If you used one word to describe Istanbul, it would have to be hospitality. The idea of inviting a friend or a stranger in for tea is a cornerstone of the culture, and as such, it’s bred an incredible sense of service in the country. During the day, you are welcomed into stores with calls of “come have tea,” from local salesmen. At night, it’s a similar pitch with wine and the native spirit, Raki.
With 14 million residents, Istanbul is one of the most densely populated places in Europe, so it’s best to pick a specific neighborhood. Sultanahmet (The Old City) and Beyoðlu (surrounding the famous Istiklal Avenue) are both rife with drinking options.
DEFNE CAFE BAR
The city is sprawling, with tile-roofed houses wrapping along the coast, and communities built inland up and down the green hills. At sunset, the silhouettes of mosques stand out in black relief along the skyline, their domes and spires creating an endless mural of curves and spikes. Aim high. Literally.
Defne Restaurant, in Sultanahmet, is a quick walk from the famous Blue Mosque and has a great front patio for people watching. If you climb the three flights up the spiral staircase inside, you alight to an incredible view of the water and the city lights beyond. If you go, you’ll also get to know the staff, who all love to pepper you with questions about your home country and are equally happy to help you learn a bit of their own language. The fare is hearty Turkish, with a bit of Western flair in the presentation. The beer is ice cold and comes in large glasses, and their rooftop seating includes long couches, meaning you can truly relax over drinks.
Try: Efes Beer. The most common label in Turkey, it’s that nation’s equivalent of Bud Light. It’s a great choice for cutting through the rich oils and spices of Turkish food. About $3.50.
Details: 011-0212-458-9161; www.defnecafebar.com
MEZE BY LEMON TREE
Directly opposite Istanbul’s oldest hotel, the luxurious Pera Palace in the Beyoðlu neighborhood, is a dainty little spot with stained glass windows, high-top street-side tables and eloquent takes on Turkish cuisine. It’s tightly packed in the small space, which simply means you’ll get a good whiff of what your neighbors ordered — particularly when it’s one of lamb dishes like their exceptional sirloin. They also offer a lovely degustation menu and a simple glass of the house red, white or rose wine will run about $8 American.
Definitely drink: Some Raki. A common pre-dinner request in Turkey, it’s an anise-flavored spirit (similar to absinthe or ouzo) meant to pair with the meze. They offer more than a dozen labels.
Details: www.mezze.com.tr; 011-0212-252-8302