If you want to have a fun and uninhibited night in Istanbul that will stay in your memory long after your trip, you can’t go much wrong with Al-Jamal
Al-Jamal changed so many locations and merged with Cahide, then got separated, then Cahide closed so here is an edit of my previous post on Cahide and Al-Jamal!!!!
You are in Istanbul, with its exotic charms and reminiscence of 1001 Arabian nights, you’ve been to the Topkapi palace and the Harem and then you want to have a night out in style in sumptuous surroundings, a great feast and a host of belly dancers but don’t want to go to a tourist trap. Then Al-Jamal is the place for you.
Al-Jamal is a themed restaurant taking its food, décor and music inspirations from Turkey, Middle East and Morocco.
The décor is wonderful. Topkapi Palace Harem comes to life in this smallish restaurant with sumptuous fabrics, gold, copper and silver accessories, coloured glass lanterns, colourful tiles, every inch decorated richly and luxuriously. The lighting is dim and romantic.
The dinner is a true feast. It is served as a set menu. They start with tens of small dishes, from Turkey, Middle East and North Africa, every one very unique and tasty, served exquisitely in delicate dishes. The main courses are set as well, delicious meats and rice served in copper plates. Dessert is one of the highlights, consisting of helvas, baklavas, and milk puddings. Some desserts come in fez like containers. Then (if you still have any place left) they bring an optional tray of Turkish delight. They bring it on a trolley with long sticks of Turkish delight in a glass jar, when you pick the types you want, the gloved waiter picks them and cuts them into pieces with silver scissors. I would recommend you to skip lunch (even breakfast) if you plan a visit to Al-Jamal. Unlimited local drinks are included and the total cost is around 120YTL.
Now for the entertainment, after all this is why many people go there. Music is soft to start with, with Turkish and Arabic tunes. Then 2 singers come out (there is no stage) and sing a couple of songs to get things going.
Then after dinner is cleared it is time for the belly dancers. First a wonderful male belly dancer makes an apeearance. He is by far the best dancer of the night. After him, not 1, not 3 but 5 women belly dancers, dressed in different coloured belly dancing costumes start dancing among the tables. They take turns at each table and if they sense that the table is willing to tip them, they stay longer, even go up and dance on the table. The belly dancers are given tips by putting the notes in their bras, bra straps or tucked into their waist. (with the male belly dancer, on his waist obviously but due to his belly dancing skills this proved very difficult!!!) It is usually the men who tip the dancers but women can tip as well. You can tip starting anything from 10YTL up to hundreds if you feel like, but then they will never leave your table!!
Many women and some men dance with the belly dancers. After about half an hour the belly dancers leave and by this time most tables would be up and dancing. The music gets louder and they also play many popular old and new Turkish songs that the Turkish guests sing along to. Towards the end of the night the whole place party together as if in a house party. The night ends early here around 1am.
For a fun and memorable night out, straight out of the pages of 1001 Arabian Nights, this is the perfect location.
The new location of Al jamal is not one large room but a maze of interconnecting rooms of 3-4 tables each which makes the place more intimate but does not distract from the atmosphere. They are now located on the hill called Akaretler, near the W hotel going up toward the Swissotel.
Address : Suleyman Seba Cad. No 42/46 Akaretler, Istanbul
Phone : +90 212 236 50 17
Reservation is a MUST
As with other Istanbul nightlife spots people dress up. This is not a touristic restaurant and Istanbul people go to this club dressed to impress.
This restaurant group also opened a new place called Nahide Palas, kind of replacing Cahide, with the focus to recreate 60s and 70s Istanbul evening entertainment of Gazinos with live music acts, but I’ve not been there yet, though I heard many good things about it from family and friends. Will post a review soon!
UPDATE (10/2011): Al Jamal is now closed, in its place the same owner opened another restautant called Arabesque with a Lebanese theme and similar entertainment so you won’t be disappointed. The owner Izzet Capa gave interviews to a couple of magazines saying there Al Jamal has been replicated by a number of other restaurants and he likes to be at the forefront of Istanbul nightlife. He likes to do things other people are not doing to stay desirable and keep the discerning and easily bored Istanbul clientele interested.
Last week I went to Nahide again and it was great, unfortunately due to some national tragedies the entertainment was kept to a minimum, out of respect which was completely understandable. But the food and the atmosphere was top notch.