Jolted into life by the Gezi protests, Istanbul’s Cihangir neighbourhood is now an even livelier place for food, drink, fun, and a hairdo
During the Gezi protests earlier this year, the neighbourhood of Cihangir near Istanbul’s Taksim Square earned its stripes as an anti-establishment stronghold as images of tear-gassed protesters being chased down its cafe-lined streets were broadcast around the world. The protesters were typical of the locals in this corner of Istanbul’s Beyoglu district: artists, writers, actors and expats, drawn by the area’s culture and equally lofty Bosphorus views. (Orhan Pamuk’s office is here.) The demonstrations injected energy into Cihangir’s laid-back bohemianism, and its bars are fuller than ever, as the simple act of drinking outdoors has become a symbol of solidarity.
You’ll be considered an early riser if you roll out of bed before noon; breakfast is served until late afternoon in most places. Anne’s Cafe 1, is a relaxed, unpretentious option. Don’t be put off by the name: anne means mother in Turkish. The home-style Turkish breakfast includes simit (crunchy bagel-like rolls with sesame seeds) and menemen (scrambled eggs with tomatoes and peppers) and the outdoor tables have a glimpse of the Bosphorus. Another option is the Savoy 2, a Cihangir institution established in 1950. Select your pastries and savoury flaky börek from the glass display and either eat on the premises (watching brides arriving to have their photos taken at the Zümrüt studio next door), or get a takeaway and sip with a Turkish tea under the huge acacia tree by the Firuz Aga mosque.
Grab a takeaway coffee from MoMo 3, and cross the road to the garden of Cihangir mosque 4, for the best free Bosphorus view. The original mosque was built in 1559 in the name of Prince Cihangir, hunchbacked son of Roxelana and Suleiman the Magnificent, who died at the age of 22, giving his name to the neighbourhood. The current mosque dates from 1889. Its midday call to prayer inspired a poem – The Muezzin – by Vita Sackville-West, who lived in Cihangir in 1911.
The way to do Cihangir’s narrow lanes, late 19th-century apartment buildings and homegrown boutiques is on foot. Mariposa 5, a Cath Kidston-esque boutique run by two sisters, sells vintage-inspired homewares and their own ultra-feminine clothing line. Hande Bilten 6, has an onsite kiln producing Istanbul-inspired ceramic and porcelain bowls, silver and ceramic jewellery, and chunky Christmas decorations. CD shop Opus3A 7, has an extensive collection of music of all kinds, and is the best place to pick up an album by Fazıl Say or the Pekinel sisters. For lunch, eat with the locals at Özkonak 8, which serves homely food including mantı (meat-filled dumplings with hot yoghurt sauce) and milk puddings sprinkled with cinnamon.
Have weary muscles pummelled at 527-year-old Tarihi Galatasaray Hamamı Turkish bath 9. This is a less-touristy but equally impressive alternative to the more popular venues in Sultanahmet. As is sadly the case in many hamams, the men’s section is much more opulent than the women’s. The entrance fee is around £20, with extra treatments (scrub, suds bath, massage) costing £10-20. While not technically in Cihangir, it is a 10-minute walk away off Istiklal Caddesi.
No matter how great Cihangir’s lattes and profiteroles may be (and Plus Profiterol’s chocolate sauce-slathered pastries are the best outside France), a trip to Istanbul isn’t complete without a Turkish coffee and some baklava. Faruk Güllüoglu – son of a baklava-making dynasty – has a branch up the road on Sıraselviler 10, serving trays filled with several varieties of the syrup-drenched morsels. Do like the locals do and flip the baklava upside down in your mouth to experience the full sugar rush.
Cihangir’s restaurants and bars are honeypots for Turkey’s paparazzi, so preparation for a night out requires a visit to a küafor for a manicure and blowdry (especially after a hamam bath). Sultan’s Place 11, has the bonus of a Bosphorus view. Men should experience a traditional Turkish shave, done with a cutthroat razor and followed by a surprisingly metrosexual massage at Cihangir Erkek Kuaföru 12.
Turkish cuisine is best experienced at a meyhane, a kind of taverna. An array of cold starters or meze are brought to you on a platter (with an emphasis on vegetables cooked in olive oil, and seafood), followed by a choice of hot starters (grilled calamari or octopus, for example), and then a selection of fresh fish. All of this is served with rakı, the anise-flavoured distilled grape spirit that is Turkey’s national tipple. Cihangir has two top-notch meyhanes. Demeti is conveniently upstairs from Sultan’s Place (also 11), and has the same view (book a table on the balcony if possible). Hayat 13, meanwhile, has slightly superior mezes, but the view is of the street, not the water (great for people-watching).
For after-dinner drinks, head to Smyrna 14, a cafe-bar that is the hub of Cihangir’s social scene. At weekends, crowds spill onto the streets. For drinks plus dancing, keep it in the family and head to Kiki 15, established by the daughter of Smyrna’s founder and offering club sounds and cocktail shots until 4am.
Billur Karabenli, Airbnb host
Cihangir is great for kids, with child-friendly waiters willing to babysit while you finish your coffee. Hotel Momcierge (hotelmomcierge.com) is a new service providing gear (car seats, pushchairs, high chairs) and services (nannies, recommendations) to families who want to travel light and rest easy.
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