If the raucous Taksim Square is Dr. Jekyll, then Cihangir, tucked away from bustle, is its Mr. Hyde. But loving one doesn’t mean you’d hate the other. Cihangir, little-known to tourists but big with locals looking for an upscale retreat from crowds, requires more than cursory sight-seeing to make a full impression. It reveals its gems with time, and teases the maiden visitor with its network of routes, each laden with their own unique surprises. We coax out Cihangir’s blend of artisan, thrift, and F&B offerings and stitch them into a daytime itinerary that starts out from Sıraselviler Caddesi, the sister path to Istiklal Caddesi from Taksim’s metro station.
Sıraselviler Cad. No: 10 Taksim/Beyoğlu - Foursquare
Midway on Sıraselviler Caddesi, the street forks at Billurcu Sokağı. Resting at that fork, embellished with leatherette bags and embroidered purses, is Mendy’s. Opened just two months ago, Mendy’s is a former bar that has undergone a complete overhaul into – well, nothing resembling its F&B origins (the bar’s layout is still visible in the shadows).
So while the signboard still reads ‘Mendy’s Café and Bistro’, Mendy’s today is a thrift treasure-trove bearing every kind of storage vessel – from luggage to totes to prams. The bags range largely from 60tl - 150tl, depending on their type, size, and material. Owner Mande gets his stock locally, primarily from fabric stores in Sultanahmet. Once you’ve had your fill of bag-seeing, check out the soft-toy mountain shouting out to you from its luggage-flanked corner, as well as knick knacks like caps and baby shoes. Pushing the concept of ‘all-purpose’ even further, the shop is fronted by its sister store: a cleanly presented shampoo-and-hair-product business.
Güneşli sok. No: 4A, Cihangir - Foursquare
Running parallel on the right of Cihangir Caddesi is Güneşli Sokağı, and it is here that you will find Look Left, a unisex fashion store christened so because visitors, literally, look left on the street to spot it.
Shop owner Semra Altinel, a lively and dynamic personality, left her news-presenter career to open the year-old store.
It’s a labour of love that immediately strikes you with its warmth; the small but cosy space is panelled cheerfully in lemon-yellow, and bears an eclectic selection of clothes, jewellery, and fabric knick-knacks – all made by local designers and artisans. The store’s fashion ranges widely in kind, from T-shirts and jeans to corset tops and printed kimonos. Look Left’s spontaneous stock selection means there is always something for everyone: prices go from 25tl for a cotton T-shirt to 90tl for an artisan clutch. Check out their Facebook Page.
Manuel Deli & Coffee
Cihangir Mahallesi, Cihangir Caddesi, No 23/A, Beyoğlu - Foursquare
Coffee lover Altan Kelleci first entertained the idea of a coffee shop back in 2008, to cater to an increasingly discerning foodie community hungry for good coffee and authentic Italian pizza.
Situated in Cihangir’s quiet, leafy district, the seven-month-old café nonetheless does brisk business; customers are just as happy to bench themselves outside the shop when space is scarce – so long as they get their coffee. Altan serves up a decent cappuccino, and his pizza al taglio is, perhaps, reason for Manuel’s popularity – a perfect bake and fresh ingredients make for happy customers.
Coffee choices include both cold and hot brews, and Altan uses beans sourced from Guatemala, Colombia, Sumatra, and Ethiopia. Prices start at 6TL for an espresso, to 9.50TL for a latte. Pizza, charged by weight, rounds up to about 10TL per serving. Stop here for a quick fuel-charge, as more craft and vintage explorations await at Çukurcuma Caddesi, a ten-minute walk east of Cihangir.
Çukurcuma’s Antique Stores
Çukurcuma Caddesi is home to a row of antique stores, wrapped along Muhyiddin Camii (Çukurcuma’s mosque), that stock a fascinating spectrum of items: antiques include avian taxidermies and gramophone-needle boxes.
Many of the antiques, while sourced from Turkey, originate from all parts of the world, and their ages can astound.
Yaşam Antik, for instance, stocks 500-year-old signet rings. Prices start from the tens and go up to the thousands, depending on the object. Still, whether or not you have intentions of retail therapy, navigating your way in olde-worlde paraphernalia is a checklist-essential.
Kare Deri & Parşömen
Çukurcuma Caddesi No: 19/C, Beyoğlu - Website
Down the street, a contrastingly contemporary storefront beckons you to step in. It belongs to Kare Deri & Parşömen, an artisan business specialising in handmade leather and parchment creations.
Marrying practicality with sophistication, Kare Deri injects the special into the nondescript: bookmarks, papers, writing sets, and even lampshades get the très chic treatment with hand-crafted parchment. The shop also boasts a stylish range of atelier-made leather and parchment bags, as well as playful jewellery in – you’ve guessed it – parchment.
Prices vary as widely as the store’s products, from 4TL for a parchment bookmark, to 400TL for a large leather tote. With craftsmanship central to artisan businesses, Kare Deri makes no pretence of its regard for quality, so keep its name and address in mind when you’re wracking your brain for gift ideas.
It is incredible that artist Şebnem Melis creates almost every item offered inher quirky accessories shop. Not only does she make jewellery; Ubik is stocked with plush toys, stationary cases and purses, all painstakingly hand-sewn and painted into whimsical works of art. Şebnem’s designs are highly original, yet always retain a wearable appeal – in fact, they are so appealing that she prohibits close-range photography on her pieces, no thanks to design copycats captivated by her works online.
Yet, even with the lack of visual publicity, Şebnem still draws customers who are quick to verbalise their delight. Her year-old store also stocks exquisite hand-decorated gourd lamps made by a fellow artist friend. Jewellery prices range from 20TL for earrings to 95TL for a pendant. For fabric works, a hand-painted denim purse costs 22.50TL.
This thrift-and-costume store lends a refreshing eccentricity to Yeni Çarşı’s hipster vibe. Step into its space and be greeted by a riot of masks, mannequins, and stage props wallpapering the soft-lit outlet. Mitra Kostum juggles costume rental, clothing retail, and ‘café operations’ -- café being a little nook outside the store window that accommodates a single benched table, where visitors can rest their feet and savour an item from its coffee menu.
The store’s impressively outlandish costumes are available for rent, and its customised vintage-style dresses fill its racks for sale. If you seek visual explosions to rejuvenate your senses, a visit to Mitra Kostum is the perfectantidote.
Nearing the end of Yeni Çarşı is DOGO, a striking apparel-and-shoe outlet that showcases Turkish illustrative talent on all things wearable. DOGO‘s stand-out merchandise is its footwear, where left and right of a pair are never aesthetically identical.
The illustrations are gorgeous; their concepts charmingly pop-cultural. As with products big on craftsmanship, the shoes don’t come cheap: pre-sale prices are 150TL for a pair of flats. Look out for their half-price sales, which are on at this point of writing.
Now, if you’re thinking to call it a day, fret not – you’re less than a minute’s stroll to Istiklal Caddesi, on a straight, fail-proof route back to Taksim’s metro station.