Where to have a drink in Istanbul

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Now that you’ve booked your trip to Istanbul in winter, you’ll want to learn where to have a drink in Istanbul to enjoy some festive cheer, alcoholic of course, accompanied by some tasty Turkish delights. Luckily for us, Turkish wine expert Andrea Lemieux aka The Quirky Cork took some time out of her busy schedule quaffing new wines to write this post for us.

Andrea Lemieux, wine expert and author of The Essential Guide to Turkish Wine

When I first moved to Istanbul, I lived in an area of the city called Cevizlibağ. Generally foreigners don’t know it and most Turks’ reaction is along the lines of “uuufff, why?”. The why is a boring story and so is the area. It mainly consists of apartment blocks, a few small markets, a tram stop, and a metrobus stop. And that’s about it. It takes around 45 minutes on crowded transportation to reach central Istanbul, I was the only Western foreigner that I knew of, and it’s largely a conservative area, meaning finding alcohol wasn’t easy.

And yet, that’s where my wine journey began. I did all my socialising at the opposite end of that tram ride where I started sampling Turkish wines in restaurants and bars. But if I liked something, I couldn’t go back to my neighborhood and buy a bottle. In the year I lived there, I don’t recall ever having a bottle of wine in my apartment.

Eventually I moved to central Istanbul where an elevated grocery store experience in the hip, heavily foreign neighborhood of Cihangir offered a wall of Turkish wines to explore. And explore I did. First I tried wines from international grapes I knew like Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Very soon, I moved onto native grapes like Narince, Öküzgözü, and Kalecik Karası.

As my interest in these sometimes difficult to pronounce grapes grew, so did my interest in wine, generally. I began reading books about wine, reading blogs, learning the lingo. Eventually I enrolled in the Wine Spirits & Education Trust (WSET) program, an internationally-recognized wine education program offered in Turkey. One snag, levels one and two are offered only in Turkish. Luckily level one is so basic I think you could pass it without ever having had a sip of wine. But it did help expand my Turkish wine vocabulary.

I began offering wine tastings out of my apartment. The initial tastings were largely for my own education. I figured, if I could talk about wine, provide even a small amount of educational information, then I’d really know the topic myself. I’ve also made it a point to scout as many wine shops as possible, investigate anything in the city calling itself a “wine bar”, and am still always on the lookout for restaurants with good wine lists.

Turkish wine doesn’t get a lot of buzz; aside from a few of us shouting into the void about this ancient wine-producing country and how it is capable of more than just mediocre Bordeaux imitations. Yet it still came as a surprise to me that there was no ‘wines of Turkey’ style book in English. With a wine production history this long, a treasury of native grapes (1,400 and counting!), fantastic food, and a country rich in tourism opportunities, how had no one ever written a book about it? Okay to be fair, someone had. Şeyla Ergenekon wrote a book (in Turkish) in 2002; yet it included only 18 wineries and focused largely on international grape varieties. By the time I moved to Turkey in 2013, it was massively out of date.

While that book isn’t what prompted my book writing journey, it did play a part. In 2017, I began a five-year journey that resulted in publishing The Essential Guide to Turkish Wine. My research partner Emma and I spent weekends driving across the vastness of Turkey to visit almost every winery in the country. I collaborated with a fantastic graphic designer to create infographics about the native grapes and she also eventually designed the book. In the end, the book featured chapters on Turkish wine history, wine culture, native grapes, where to eat, drink, and shop for wine in Istanbul, and most importantly, the story of each winery.

When I started learning about Turkish wine in 2013, the thought that I would write the first complete English-language book about it never even entered my mind. Life takes you on an interesting journey. I went from living and working in America, where I liked wine but it wasn’t a huge part of my life, to living in Turkey, where wine (and my cats) are my whole life. So, if you’re visiting Istanbul this winter, especially around the holidays, and are looking for a place to get a nice glass of wine, I hope you’ll take my advice about where to go.

Let’s start with the wine bars!

Solera is the original Istanbul wine bar. The owner himself owns vineyards and is hoping to open a winery one day. Staff are friendly, helpful, know their wines well…and offer some of the least expensive wine prices.

Comedus is a fantastic wine shop/deli/wine bar where you can sit and sip while you nibble on a cheese or charcuterie plate, or buy things to go. They’re so popular, they’ve recently even opened a second location, around the corner from the first, to offer more space!

