You can find three places in the House Hotel Karakoy in Istanbul where they used to keep the money. One vault is now the bar, with raki and vodka going where banknotes were held before. The second is in the basement and is now a wine cellar, holding hundreds of bottles of wine from Turkey and elsewhere. The last is now in a meeting room, which is kind of fitting since most of the discussions there are probably about money.
This hotel was formerly known as The Vault Karakoy in a nod to its past. Now it’s just House Hotel Karakoy. It is part of a small Turkish chain known for consistently impressive design and good service. The company started out with a series of cafes that took off immediately, moved on to serviced apartments, and then hotels. This one is in a fantastic location below the Galata Tower on the European side of Istanbul, within walking distance (across the Golden Horn) to the big draw tourist attractions and a few minutes walk to the ferry stop for Asia. Plus there’s the tram nearby, so it’s easy to avoid the traffic.
The main floor is inviting and elegant without being stuffy. There’s a small sit-down reception desk and then an open area where the bar and lounge are the centerpiece and a grand piano is off to the side for occasional accompaniment. Classic cocktails, Efes beer, raki, and coffee are the usual choices over long conversations and business meetings. An enclosed area contains the Kasa Lokanta restaurant, which serves a nice array of items laid out for breakfast and a menu with Turkish and a few international options for other meals.
There’s plenty more within walking distance in this area, or a short ride up the funicular takes you to the Taksim street, filled with pedestrians and serviced by a streetcar. The scenic ferry ride to Kadikoy leads to dozens of other places to eat that are full of progressive Turks. (In the daytime you can explore that area with a guide by booking a tour with GetYourGuide.)
A small but well-equipped gym is below street level, with a marble Turkish Hammam to heat up with some advance notice. An enclosed roof deck serves food and drink and is popular at sunset, when you get a view of the Ottoman era mosques and palace on the other side of the water.
Rooms at the House Hotel Karakoy are in two buildings: the original bank building and an addition in the same style behind it. “Style” is the operative word here since very little in the design feels like it was done without a great deal of thought and planning. From planned-out lighting choices to the cool house phones and incorporation of the original open elevator as a centerpiece, this is a boutique hotel that is cool without going ultra-modern. Timeless furniture and good lighting work well with the classic molding and marble restored from the original 18th-century bank design.
Rooms are classic and refined while still being outfitted with all the right gadgets and tech touches. Blinds close and open with remote switches and the light switches by each side of the bed include good reading lights that can be moved around for the right angle. Motion switches in the closets turn on when needed and off when you’re not around. Good Wi-Fi is included, as is coffee from a Julius Meinl pod machine and an phone dock for music.
Parquet floors and luggage stands fashioned to look like open trunks give a nod to the past, while prints and photos on the walls give a clear sense of place with Istanbul scenes. Padded headboards, down duvets, and premium mattresses ensure a good night’s sleep, while bottled water some nearby hotels charge $6 for is included here. There’s a minibar if you want to host an impromptu party and room service runs 24 hours. Sumptuous baths with rain showers, quality toiletries, and robes complete the pampering. The only real drawback is that heating comes from original radiators in the winter, so the climate control on the wall is just for show. Thankfully the windows open if you need to cool things off.
The suites are twice as large as the standard level rooms, with most having a full living room apart from the bedroom. Those ending in -7 have a view of the skyline, a synagogue, and the Jewish museum—a nod to the multicultural past of this area through the ages. The ultimate choice at The Vault is the penthouse suite, with a sweeping view of Istanbul’s main landmarks. You can enjoy it all from your bathtub, in a corner of the building with glass on both sides from floor to ceiling.
The House Hotel Karakoy was a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World when we stayed there, but doesn’t appear to be now. Book a night or a package deal at Expedia, where rates start at around $100 per night including taxes.