Daily Secret offers insider intel for Istanbul, Athens, Shanghai and more

insider intelLast month, I went to a designer-clothing pop-up sale in the back of a restaurant, scored an invite to an exclusive party with Champagne and gourmet truffles, and got the manager’s private phone number of a hot new nightlife spot. I’m not famous or especially well-connected, I’m just a subscriber to DailySecret.com. Daily Secret is website and email newsletter that delivers insider intel for twelve cities from Buenos Aires to San Francisco, plus English-language editions for Athens, Istanbul, and Shanghai. Founded in Athens in 2010, Daily Secret spread to Istanbul last March, with over 200 secrets and counting.

The Istanbul secrets are compiled and curated by a team of 15 “scouts,” ranging from a fashion blogger, to a food critic, to a non-profit specialist in new companies who often hears about new ventures before they open. You can register with the site to receive the daily secrets, or search online by category, neighborhood, or date posted. Not all secrets are fancy or expensive, but they tend to be sophisticated and high-end. Daily Secret likes to be the first to write about a new service or business, or provide an added value for readers: an exclusive discount or giveaway, the unlisted phone number, or a spot on the guest list of an event.insider intelI met with Laura Wells, co-founder and editor of Istanbul Daily Secret, to get her best tips and favorites for the Turkish cultural capital. With a background in news journalism, Laura is an American expat with a discerning eye and impeccable tastes, who vets each secret and hopes that if you like the secret’s description, you’ll like the place too.

A year after the Capital of Culture is over, why travel to Istanbul in 2012?
Istanbul is not about trends or time-sensitive titles, though it is ‘hot’ these days. Istanbul has been around for thousands of years, and there’s nowhere else like it. It’s exotic, and yet also very accessible to foreigners, in terms of culture and things to do.

Essence of Daily Secret in one sentence?
We discover the best insider ‘secrets’ of each city for our members (in our case, Istanbul), that most locals don’t even know about!

Favorite museum/culture spot with no tourist buses in sight?
Turkey is now becoming known internationally for its modern art market. The most impressive art museum in Turkey, I think, is actually a private, family-owned museum. Its collection pairs renowned artists from around the world with local Turkish talents, and entrance is free! The Elgiz Museum/Proje 4L often has receptions & exhibits of emerging Turkish artists as well as many panel discussions in English. It’s one of Istanbul’s best-kept secrets, truly!

Where to go for an only-in-Istanbul souvenir, that’s actually made in Turkey?
I love artistic souvenirs that can become heirlooms, and we recently discovered a brand-new company started by the wife of Turkey’s Minister of EU Affairs, Egemen Bagis. His wife Beyhan has worked with local artisans to develop Anatoli, which offers three lines of exquisite pieces for the home ranging from straight traditional to modern based on an old motif. Beyhan Bagis conducted research with a professor of Turkic Studies to resurrect these designs and unusual pieces; for instance, Anatoli carries an incredibly elaborate silver-plated, hand-wrought sculpture that’s actually an Ottoman-style rose water holder to make the room more fragrant. It’s the closest thing to owning an antique (there are many fakes here!). The prices start at 65 TL, so nearly anyone can purchase something, and they’ll all fit in your carry-on. Read more here.

Best new hotel in a hip neighborhood?
For a reasonably-priced (and now very hip) hotel, Georges is a standout! The co-owner & manager Alex Varlik, a Parisian transplant, is very hospitable, and I love that they preserved this historic building’s original details. You’re steps from the Galata Tower, but the entrance’s in on such a quiet, little cobblestone street. Even Istanbul’s glamorous set is now flocking to this “old town” establishment, the intimate restaurant/bar Le Fumoir. Just opened this month across the Golden Horn, HHK Hotel is a charming new property with sauna, pool, and hammam, and we’re giving away a 2-night stay in February. The winner can be from anywhere in the world, you just have to be a Daily Secret member.

Comfy and cool bar you wish was in your neighborhood?
To hang out with the young art crowd & intelligentsia, head to the less-visited Asian side, for your pick of funky hangouts on Kadikoy’s Kadife Street (aka Bar Street). Karga at #16 is an art and performance space in an old building designed by the same architect as the train station. It recently celebrated 15 years and has its own magazine. Hidden above street level, Dunia at #19 is a new 2-story restaurant/bar that prints its schedules so you can hear a performance, watch a movie, and see an exhibit. Arkaoda at #18 is a lounge for music lovers, and the kind of place the owner doesn’t necessarily want you to find – unless you know someone, that is.

