Touring Istanbul’s Asmalimescit Neighborhood
Published: June 2009
By Deniz Huysal
Tips for touring the bustling Turkish neighborhood amidst its renaissanace.
Asmalimescit, part of Istanbul’s central Beyog?lu borough, reached a peak of glamour and sophistication in the 1920’s, but became rundown in the ensuing decades. Now it’s in the midst of a colorful renaissance. Lively restaurants and music venues dot the bohemian byways behind Tünel Square and Istiklal Caddesi—though the quarter has also managed to keep the feel of old Istanbul, with its ancient façades and narrow streets.
Istiklal Caddesi is the main entertainment strip of Istanbul: a car-free street more than a mile long (trolleys run on one side) that’s filled around the clock with locals looking to wine and dine or take in a film or a cutting-edge art exhibition.
Emblematic of the new Asmalimescit generation is the boutique Ümit Ünal Doors, where cult favorite Ümit Ünal, a longtime neighborhood resident, sells his avant-garde women’s designs.
The Asmalimescit mainstay Babylon, one of Istanbul’s foremost music spots since 1999, is still going strong—and has now branched out with Babylon Lounge, where concertgoers gather for smoked-salmon pizzete and pan-Mediterranean salads. Pizza is also a big draw at Otto, as is the nightly parade of DJ’s (for some local flavor at the Sofyali branch, try the “votka gelincik,” a mix of vodka and a house-made syrup of poppy flowers).
To stay in the center of it all, try the Marmara Pera, which hosts Mikla, one of Istanbul’s chicest restaurants, on its top two floors. Mikla’s creations, by star Turkish chef Mehmet Gürs, fuse local and Scandinavian flavors—and the view is one of the most breathtaking in the city.