Editor’s note: Since we realize that those who love to eat usually also like to drink, we are introducing a new feature, “Istanbul Eats Drinks,” an occasional look at some of the city’s more appealing bars and lounges, places that still have that authentic Istanbul vibe.
Istanbul: capitol of contradictions. East or West? Muslim or secular? Neither, or both? Pull up a stool, Turkey pundits, and feast your eyes on the latest Turkish identity riddle: it looks like Freddy Mercury, sings like a Levantine Sid Vicious and plays like saz-master Orhan Gencebay. Give up? That’s Cümbüş Cemaat on stage on a Thursday night at Araf, a rough and tumble saloon perched on top of a nondescript building in the backstreets of the Beyoğlu fish market. But it’s not just the architecture that makes this place appear to have fallen from the sky; Araf is the one cool bar in these streets of no-go discos, chichi lounges and tourist traps.
As Beyoğlu nightlife continually gets fancier, an inviting animal house like Araf is increasingly hard to find. Here’s a hip place with no pretension, a great location with cheap drink prices, a friendly and efficient bar staff and, finally, a place in Istanbul with nothing but good music.
“World Music Party is the only time I actually feel like going out to dance. I’d love to steal that DJ’s iPod,” said one Saturday night Araf regular.
Tuesday nights with clarinet virtuoso Selim Sesler are a riotous Roma affair with a vintage Bohemian Beyoğlu vibe: a glimpse of a time not-so-long-ago when these parts were hip but not yet conquered by hipsters, back when folks danced on tables and romanced on an empty keg in the corner, drank beer cheaply and didn’t give a hoot about a prosciuto pizza or a mojito. It was a time of low expectations and high rewards – something the guy with the handle-bar moustache roaring “Hava Nagila” into the microphone over at Araf certainly gets.
Araf exceeds most expectations, but don’t expect much in the way of mixed drinks or a wine list. This is a beer-swilling, rakı-tippling kind of place. There’s never a cover charge, there’s always great music to be heard and, refreshingly, no static at all.
Address: Balo Sokak 32, 5th floor, Beyoğlu
Web: www.araf.com.tr