The upmarket Istanbul Reina club, targeted in a gun attack during New Year celebrations that left at least 39 dead, is the haunt of Turkey's young secular elite and one of the most prestigious nightspots in the city.

With an idyllic location on the shores of the Bosphorus, on the European side of the city, and a terrace spilling down to the water's edge, Reina is the place to be seen in the city.

It is expensive and hard to get into, with bouncers giving would-be guests a hard time at the entrance to ensure they look sufficiently well-moneyed and beautiful.

The most well-heeled patrons can even be taken up to the waterside terrace of the nightclub in boats.

Reina nightclub, Istanbul [File: Sara Goldsmith/Flickr] 
Partygoers who jumped in the water to escape the attack were rescued by police [File: Reuters]

The club is popular with foreign visitors and of the 21 victims identified so far, 15 are confirmed to be foreigners.

The parties at Reina are legendary, with the action usually not starting until well after midnight and the venue endowed with several restaurants and dance floors.

READ MORE: Dozens dead in Reina nightclub attack

The view from the terrace is spectacular, just underneath the mighty first bridge across the Bosphorus with the lights of Asia twinkling on the other side.

The bridge is itself now haunted by history and named after the victims of the failed July 15 coup attempt after it became the site of fierce battles between plotters and protesters.

Its clientele includes footballers from the top Turkish sides and stars from the country's much-watched soap operas.

Every weekend their attendance at parties features in the gossip and celebrity pullouts in Turkish media.

The party only ends in the small hours when revellers stagger outside to be whisked home in waiting cars.

Reina nightclub, Istanbul [File: Sara Goldsmith/Flickr]

But now - as with the November 13, 2015 attack in Paris when gunmen stormed the popular Bataclan concert venue killing 90 people - its name will forever be linked to Sunday's attack.

Footballer Sefa Boydas, who plays full time for Istanbul third division club Beylerbeyi SK and witnessed the attack, said he had been nervous about partying on New Year's Eve.

"A friend said: 'It wouldn't ever happen in a place like Reina'. I said actually the target is places like that," he said.

Ambulances lined the streets after the gun attack on Reina [EPA]

The club's owner, Mehmet Kocarslan, told the Hurriyet daily that the United States had passed on intelligence over the risk of an attack and security had been stepped up including from the sea.

"Extremist groups are continuing aggressive efforts to conduct attacks in areas where US citizens and expatriates reside or frequent," the US embassy said in a statement after the attack.

Source: AFP news agency