It’s hard not to feel pangs of nostalgia when walking through Beyoğlu’s booming Asmalımescit neighborhood these days (and nights). The old corner butcher shop with its window display of lamb carcasses? Gone and replaced by a generic bar imaginatively named “The Corner.” The veteran grocery store where the colorful and meticulous arrangement of products was an accidental pop-art masterpiece? Gone and replaced by an utterly forgettable Chinese restaurant. The laid-back café and bar run by a colorful character who always sat in a corner wearing a fedora? Kicked out by a rapacious landlord and replaced by a bar so faceless that it actually had to be named “Faces.”
It may be hard to believe, but only a few years ago most of Asmalımescit was dark at night, lit up only by a few dive bars, small restaurants run by eclectic chefs and old-time meyhanes, among them Sofyalı 9. Back then, Sofyalı seemed slightly out of place in the neighborhood, its menu, décor and service several notches above its local competition. These days, fortunately, the restaurant still seems out of step with what’s happening around it, serving up a healthy dose of old-school Asmalımescit charm that none of its chichi new neighbors have.
We like to think of Sofyalı not as a meyhane but rather as a Turkish bistro. Don’t come here if you want to end your night with a rakı-fueled dance on the tables to the accompaniment of a gypsy band. Rather, this is a place to depend on: the menu has all the meyhane classics, from mezes to fish, and rarely changes; the food is always good; and the service is always friendly. It’s a place that works on any night, be it a romantic dinner for two on the warmly lit ground floor with its big windows looking out on the street, or a festive meal for ten on one of the restaurant’s upper floors, which have a cheerful Greek taverna-like vibe to them. (The restaurant is also a great spot for lunch, with a limited menu of homey specials that changes daily.)
In good weather, we recommend making a reservation for one of Sofyalı’s highly coveted outdoor tables. They make a great perch from which to take in Asmalımescit’s newly bustling street life while at the same time soaking up a good dose of what made the area great to begin with.
Address: Sofyalı Sokak 9, Asmalımescit/Beyoğlu
Web: www.sofyali.com.tr 
(photo by Yigal Schleifer)