Istanbul Confidential Part I. Drinking Under the Radar: Araf Cafe

I have my liver drop down and give me 20 every night at Araf Cafe on Balo Sokak during the Beyoglu portion of my Istanbul stay.

Perched on top of a 5 floor walkup just down the alley from my hotel, Araf Cafe provides what every traveler needs: a cozy bar with good live music, cheap drinks and a staff that look like heshers broke free from a tattoo parlor in Texas.

Around 11 each night I make my way to Araf and begin the dance and drink til dawn portion of the day.

Efes Pilsner is served ice cold, dirt cheap and in a handled mug; just the way Allah intended.

Benjamin Franklin said it best: “Beer is proof that Allah loves us and wants us to be happy”. I might’ve gotten part of that wrong but the basics are correct.

One thing about Istanbul I’m not necessarily prepared for; Muslims love to party. They’re a hard drinking, hard dancing lot. Friendly cusses, once they figure out you’re an American they really roll out the welcome mat.

I’m not anticipating this. Sure I’m friends with plenty Muslims back in the US but I didn’t figure on being treated like a king by them way over in  Turkiye.

The hospitality really reminds me of being in Alabama where a chance conversation just might end up with you over at a stranger’s house that evening for a supper of fried catfish and good conversation in the backyard.

While I love the refreshing beverages at Araf, it’s really the music that keeps me coming back. It seems like every band has a clarinet player riffing on Paquito D’Rivera, King Oliver or some other king of the instrument. Between bands the dj flat brings it with tons of American soul, funk, r&b and punk.

Looking out the expanse of windows over the Istanbul skyline is reminiscent of the great Dali painted backdrops in Hitchcock’s epic “Rope”. It’s surreal to put it mildly.

I like the way the big, beefy bouncer locks eyes with each patron for a couple seconds before granting passage into the bar. If you’re all wild eyed or crazy looking you’re going to have to find another place for the night’s throw.

On the evening when 2009 is becoming 2010, Araf Cafe is a tumult of light and sound with the crowd putting on quite the indoor fireworks display. I figure with all the mugs filled with Efes in the hands of the partiers we can easily put out any conflagration that might spring up but nevertheless I post up by the stairs in case a Great White scenario springs up.

I would’ve never experienced the glory of Araf Cafe had it not been for this review
I did alot of drinking in Istanbul but for a good tipple with live music and a raucous environment Araf Cafe just can’t be beat.

Two *

Balo Sokak 32, 5th floor, Beyoglu
Telephone: 212-244-8301

About the Stars:

4 ****  Extraordinary, life changing

3 ***   Excellent

2 *     Very good

1 *     Good

0 *     Mediocre

Quality, price, service and ambiance are all taken into account when rating.

About RL Reeves Jr

I'm a writer living and working in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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