Istanbul's nightlife still revolves, in many ways, around its meyhanes, the tavern-like restaurants where long nights are spent nibbling on meze and sipping the anise-flavored spirit rakı. The atmosphere at these places—mostly found in the lively Beyoğlu area—is jovial, friendly, and worth experiencing. But there are lots of other options, too, again mostly in Beyoğlu, which has everything from grungy American-style dive bars to sophisticated lounges, performance spaces that host world-class live acts, and dance clubs. In recent years, the trend in the neighborhood has been literally upward, with the opening of rooftop bars that offer stunning views and fresh breezes.
As Istanbul's reputation as a hip city continues to grow, the quality of the live acts that come to town has risen, too. Established and up-and-coming performers now frequently include Istanbul on their European tours, and the city has become a good place to catch a show for far less than what you might pay in Paris, London, or New York. Note that many live-performance venues close for part or all of the summer, when school is out and the city’s elite departs for vacation.
To experience Istanbul’s most high-end nightlife, head to the neighborhoods along the Bosphorus, where chic (and pricey) nightclubs play host to Istanbul's rich and famous and those who want to rub shoulders with them. The vibrant dance club scene here, as well as at a few places in Beyoğlu, is not for the faint of heart. Things typically get rolling at around midnight and go until 4 or 5 in the morning. The city’s most upscale clubs tend to be expensive—admission fees can be steep on summer weekends—and there are no guarantees you'll get past the doorman, whose job it is to make sure only Istanbul's best dressed get in.
Sultanahmet isn’t known for its nightlife, but in summer, the strip of tourist-oriented restaurants and dive bars at the end of Akbıyık Sokak close to the Aya Sofya can be quite lively, with a young crowd that fills the sidewalk tables.