Sunday, July 17, 2011

REINA... the "queen" of the Bosphorus!!

Dear Readers,

I hope you are enjoying your Sunday - no matter where in the world you are and whether your Sunday has even begun! Because of the different time zones, my readers in the USA and Canada are probably still sleeping! But, once awake, I hope they are reading this article for a slice of Istanbul!

I on the other hand have been holed up at home for the past 3 years working on a longgggggg and major project for a prominent client - even though I had every intention on being in Çeşme now and giving  you info on this lovely summer resort town. But, my client approached me on Tuesday and I just couldn't say no! So, I hope to finish up this project by Wednesday - spend a couple of days taking care of business in Istanbul and then Luka and I are off to Çeşme!!

As the old saying goes... "all work and no play makes "Jack" - or Dani in this case - a dull boy - or girl in this case...."

So, instead of getting straight to work this am (I worked until about 1:00am last night!!), I decided to post an article first to get the cobwebs out of my head!

The post "du jour" is about Reina Night Club ( .... the "queen" of the Bosphorus! Reina is both a Spanish word and a girl's name which means 'queen'. Also a Yiddish word, it means 'pure' or 'clean' and the Yiddish form of the word Catherine. It also has a meaning in Japanese, but too long to get into.

Located on the Bosphorus waterfront in Kuruçeşme (located steps from  Ortaköy and Arnavutköy), I can't believe that Reina has been open for 10 years! I am always amazed at how quickly the time passes, as I remember when it opened! I had just started working at The Guide magazines and was wondering what this place was going to be like and how long it would last as a couple of other people - "tried and failed" to make this site a popular venue (I vaguely remember  it was called Tropicana with a huge swimming pool in the center!).

Slowly and patiently Reina became a major part of our lives in Istanbul - it "exploded" with time and for years, all sorts of notable singers, actors, diplomats, athletes have graced Reina with their presence and continue to do so! The list is very long... but some of the more "eye-catching" names include megastars Sting, Bon Jovi, and U2 with a sprinkle of Uma Thurman, Salma Hayek and Kevin Costner and a dusting of Paris Hilton, Mike Tyson, the Liverpool soccer team and Boris Becker!

With a breathtaking view of the Bosphorus, Reina Night Club is open year round, but it is totally in full swing during the summer months because the outdoor section is open. During the winter months, only Reina Restaurant and the club section (with a heated area outdoors for smokers) is open. It opens daily at 6:00pm and the restaurants start service at 7:00pm. The club is open from 10:00pm to 5:00am - so you can either go to Reina just for drinks, dinner or dinner/drinks.

What has made Reina so enduring is the quality of the restaurants under its roof. Most have been part of the club since its opening, with a few joining in the last few years.. so, now let's take a little "tour" of Reina!

Reina has two entrances flanked with scary looking bodyguards, but once you get past their bulky builds, black suits, earphones dangling from their ears and pouty faces, you will realize that they are really their to ensure that your night at Reina is not ruined. They make sure that the "right" people are allowed to enter. I'm sorry - but this is the case all over the world! Some people are taken aback by this, but I personally think this is necessary. They are professionals and if you act with respect with them, they will be respectful to you. But, if you are rude, a bit tipsy - not dressed the part and just plain rambuctious, they will understandably act accordingly!

Ohh... I just realized they have another entrance! You can also reach Reina ... via the Bosphorus - that is if you have a boat, rent a boat, have a friend who has a boat or take one of the boat taxi services!

Reina is on three levels... on the mezzanine level is a huge rectangular bar in the center surrounded with seating. After midnight, this is where the action is! During the earlier hours, it is a little more quiet. You can sit (wait to be seated) or stand - and there is limited a snack menu.

To the left of the bar is our first eatery: Köşebaşı ( A longstanding popular meat and kebab restaurant, Köşebaşı has several branches in Istanbul and in other parts of Turkey and abroad. Many nights it is possible to see big groups of foreigners and/or Turks enjoying typical Turkish appetizers, meats and kebabs.

Right above Köşebaşı is Dragon ( Owned by Ergun Yücebıyık, this longstanding Chinese restaurant's main branch is located in an annex building at the Hilton Hotel in Harbiye. In fact, this summer, they also opened a branch on the grounds of the Hilton Hotel - side by side with their other restaurant - Al Bushra which is a Lebanese restaurant that Mr. Yücebıyık opened last year to accolades - and another place I absolutely love! In the winter months, Al Bushra is on the 9th floor of the Hilton Hotel. Each table at Dragon has a lazy Susan, so make sure to share the wonderful and delicious selections on their a la carte menu. 

