Cheesy guidebooks will call Istiklal Caddesi and Taksim ‘the heart of Istanbul’s nightlife’. I would rather compare it to a digestive tract. The more you come to Istanbul, the more thoroughly you get fermented and digested by Taksim’s juicy smells of roasted chestnuts and boiled mussels – the ultimate star-rated delicacy for alcohol-induced and unable to walk partying crowds at 5 o’clock in the morning. Over and over again, you pass through the intestines of Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue, so that in the end the city actually develops a sort of allergic reaction to you – but still cannot let you go and withholds from vomiting you out.
According to unpublished secret surveys of Tubitak institute, an average number of catcalls a human female gets while walking through all the length of Istiklal Avenue on a lively day is 37. Quadruple these digits and you will get a recipe for the New Years night, with special extras such as groping, staring and bumping into ‘by accident’. In some way, Istiklal Avenue and its alleyways can be advertised as a top tourism destination for ladies with low self-esteem: since most of the males here seem to have never seen a female who is not their mother, and therefore dedicate undivided attention to every goddess of a pub crawl.
As a representative of XY chromosome majority, you will face much less disturbance on Istiklal, although since May 2013 Taksim area is big on organizing gas and water cannon get-togethers involving police, radical protesters and just ordinary punks who enjoy wearing gas masks.
This street barely ever sleeps. Walking home at 3am from a small pisshole of a bar where the bartender was hitting on two French girls by trying to speak broken Spanish, I look around and realise how I love Istanbul. There is something unique and cosy in this organized chaos, on the street that smells of detergent, spilled beer and seafood, the street that rings of guitar and incoherent cacophony of dozens of languages. It only sleeps one hour per day – between 5am ad 6am, when the last of the clubbing crowds have crawled home and the first street cleaners and shopkeepers have not yet begun scrubbing off the remains of the day before.
What once used to be the most iconic and bohemian district of the city, Istiklal was stripped of its green trees about 10 years ago and turned into a tract of stone and blinking lights. Along it runs the picturesque Nostalgic Tram, from Taksim square all the way to the oldest metro line in the world, the Tünel. As you move past Galatasaray High School (the oldest Turkish high school in the world), Çiçek Pasaji (Flower market), Balık Pasaji (Fish market) and Catholic Cathedral of San Antonio di Padova with a surreal bronze Jesus, you slide from one music bubble to the next. All the way from one end to the other, from early morning until post-sober hours of the night, you will hear old men from the Black sea playing bow lute kemençe, or young bands from Mediterranean picking bağlama, or people from Thracian region drumming on darbuka. Arabic, Balkan, Kurdish, Gypsy, Georgian, modern Western, Slavic and any other kind of music can be heard along Istiklal, every 10-15 meters, so that when you leave one sound cloud you immediately slide into another one, venturing through all the regions of Turkey without ever leaving Istiklal Avenue.