A local’s guide to Istanbul’s new cool neighbourhood
Until recently, the neighbourhood of Kadıköy-Moda, on the Asian side of Istanbul at the southern end of the Bosphorus, was an unremarkable, mostly residential place that barely registered on the city’s cultural map. Over the past few years, however, it has become an unlikely hotspot for cutting-edge bars, art and culture hubs, cafes and music venues, as well as a haven for plugged-in, liberal-minded people opposed to Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian political climate.
It’s not a straight case of hipsterisation or gentrification, however: as many of Kadıköy-Moda’s current must-visit places have been around for decades and find themselves in ruder health than ever in the area’s new climate – the atmosphere between those who have been there for years and the new incomers is generally one of warm co-existence and mutual respect.
A delightfully old-school independent cinema, right down to its distinctly reasonable door price and old-style tearing tickets, the Rexx Cinema has survived and flourished where other similar old Istanbul institutions have closed down. Kadıköy’s go-to picture house for several decades, and the only one on the Asian side of the city used for the Istanbul film festival, Rexx always shows films (both of blockbuster and arthouse variety) in their original language rather than the dubbed versions often found in the city’s multiplexes.
• Around £2.50 a ticket, Sakızgülü Sokak No 20-22, rexx-online.com
Another old institution (it opened in 1928) that has flourished as Kadıköy-Moda has modernised and (partially) hipsterised, Koço is the neighbourhood’s top choice for feasts of meze and raki that are a cornerstone of Turkish culture. A fish and seafood specialist with a terrace that looks over the Sea of Marmara, Koço’s tables heave with freshly caught octopus, bonito, scorpion fish, sole, swordfish, red mullet, sea bass, mussels, blue fish and gilt-head bream. Equally excellent mezes of fava beans, haydari (yoghurt with herbs), artichokes and liver are on offer for those who want to eat something other than seafood, and it also does a mean brain salad. I’m told.
• Around £18 a head with alcohol, Caferağa Mahallesi, Moda Cd No 171, kocorestaurant.net
Moda Çay Bahçesi
An open-air tea garden looking out on the Sea of Marmara to the west of the Bosphorus, Moda Çay Bahçesi is simply one of the loveliest places in the neighbourhood and the city to relax. Bring pastries or bagels bought from the nearby street sellers, take a seat and have tea or Turkish coffee. To experience this place at its very best, try to time a visit to coincide with the sun setting over the sea.
• Turkish coffee £1.15, Ferit Tek Sokak No 7, on Facebook
Süreyya Opera House
A building with a strange and interesting history, Süreyya Operasi was designed and built by the politician Süreyya İlmen Pasha, and opened in 1927 as the first musical theatre on the Asian side of Istanbul. However, because there was a distinct lack of appropriate facilities, equipment or talented opera singers in the city during that period, operas were never actually staged there, and the place operated as a cinema until it was restored and finally reopened as an opera house 80 years later, in 2007. The building is worthy of a visit for both architectural and cultural reasons: its beautiful art deco foyer was inspired by the Champs-Elysées Theatre in Paris, and the interior has a striking German influence.
• Bahariye Caddesi Caferağa Mahallesi No 29, sureyyaoperasi.kadikoy.bel.tr
An independent music and arts centre, cafe and bar – and one of the most interesting places on the neighbourhood’s main bar street, Kadife Sokak – Arkaoda arrived in 1999, making it something of a trailblazer for Kadıköy’s recent metamorphosis. Over the years, Arkaoda has hosted all manner of revered underground musicians, including John Maus, Sir Richard Bishop, Six Organs of Admittance and Vladimir Ivkovic. It puts on a packed schedule of gigs and club nights, the vast majority of which are free. Festivals, parties, themed markets and film screenings also pepper the centre’s calendar, and its owners run another couple of Kadıköy-Moda must-visits in the wine bar Yer (Caferağa Mahallesi, Ferit Tek Sokagi 25/A) and the brunch spot Dün Moda (Caferağa Mahallesi, Lütfü Bey Sokak 42/6).
• Caferağa Mahallesi, Kadife Sokak No 18, arkaoda.com
Where to stay
Kadıköy-Moda isn’t (yet at least) a hotbed of high-quality or interesting places to stay, but the Sarnıç Boutique Hotel in the heart of the neighbourhood is a charming and eminently affordable exception. In a large, renovated Greek-style house on a cobbled back-street, Sarnıç has lovingly decorated and furnished rooms (all six of them), famously friendly staff, an excellent location and a well-regarded restaurant with free-flowing raki and meze and, on occasion, live music.
