On the Radar: Beyoglu, Istanbul

Across the Galata Bridge from central Istanbul is Beyoğlu.

The district was once rich farming land, covered in fig groves, but by the 16th century the area had become a base for Italian shipping merchants from Venice and Genoa. According to a legend, it was here that local Turks first introduced Italians to coffee, which is still served in the traditional coffee houses that line the cobbled streets and laneways.

In the 19th century, the area became popular with immigrants from Greece and Armenia, but by the end of World War I, Beyoğlu had been all but abandoned as families moved to Istanbul’s safer outlying suburbs. For the next few decades, the district was mainly popular with students and new immigrants, and by the 1980s had become a hotbed of political activism. 

In recent years, however, Beyoğlu has undergone a major overhaul, with young creatives and professionals setting up shop here, opening boutiques, cafes and design stores. The area’s neoclassical mansions and Art Nouveau structures, which lay derelict and deserted for almost half a century, have been restored by the new residents and Beyoğlu is now considered Istanbul’s arts and entertainment centre. 

Shop 

Some retailers have stood the test of time, including the many antique stores that line Bostanbaşı Caddesi and Faik Paşa Caddesi. In addition to small basements full of bric-a-brac and treasures, there are a handful of newer contemporary-homeware retailers, including Modern Tarih and Hall Istanbul — the latter owned and operated by Kiwi-born furniture designer Christopher Hall.

Further along the street sits A La Turca, a treasure trove of vintage and antique collectibles, ceramics, rugs and furniture. On the same street, Art.I.Choke stocks handmade accessories and clothes, many made from felt by US-educated local fashion designer Oykü Thurston, who uses traditional Turkish techniques to make her eye-catching contemporary pieces.

Eat 

Nearby you’ll find one of Istanbul’s hottest coffee bars. Inspired by the cafes of Berlin and San Francisco, Arzu Kiraner opened Holy Coffee in 2011 and is keen to provide locals and visitors alike with a relaxed cafe experience. Sandwiches, eggs on toast and espresso are served outside in the sun — where you can watch the Istanbulites go about their business — or inside, where you can admire works by local artists from a comfortable sofa.

A few streets away lies Van Kahvaltı Evi, a family-run cafe specialising in cheese. It boasts the best — and possibly biggest — breakfast in Istanbul and is the place where Australian ‘master of cheese’ Will Studd eats when he’s in town. “It is the only place in the world other than far-east Turkey where you can eat the famous cheeses from the town of Van, considered Turkey’s finest,” says Studd. A selection of fresh white peyniri (feta-like cheese) arrives with plates of tomatoes, olives, tahini laced with grape molasses, and glasses of sweet tea. 

Around the corner at his restaurant Mikla at The Marmara Pera Hotel, revered young Finnish-born Turkey-based chef Mehmet Gürs cooks what he describes as new Anatolian cuisine. Mikla boasts spectacular rooftop views over the city, a DJ playing ambient tunes and contemporary Turkish dishes that celebrate Gürs’s Scandinavian roots, including his warm mulberry soup served with tahini ice-cream.

Experience 

Nobel laureate and arguably Turkey’s most successful contemporary author, Orhan Pamuk, opened his long-awaited Museum of Innocence on Çukur Cuma Caddesi in 2012. The museum pays homage to the protagonist of his 2008 novel of the same name. Keepsakes and ephemera from vintage toys to drawings, photographs and paintings telling the story of a man’s life in Istanbul are on display.

After a morning of wandering, head to a local hamam to revive your weary body just as the locals do. Galatasaray Hamam is a few minutes walk from the antiques strip and offers a range of traditional body and beauty treatments.

Stay

The House Hotel on winding Bostanbaşı Caddesi sits among the antique stores of Beyoğlu. The converted 19th-century 20-room Art Nouveau apartment building has been fully restored — with interiors by Istanbul’s celebrated Autoban design collective — while retaining many of its original features. The rooms are spacious with high ornate ceilings, intricate parquet floors and a rooftop dining room with views across the district.  

Words by Carli Ratcliff - Published in Voyeur May 2013
Quick Facts 
Population Approx. 12,782,960
Time Zone UTC +3
Languages Turkish (official), Kurdish, Arabic
Currency Turkish Lira
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