By Roy Heale
I must admit it was rather a bad line when I had to tell my friends that I was going to Turkey for thanksgiving instead of having turkey dinner. At least it explained my absence from the traditional feast. Then I had to confess that my knowledge of Turkey was limited to the 80s classic movie Midnight Express. Who could forget the movie's opening scene with Brad Davis in his tight white briefs strapping tin foil packages of drugs around his perfect six pack? But at least I knew that Istanbul was at the crossroads of two continents---a globally unique occurrence---the city being divided into Europe and Asia by the Bosphorus Straight. With over 11 million people residing in this metropolis I felt confident that my trip would reveal the mystique of Turkey and possibly there might be a gay community in a city so populous.
On the drive to my hotel from the vast, confusing airport imagine my surprise as I gazed at the specter of modern high rise towers amidst the historic mosques with their towering minarets. With a history dating back to circa 6500 BC and the ruins of a Neolithic settlement plus monuments from Ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman civilizations up to modern day architecture this truly is a city filled with variety. And I soon learned that this diversity includes a thriving gay and lesbian community. My knowledgeable English speaking local tour guide, Okan Kutlu from Istanbul, explained that although the gay community is spread throughout the city there were several bars, clubs, restaurants and cafes to enjoy. However, there are no exclusively gay accommodations but many gay-friendly boutique hotels.
In the shopping, entertainment and gourmet dining district of Nisantasi the Sofa Hotel offers a unique combination of new technology, comfort, peace and exclusive personal services. With 82 rooms and executive suites this hotel provides luxury accommodations and facilities for a relaxing urban vacation.
Close to the Taksim District gay nightlife is the elegant boutique Lush Hotel where any gay traveler is going to feel right at home with pampered service and upscale rooms. With 35 uniquely different and stylish rooms to choose from the Lush Hotel offers something for every vacation budget and, as I soon discovered, lives up to to its name.
Despite the vast number of cars on the roads and the near gridlock traffic, we maneuvered deftly around the city by day to cover the major tourist attractions including the Blue Mosque, the Great Bazaar, the Spice Market, the Hagia Eirene, the Topkapi Palace, and the Hagia Sophia just to name a few. At the end of a busy day of sightseeing a two-hour cruise along the Bosphorus Straight reveals even more historic sights and possibly a spectacular sunset as you return to the docks in the heart of Istanbul.
But this city by night also proffers a few unexpected surprises for the gay adventurer.
Dining out in this sophisticated international city offers every specialty or ethnic cuisine imaginable and of course a variety of Turkish Delights. The Taksim district of Beyoglu town on the European side is the center of most major gay venues and is in fact the heart of this city's major nightlife. Although my time was limited I did manage to discover a few favorites amongst the many choices for libations and entertainment.
We made an early start at the Shake'in Bar which opens at 4PM and is a local cafe and bar with several different rooms plus a small dance floor. On this particular occasion a local singer entertained the crowd with Turkish songs and although I didn't understand the words, when a handsome young man sits on your lap to serenade you, the language becomes universal.
Next we headed to the larger more American-style Tek Yon dance bar. Currently recognized as the most popular gay bar in Istanbul, the waiters and staff are very friendly and the crowd very mixed and packed most nights.
But our last stop of the night quickly became my favorite when we arrived at the Love Dance Point. Although it doesn't open until 11:30PM and only on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays it stays alive until 5AM on weekends. The incredibly friendly waiters, bartenders and management make the place. Not surprisingly the hot Turkish go-go dancers are a delight, and the amazingly diverse tightly packed crowd quickly made me realize I had found the real Midnight Express in Istanbul. For assistance in planning your vacation visit www.turkeytourexpert.com for more travel information about Turkey.
For more gay travel stories by Roy Heale visit: www.royheale.blogspot.com