For many, the best and most authentic shopping experiences in Istanbul are to be found on the side streets away from the crowds, and these places are worth seeking out. Towards the lower end of İstiklal Caddesi, there is historic road that leads all the way down to Tophane. Kumbaracı Yokuşu isn’t in Galata, Tünel, İstiklal, Asmalı Mescit, Çukurcuma, Tophane, or Karaköy, yet it’s no more than a five minute walk to any of the above. This crisis of identity frees it to be whoever it wants, giving it a character all of its own and a walk down this steep slope passes through the many faces of modern Istanbul.
Jewelry makers, traditional craftsmen, vintage stores, gourmet restaurants, design studios, art galleries and boutique hotels all sit comfortably alongside each other in a quiet, residential street that is surprisingly free from pretensions. Here as well, baskets are lowered from upper floor windows to be filled with essentials from the nearest bakkal (grocer), old men sit putting the world to rights, occasionally breaking off their conversation to chase the neighborhood kids with brooms and washing is hung to dry between apartment buildings. The further you walk from away from Istiklal, the more Kumbaracı takes on its distinct personality.
Not only are there some good places to shop on this street but there are also some great options for eating and drinking. Right at the top of the street is the aptly named, newly opened Yeni Lokanta. Civan Er’s venture is one of Istanbul’s best restaurants offering a modern take on Anatolian classics.
For those seeking a drink with a view, they don’ t come much better than Leb-i Derya. This well-known restaurant is often the reason tourist find themselves wandering down this curious hill. On the ground-floor next door is the newly opened Café Caka, decorated with antiques and serving Italian food and desserts. Facing this is Artefact, a small jewelry store, where designer Şenay Şahin exhibits her intricate and unusual wares, made from brasswire dipped in gold coating, as well as bronze, copper, and hand-cut silver.
This hill has another claim to fame, dating back to the infamous siege of 1453, when the Ottomans led by Sultan Mehmet II conquered Istanbul. Part of the city's defences were in the form of a giant chain that was placed across the mouth of the Golden Horn. To bypass this, the young leader ordered a road of greased logs to be built up this steep hill and 72 ships were pulled up it, into Asmalı Mescit and down into the Golden Horn.
The old mixes seamlessly with the new on this hill and the visitors are next met with the Kumbaracı Halil Aga Fountain, dated 1142 and inscribed with the poetry of Mustafa Efendi Nazif. A little further down on the right, there is a building on which Armenian, Greek and French writing can be seen, offering an insight into the cosmopolitan history of this street, which is named after a French nobleman who lived here - the Compte de Bonneval became known as Humbaracı Ahmet Paşa after entering the service of the Ottoman Empire. This Turkophile wrote in his diary “For a clever and competent man, Istanbul is an intellect who promises everything. ...I love the Turks. They are a peerless people who deserve this piece of paradise.”
Continuing down the slope, the design and boutique hotel Rooms Galata is located at No. 37 with a small sister gallery showcasing Turkish artists located directly opposite. For cheaper accommodation options there is the Red River Hostel with dormitory and private rooms. Next, an event caterers, The Food Project has a window full of kitsch kitchenware and appetizing cookbooks.
If you are on the lookout for leather, Moria has beautiful hand-made leather purse bags, tobacco pouches and book covers crafted and displayed in a simple and clean setting. Kumbaracı Yokuşu No. 23/B
The character of the street starts to change more dramatically after this and while there are no more boutiques, peek in through some of the open doors and you may stumble across any or all of the following: a furniture maker, a glass blower, small leather belt factory, a baker, an ancient printing press whirring away, an upholster, a model boat maker, and various other small scale producers.
Though all the newer stores have injected Kumbaracı with a new lease of life it is these crafts people that make the street what it is and root it firmly in Istanbul, we hope that this gentrification won’t strip Kumbaracı of its charming personality.