Where to splurge on a last-night-in-town dinner?
For a proper Ottoman meal and to try dishes you can almost never find anywhere else, as they did with the former Empire, try Pasha Bebek. Unlike many of the restaurants serving the traditional cuisine here, this is elegant, and in a ‘hot’ neighborhood. The hostess, Anita, is like an encyclopedia about all the dishes and she loves sharing the history behind them. She’s there every night and speaks wonderful English.

Recommended tour guides for more insider intel?
One of Daily Secret’s employees, Resat Erel, is also a long-standing private tour guide, also fluent in English & French. He’s a member of TURSAB, the tourist guide association, and he mainly gives tours to visiting dignitaries. He knows all the ‘secrets’ of Istanbul and is a great asset to us! In return, we have to give him up on certain days. If you want to have a private tour based on your preferences, he’ll work with you to shape your itinerary. His email address is: resaterel@gmail.com, phone +90.532.670.1369. For a culinary tour to try lots of different dishes, in very little time, and get to walk around the city or cross the Bosphorus by boat – Delicious Istanbul is a new company providing cooking classes and tasting tours for 2-6 people.

What’s happening in 2012 for Daily Secret?
Vancouver just launched, and we’re also launching Android & iPhone applications for each city this month (we’ll be announcing them on our sites, and they’ll be available through our sites and in the iTunes store), and people will be able to see the secrets in each neighborhood as they pass through, like a personal tour guide. We’re also working on English versions of all foreign cities.

Sign up and browse the secrets at www.dailysecret.com and find them on Facebook.

“Best restaurant in the world” El Bulli to close for two years

Dedicated foodies with dreams of dining at El Bulli, long considered to be one of the best (and often the best) restaurants in the world, are in for some disappointment. The mecca of molecular gastronomy will be closing for two years, in 2012 and 2013.

The restaurant, which is located on the Catalan coast of Spain and has received the coveted Michelin 3-star rating, was named the best restaurant in the world for the fourth straight year by Britain’s Restaurant magazine and is considered to be one the places any food-lover must dine at before dying. Chef Ferran Adria assured devoted fans that though El Bulli will close temporarily, it isn’t gone for good. He did say that there may be some major changes in store though. “In 2014, we will serve food somehow. I don’t know if it will be for one guest or 1,000,” he said.

What’s the reason behind the closure? The Guardian cites Adria as saying that the long hours – he regularly puts in 15-hour days – were getting to him. Though Adria has also said before that El Bulli is not a profitable business, due to the limited seatings and the labor required to do each one. Perhaps the new model will be a better moneymaker.

Thinking you can try to get in before El Bulli shuts its doors? Think again. Seatings for 2010 have already sold out, so unless you are extremely well connected, you’re out of luck. Not that you had much chance of getting a seat anyways. The restaurant only serves 50 guests per night, six months out of the year, and according the UK Guardian, more than 2 million people have vied for a mere 8,000 seats over the past few years.

New restaurant at Four Seasons Resort Santa Barbara

Tydes Restaurant and Bar rendering‘Tis always the season for exclusivity at a Four Seasons. This season, Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara (excessive names much? It’s like having three daddies) has opened a brand new restaurant, Tydes Restaurant and Bar.

Tydes Restaurant and Bar was designed by Peter Marino at the legendary Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club. The “Coral Casino” has been through a $65 million restoration and is now an exclusive members-only club to which guests of the Four Seasons have access, and Tydes Restaurant and Bar has opened inside of that. Basically, if you want to go there, you probably can’t.

That picture? Is a sketch. You can’t even see it.

More about what you’re missing:

“Critically acclaimed chef Pilar Sanchez, most recently known for her eponymous Napa restaurant, has crafted a tour de force menu that is authentically Mediterranean – creatively combining French, Italian, Spanish and Moroccan influences to create a harmony with the “Riviera” feel of Tydes’ natural surroundings. Constantly in flux with the seasons, it stars fresh seafood such as loup de mer, turbot and daurade flown in from the Mediterranean daily, along with the best ingredients from that part of the world. Also featured are the local region’s freshest produce and meats sourced from local purveyors, including one-of-a-kind artisan foods like bread and cheeses that have been custom created to Sanchez’s own specifications.”

Not exclusive enough? There’s a private dining room within Tydes Restaurant and Bar which seats just eight guests and has views of the ocean and the mountains. The room also opens out onto a sundeck.

If you find yourself on that sundeck, you’ve probably broken out of the matrix. Watch for agents.