In a book on coffee places by Michael Dack he describes the first documented coffee shop in Jerusalem, dating back to the 16th century. It was documented because its neighbors complained about noise.
The Halil Mishmash café on David St. used to host singers and musicians. After neighbors complained, local Qadis decided to allow the establishment to sell its coffee, but banned drinking there. Rivers of coffee later, we presently have trendy espresso bars that attract mainly young consumers. The pioneer in this field was Aroma, whose first of numerous nationwide branches opened in the holy city.
Jerusalem 2006 has plenty of coffee shops - from small neighborhood places to large and bustling espresso networks.
One of the still active veteran cafés is Max in the center of town (23 Ben Yehuda), whose clients have seen a thing or two in life. The 40 years old Café Kadosh (6 Shlomzion) still serves as a meeting place for city hall politicians and lobbyists who come from the nearby Safra Square. Rimon, further down the Ben Yehuda mall (4 Luntz) is a large place that caters to Anglo-Saxon ultra-Orthodox crowds, open 24/6, while Atara is undergoing construction in the Rehavya Neighborhood (29 Aza).
Undoubtedly, however, leading the old-timers' league is Taamon (27 King George). Established in 1938, it has been the property of Mordechay Kop for the past 46 years. Its glory days were when the Knesset building was across the street, in the Rupin Building, back in the 1950's and 1960's, when meeting the elected few was still considered a great honor.
When the Knesset moved to Givat Ram, Kop's was invaded by Jerusalem bohemians, media, and literature persons. Until this day, the veteran patrons tell old time stories. What is certain is that the menu is unique: You can have a herring for breakfast, or latkes with sour cream and applesauce, or gefilte fish with horseradish all day.
In recent years, neighborhood cafés are gaining popularity. Next to the 30-40 years old places, such as Café Malka on French Hill or Duvshanit on Hapalmah St., new places open with an old-time ambiance. Old furniture, a small and intimate space, and a being located off-center still does it.
Café Kalo (31 Bethlehem Rd.) opened a few years ago. With its crowded space and a collection of old and haphazard armchairs, it appeals to the young and relatively older crowd. Offering a roofed yard, patrons can sit outside on sunny days.
Café Rehavya (17 Aza) is another young and relatively new neighborhood place, frequented by the numerous students who live there. You don’t have to dress up to go there. In this neighborhood, what you wear at home is fine. It is a corner spot, watching the street and being watched by it. In addition to coffee and accessories, it serves beer at the bar.
Aroma (Photo: AP)
The German Colony is packed with restaurants and cafés such as Coffee Shop, Aroma, Hillel, and Kafit - but they no longer count as neighborhood joints. Emil Bamoshava (10 Emek Refaim) is an attempt to do something new. A building that was a kiosk once was rebuilt and upgraded, and presently offers chess and backgammon tables, as well as homemade pastry.
Café Smadar (4 Lloyd George) is the most neighborhood café in the colony. Located next to the veteran cinema, it is open on Shabbat (most unusual here), and you can even take a cup and go see a movie.
Hillel St in central Jerusalem is the birthplace of Aroma, the well known network; Hillel, the evolving network; and Coffee Shop, which is presently opening its first branches outside Jerusalem.
The first Aroma opened (18 Hillel) 12 years ago, introducing the concept of coffee without service. It was recently renovated and its walls carry history points, with some 70 branches and one major scandal. The first Hillel (8 Hillel) stands further up the street.
Tel Aviv-based networks are also trying to seize room on the capital coffee market. Cup of Joe opened a kosher branch (38 Keren Hayesod), and Coffee Bean decided that their biggest branch in Israel will be in Jerusalem (34 Yafo), and even Erez Bread has arrived (61 Herzog).
Tmol Shilshom (5 Solomon) in Nahlat Shiv'a, established by writer David Ehrlich, deserves special attention. It offers the added value of the literary world, catering books and poetry reading evenings besides caffeine. Its walls are actually a splendid library. Poet Yehuda Amihay had a regular chair here.
Another unique place is the Sigmund (29 Aza) with only 15 chairs around an open kitchen, but an ambience that makes you come back for more. The crowd varies, and the kitchen offers home cooking, shakshuka (made hot to your taste), and sweet and salty crêpes.
The Scottish Coffee Shop on the St Andrew's compound (between the Khan and Yemin Moshe) is a beautiful place to have a bite and a drink watching splendid view. In the Muslim Quarter secretly hides the café in the Austrian Hospice (Hagay St, corner of Via Dolorosa), with a small taste of Vienna.
The most unique of all, bordering on the bizarre, is the espresso bar of Netiva Ben Yehuda, the veteran warrior and author of the first Israeli slang dictionary. This active lady spends the mornings in the café that was built in her honor in Deli Market (18 Hapalmach). It has three tables and Ben Yehuda is always glad to talk politics to anyone, quickly reverting to British mandate memories.