There are many fine sights to see in Istanbul, from the Blue Mosque and Haghia Sofia in Sultanahmet, to Eyüp and Fener along the Haliç (Golden Horn), and Kadiköy and Fehnerbahçe on the Asian side. Visitors to Istanbul will have their own favourites. It’s hard to choose.
But when the Six Nations Rugby kicks off there’s only one place to be in Istanbul. That’s the U2 Irish Bar, five minutes walk from Taksim Square via Istiklal Street.
Turkey is not a rugby nation – football and basketball are the favourite sports. So, before I first set off for Istanbul, I asked an English rugby fan where to find rugby on TV in a country where the oval ball is not the football of choice. He told me to find an Irish pub. And so I made my way to the U2 Irish Pub, where I encountered the larger-than-life Leo who has run the place for 9 years.
Leo is the host with the most at this warm and welcoming nightspot which caters for sports fans, especially those who love fun, rugby and Guinness (not necessarily in that order). Usually open from 5pm in the afternoon to 5am (but closed on Mondays), U2 is the go-to bar for people from many countries - Turkey, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, France, Germany, Italy, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US (to name a few). The Guinness is good and the community spirit is great. It's just like being in a small bar in Dublin. This is a club where everyone is welcome. As the Irish would say, there is a great 'craic' at this Irish pub. No wonder it ranks so highly in Trip Advisor ratings (in the top 10 for nightlife).
Of course it’s not to everyone’s taste. A few people take offence at Leo’s in-your-face cries of ‘Come on Ireland’ and ‘Up the IRA’. But this is all good-humoured banter and just part of the fun.
This weekend has been great fun with the first round of games in the 2016 Six Nations. As an Englishman who supports Ireland (my father was Irish and is buried in Dublin) I celebrated the results. England’s win over Scotland was pragmatic and dull, while Ireland’s 15-15 draw against Wales was gripping.
Caption: Leo with one of his Celtic ‘club’ friends