• Double/twin rooms from £35 a night, Caferaga Mahallesi Dumlupınar Sokak No 12, sarnicsuitsandkitchen.com
Another venture from the people behind Arkaoda, Havuz/Bina is a four-floor social hub: in the basement there’s an excellent bar with a charming water feature; the ground floor is a restaurant, upstairs is Havuz, a bar and music venue owned by the urban culture, arts and music magazine Bant Mag. On the top floor, there are film screenings, talks and smaller-scale gigs. This is another of the places that keeps Kadife Sokak so interesting, despite the sometimes stressful volume of people lining the street at weekends.
• Caferağa Mahallesi, Kadife Sokak No 26, on Facebook
Ekspres İnegöl Köftecisi
What Koço is to seafood, in Kadıköy, Ekspres İnegöl Köftecisi is to meatballs. Founder Ali Çelik opened his first place in Ankara in 1967, and his meatballs, prepared to a recipe indigenous to Inegol, a small city a couple of hours south of Istanbul, became a favourite among the city’s political, cultural and media elites, and just about everyone else besides. Çelik and his grandchildren opened their second restaurant in Kadıköy in 1986, and it has been a beloved fixture there ever since.
• Caferağa Mahallesi, Muvakkıthane Caddesi No 13A, mains from about £2.50, ekspresinegolkoftecisi.com
With some inevitability, Starbucks and Cafe Nero have set up shop in Kadıköy-Moda in recent years, but right beside them on Atıfet Sokak is an infinitely better coffee choice. FatCat is owned by a freelance architect who lives nearby and opened the place because he wanted to create his own ideal environment in which to work. As well as top-drawer coffee, FatCat sells some of the best pastries in the neighbourhood, made with ingredients bought at markets around Istanbul and baked daily by the owner’s sister. Above all, though, it has a welcoming community vibe that few cafes anywhere can match – it’s effectively a second home for many of the area’s friendliest and most interesting people.
• Caferağa Mahallesi, Atıfet Sokak 22/A, coffee £1.60, on Facebook
Nâzım Hikmet Cultural Centre
Nâzım Hikmet was a “romantic communist” poet who spent much of his adult life in detention for his beliefs and died in exile in Moscow in 1963. The much-loved cultural centre named after him opened sites in Kadıköy and Taksim (on the European side of istanbul) in the mid-1990s and now operates in a new building on Ali Suavi Sokak (street of artists) in Kadıköy, as well as in Ankara, Adana and İzmir. A haven for left-leaning artists and writers, the centre has a winter garden, indoor and outdoor concert spaces, workshops, a cinema, a library, a bookstore and a cafe.
• Bahariye Caddesi, Ali Suavi Sokak No 7, nhkm.org.tr
For more than three decades, before it closed down in 2000, the building that is now Moda Sahnesi was a cinema. The place lay unused through the noughties but was eventually taken up, transformed and reopened in 2013 by a group of 12 people from the worlds of theatre and cinema. The new proprietors have focused on theatre over three high-tech, adjustable stages with capacities ranging from 50 to 800, though film, concerts and dance also feature on its programme from time to time.
•Caferağa Mahallesi, General Asım Gündüz Caddesi, Halil Ethem Sokak No 34/27, modasahnesi.com
More locals’ tips
The Formica tiles here don’t just reflect me while I sit drinking coffee and eating kupgriye (a kind of ice-cream sundae); the place reminds me of my childhood. As our culture becomes more westernised, [the former owner] Mr Harry’s kupgriye with crunchy praline and sponge fingers is unique and comforting, while everything else in the city changes in a blink of an eye.
• Caferağa Mahallesi, Muvakkıthane Caddesi No 19, baylangida.com
Ayşegül Sönmez, art critic and founder of Sanatatak Akademi
Komsu Kafe Collective
“A wonderful, collectively run cafe where you decide how much to pay for your meal. Komsu emerged from the same collective spirit that fuelled the (anti-Erdoğan and anti-authoritarianism) Occupy Gezi Park protests and proves that that spirit still remains.”
• Rasimpaşa Mahallesi, Uzun Hafız Sokak 83A, on Facebook
Emre Yeksan, film director and producer
Tribu Caffe Artigiano
“The owner of the place is crazy – overwhelmed by the white-collar life, he decided to do this instead [for the] flavour and conversation.”
• Moda Caddesi Ağabey Sokak No 6/A, on Facebook
Sinem Akın and Kaan Öztürk, owners of the Oz. Tasting Pub
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