Beyoğlu Şaraphanesi offers an interesting wine selection and color codes their wine and food menu to both let you know what style of wine you might be ordering (light-bodied, crisp, full-bodied, etc) and which of those styles would pair best with their food offerings.

Wayana Wine Bar and Tapas is THE wine bar to visit if you really want to explore Turkish wine. Located in Moda, Kadikoy, the prices are a little higher than elsewhere but it, and it alone in the city, offers every wine of its extensive wine list by the glass!

Bordo Şaraphane also over on the Asian side but color-coded menus, interesting wine list, and decent prices make it worth the trek.

While the wine bars offer everything from cheese plates to full meals, if you really want a wining and dining experience, these are some of the city’s top restaurants with amazing wine lists*.

Meet & Meat is for lovers of … well meat! This casual Turkish steakhouse offers beautifully cooked meats and a great (and fairly priced!) wine list.

Mabou is a tiny, five-table restaurant where the chef’s tagline is: German chef, Turkish ingredients, French soul. His menu changes seasonally and his wine list is solid.

Aheste, with seasonally changing menus, offers both a tasting menu, and a la carte options along with great wines.

Slightly more upmarket is Mürver which has amazing food, cocktails, and wine list. It’s one of the few restaurants that manages to have both a fantastic view and scrumptious food.

Yeni Lokanta is famous for its offering of modern twists on traditional Turkish meze with a varied wine list.

Nicole, the first of my three recommended Michelin Star restaurants in Turkey offers a series of set menus with or without wine pairings and the sommeliers do a really nice job of explaining why they chose wine x to pair with food z.

Mikla is all the swank you want with your Michelin Star. The wine program director here is a big proponent of “natural” wine so you’ll find a lot of Turkey’s on the menu.

Neolokal is another set menu Michelin winner with a penchant for “natural” wine.

Reservations recommended, especially for the restaurants.

Many thanks to Andrea Lemieux for sharing what inspired her to write The Essential Guide to Turkish Wine and her recommendations of where to have a drink in Istanbul. Having already been to some of the venues on Andrea’s list I’m making plans to go to the others. You never know readers, we might bump in to one another! In the meantime, if you can’t get to Istanbul just yet, don’t forget to subscribe to my website for more posts like this one.


*Restaurant alcohol markups in Turkey are very high. While a 300% increase on the retail cost for wine is more or less normal for much of the world, be aware that Turkish restaurant prices can be as much as 500%.


Planning to come to Istanbul or Turkey? Here are my helpful tips for planning your trip.

For FLIGHTS I like to use Kiwi.com.

Don’t pay extra for an E-VISA. Here’s my post on everything to know before you take off.

However E-SIM are the way to go to stay connected with a local phone number and mobile data on the go. Airalo is easy to use and affordable.

Even if I never claim on it, I always take out TRAVEL INSURANCE. I recommend Visitors Coverage.

I’m a big advocate of public transport, but know it’s not suitable for everyone all the time. When I need to be picked up from or get to Istanbul Airport or Sabiha Gokcen Airport, I use one of these GetYourGuide website AIRPORT TRANSFERS.

ACCOMMODATION: When I want to find a place to stay I use Booking.com.

CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: Let me guide you around Kadikoy with my audio walking tour Stepping back through Chalcedon or venture further afield with my bespoke guidebook Istanbul 50 Unsung Places. I know you’ll love visiting the lesser-known sites I’ve included. It’s based on using public transport as much as possible so you won’t be adding too much to your carbon footprint. Then read about what you’ve seen and experienced in my three essay collections and memoir about moving to Istanbul permanently.

Browse the GetYourGuide website or Viator to find even more ways to experience Istanbul and Turkey with food tours, visits to the old city, evening Bosphorus cruises and more!

However you travel, stay safe and have fun! Iyi yolculuklar.

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  1. I have lived in SW Türkiye for 20 years and agree that information about Turkish wine is very hard to find. Of course in general the quality availability and range of different wines has improved a great deal.
    I think it’s sad that there are very few sources of information and reviews of good Turkish wines
    So thank you for your article.

    1. My pleasure. Glad you enjoyed it. If you enjoy wines you really should buy Andrea’s book. It’s very informative with regards to what to try and why.

  2. Taxes are very high on alcohol in Turkey and restaurants do of course mark up the prices. However I’ve found this to be the case in every country I’ve travelled in. It’s always cheaper to buy take away alcohol to drink at home no matter where you live. The most important thing is to check the prices on the menu and decide how much you’re happy to pay, and of course, to drink in moderation.

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