A short meander down the hillside from Asmalımescit and Tünel, a tiny corner of Beyoğlu has become one of Istanbul’s most exciting and rapidly developing neighbourhoods over the past few years. Until recently Şişhane was known primarily for its lamp-sellers – a legacy of Turkey’s informal guild tradition, which grouped similar shops together. It has now developed into a vibrant destination for the arts, dining and nightlife. And while its narrow back lanes are still filled with stores selling a wonderful array of lamps, its main streets – lined with grand, century-old stone buildings with beautiful decorative facades – are having new life breathed into them.
The transformation of this formerly rather ordinary neighbourhood overlooking the Golden Horn can be traced to two important developments. The opening of the Şişhane metro station in 2009 and the relocation of the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), the city’s premier arts organisation, to Şişhane in January of the following year were the green lights for the area’s rejuvenation. The İKSV’s new headquarters – a seven-storey art nouveau building from the 1920s that underwent a three-year, $14m restoration – houses a design store, state-of-the-art performance space and upscale restaurant. Visitors might browse the design pieces at the İKSV Design Store, enjoy dinner on the terrace of X Restaurant with its spectacular views of the Golden Horn, and then take in a jazz concert at Salon İKSV.
The buzz created by the presence of the İKSV has brought new businesses, entertainment venues and cultural initiatives to Şişhane, mirroring a trend that was already underway in nearby Galata. ‘With each new venue, workshop, performance hall, gallery and theatre that moves here, the Şişhane-Galata district becomes a more important part of the cultural life of the city,’ says İKSV general director Görgün Taner. ‘We believe the Foundation and the Nejat Eczacıbaşı Building, along with its performance venue Salon and the İKSV Design Store, have been an essential part of this transformation.’
Day into night
The formerly quiet lower end of Meşrutiyet Caddesi – Şişhane’s main stretch – is now lined with chic places to eat and nightlife hotspots that attract Istanbul’s young sophisticates. Restaurants such as tapas bar Que Tal and the taverna-style Safi Meyhane have joined long-running Pera Thai. Popular bistros and lounges such as Rook, Baylo and GoodMood-Pera are buzzing eateries that transform seamlessly into lively dance clubs at the weekend.
Although Şişhane is becoming best known as a nightlife centre, the area offers attractions round the clock. One of the most talked-about new venues, Gram, is a café and bakery open for breakfast and lunch only (and to private groups in the evening). The latest project of American-trained female chef Didem Şenol – who had already earned accolades for her Karaköy restaurant Lokanta Maya – has an open kitchen and cosy communal seating and offers a daily menu of contemporary takes on Turkish dishes, along with delicious European-style pastries.
The İKSV’s exceptional design store, which focuses primarily on local talent, is itself a reason to come to Şişhane. The frequently changing selection includes art pieces, jewellery and other design objects by over 100 established and emerging designers and labels, including Devrim Erbil, Faruk Malhan, Gaia & Gino, Toz Design and Bee Goddess. ‘By bringing together Turkish artists’ work with design pieces, we aim to create more accessible art and to introduce these works to a larger audience. Our mission is to become a meeting point and a place where people can find unique presents and design items,’ says Aylin Kutnay, director of the İKSV Design Store.
Serra Türker’s chic Misela boutique is another noteworthy venue. The Turkish designer launched her luxury handbag label several years ago in New York and now has an international following, but it was because of the history and potential of Istanbul’s Şişhane neighbourhood that she chose to open her first boutique there, in summer 2012. ‘When I was living abroad, I always wanted to open something in this neighbourhood. There’s a great historical value to it; Meşrutiyet was a great street back in the day. Now it’s a very up-and-coming area that is really reviving,’ says Türker. Other nearby shopping possibilities include the international beauty brand L’Occitane, a gourmet food store and a couple of brilliantly eclectic design stores.
Other investors have also stepped in, restoring Şişhane’s elegant buildings and turning them into boutique hotels and short-term flat rentals right and left. Like the crowds who flock to the area for its varied offerings, these entrepreneurs have helped ensure that this once-overlooked neighbourhood on the edge of Beyoğlu has the chance to shine again.