies membership to this sector: the numerous (and glamorous) promotional events that you are invited to. For members of the media sector this is one of the better parts of the business, but still falling under the category of work. However, for those of us that simply get to be the +1 for the evening, this is an exciting opportunity to mix with a part of society that you rarely encounter, and observe a lifestyle very different from your own. The party we attended at Reina exceeded all expectations. First, you must be introduced to Reina: an infamous Istanbul nightclub hanging over the Bosphorus and sitting underneath the Bosphorus bridge. The event we attended was sponsored by CNBC to promote their Fall line-up, specifically the presentation of ‘Game of Thrones’ on Turkish television. We were greeted by knights and warrior princesses. There were open flames leading the way to the outdoor bar. Music filled the air, and the city’s skyline sparkled. Women with 4 inch heels and club attire worked the room, and waiters with white suits awaited your drink order. There was a throne of swords sitting at the edge of the Bosphorus (an exceptional backdrop for any photo), and in the middle of the evening a brass band marched through the crowd for a surprise performance. It was an extraordinary evening.