On the left side of the bar is Itsumi Sushi Bar ( - I guess I don't have to tell you the cuisine offered here! Itsumi has been at Reina for several years and for the past 2 at this particular spot, with their main branch at the Iş Bank Towers in Levent.  I personally have not had a chance to try their sushi, but I am sure its good.

Right on the Bosphorus waterfront and next to Itsumi is Blue Topaz ( - a sister restaurant of Topaz, which is located in Gümüşsuyu. Blue Topaz is celebrating its second season at Reina and is managed by Ayşegül Ilsever, a name well-known and popular on the restaurant and entertainment circuit. She is very good at what she does - she is not only friendly but also a professional - this is why Blue Topaz has a very good following. Versus its sister branch that has an a la carte menu including International and Turkish/Ottoman cuisine, Blue Topaz has a set menu/price which includes a selection of hot/cold appetizers, choice of main course and dessert costing 95 TL/person (VAT included).

Above Blue Topaz is one of my all time favorite restaurants in Istanbul - Park Şamdan! If I had the time, I would go to Park Şamdan once a week - but unfortunately this is not the case. In business for 30+ years, the main branch of this fine dining eatery is located in a lovely villa with a garden in Nişantaşı. During the summer months, the main branch is only open for lunch (and there is also a pre-set lunch menu). Park Şamdan's a la carte menu includes a wonderful selection of Turkish dishes and some International favorites. What can I say, the food is very very good - kudos to their longstanding chef! My favorites include any one of their cold appetizers prepared in olive oil and for a main course the Park Şamdan kebab. I swear it is prepared better than at some of the better kebab restaurants in town! The bartender also prepares a mean Vodka Martini! Of course, this is capped off with the excellent and efficient service - the waitstaff has been around for years!

Now, let's take a walk to the middle level. If you are at the center bar, turn your back to the Bosphorus - just for second - and you will notice a flight to stairs (about out 30-40 steps) that will take you to the heart of Reina - Reina Restaurant - From its front row and center spot, this fine dining restaurant offers the best view of the Bosphorus and bridge in the house! Reina's a la carte menu, includes a whole host of starters, salads, pizza & pasta, mains and desserts. Just to rub my back for a second - the english section of their menu is very well prepared - I totally re-did it for them recently :))) Of course, the food and service is also very good.

Our final stop - and the most secluded area at Reina - is the 3rd floor and Mirror Lounge ( - a newcomer this season to Reina, but not to Istanbul! I, among hundreds of other people, attended their opening party in June. There other branches are at the Iş Bank Towers in Levent and on the Asian side of the city in Suadiye. You can reach Mirror via its private entrance without having to go through the main area, or by climbing the stairs next to Reina Restaurant. An Italian eatery, Mirror is quite spacious and has a lovely view of the Bosphorus. However, from here, you will not be able to see what is going on downstairs - unless you are sitting right at the front edge - and this is something you might prefer - especially if you want a "quiet" and relaxing dinner - they also have their own music system. Afterwards, you can always go downstairs and join the revelers at the bar! Mirror's menu is quite extensive - I should know - I am once again going to rub my back - I totally re-wrote their English menu before they opened!

This concludes our mini tour of Reina... but, just some final words. Reina is owned by Mehmet Koçarslan and his partner Ali Ünal and Ali's sweetheart of a brother - Erkal - is the manager! This dynamic trio work very very hard to ensure that the quality and calibre of Reina is always at its peak and that their customers are happy and content when they step foot through the doors and when they leave. Reina Night Club might not be your "type" of entertainment or your idea of a night out as it is quite chi chi... you have to dress the part - it is expensive and it is a mosaic of  "beautiful people" from around the world. But, don't knock it until you try it at least once. Take my word for it, you will get hooked - it is a totally different experience!!

Also, If you like the music you listen to at Reina, they recently released their 3rd CD called Reina 3, which is available at all music markets in Istanbul.

Also, also... if you want to visit a "softer" version of Reina - then you might want to head over to Suada - located on Galatasaray Island (yes... a tiny island on the Bosphorus - reached via Suada's ring service), also managed by this dynamic trio - right by Kuruçeşme Park.. but that's another article!!

Ok ok... promise - one final note - I HAVE to start working - the cobwebs have dissipated - I want to end my article with an "Outtake" that I am stealing from Zagat (just got an email from them yesterday)...

"The decor writes checks, the food can't cash"

THANK GOD this is not the case with Reina Night Club - otherwise I wouldn't have written about them... but, unfortunately, there are many places like this - not only in Istanbul, but other parts of the world as well! So, let's show our determination and stop going to places like this. If we do not encourage them, they will either step up to the plate - or throw in the towel!

Ok...I am getting off my soap box now - it's time to get to work and earn some money!

Happy Sunday!


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