There is a welcome recent trend in Tel Aviv’s gastronomic scene: the rise of culinary bars -- cocktail bars where the emphasis on creative mixology is matched only by the expertise of the chef and their gourmet food.
It is not easy to excel in both areas, but we found five places where they have succeeded in doing so; and fortunately the list is not exhaustive. All the establishments below have English menus and full bars -- serving specialty cocktails, beer and wine, as well as soft drinks -- plus, of course, very good food: from snacks to entire meals, including dessert. They are not ranked, but rather listed in alphabetical order.
Cafe Popular Bar
Ambiance: This eatery by acclaimed chef Avi Bitton comprises two floors: a ground floor and sidewalk restaurant, and downstairs bar. But the atmosphere is not that of a basement: the lighting is just right, and the music lively. There is a modernistic black bar, while all tables are at bar height with stool seating.
Hours: Saturday-Sunday, 19.00 - last customer
Cocktails: The alcohol menu lists four classic and four specialty cocktails.
Menu: The food menu of the bar, which is different from that of the restaurant, comprises three untitled categories -- vegetables, fish/seafood and meat -- plus a separate section, Skewers, featuring grilled meat, fish and vegetarian morsels.
Recommended: Cocktails: Dardar (vodka, chilli, pineapple, passion fruit, tajin, orgeat), Ya’ar (Pisco, chambord, cherry, cinnamon). Food: Ceviche in a spicy gazpacho, Cabbage steak with pecorino cheese and sour cream, Chuma pepper shrimp, Foie gras baklava. Desserts: Bread pudding, chocolate mousse
Prices: Cocktails, NIS 42-54; Food, NIS 16-88
Cafe Popular Bar. Not kosher. Dizengoff St. 197, Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 555-2020.
Ambiance: An industrial decor, with concrete walls and a metal L-shaped bar. There is an al fresco area on a patio partially sheltered from a heavily-trafficked main thoroughfare. Ephraim is affiliated with the Caspi chain of hummus restaurants.
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 18.00-0.00; Friday - closed; Saturday, 20.00-0.00
Cocktails: Six specialty cocktails.
Menu: The food menu comprises five sections -- Breads, Starters, Small plates, Grill and Specials. (Note: The menu is scheduled to be overhauled in mid-January.
Recommended: Cocktails: Boukhalito (Boukha fig liqueur with gin), and the vodka-based Instoosh. Food: Chopped liver, Lentil salad on labaneh, fillet of sea bass. Desserts: Knaffeh with figs, flourless chocolate cake.
Prices: Cocktails: NIS 44-49; Food: NIS 25-89
Ephraim Resto-Bar. Not kosher. B’nei Efraim St. 280, Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 774-3030.
Fontana Aperitivo Garden Cucina Terraza
Ambiance: Fontana Aperitivo Garden, whose name derives in part from the Italian term for afternoon drinks, has two very different looks, depending on the season. In the summer, it spreads out over an expansive patio -- the Terraza -- right on Rothschild Boulevard, while in the winter it relocates to a slightly smaller area off the lobby of Hotel 65.
Hours: 18.00-23.45, seven days a week; Happy Hour, 18.00-20.00
Cocktails: An extensive cocktail menu comprising three sections: Tonics (six refreshing drinks featuring tonic water), Spritzers (two tall drinks based on white wine and soda water) and Specialty Cocktails -- nine altogether, four of which Fontana shares with sister bars in the Imperial Group.
Menu: The word Cucina (meaning, kitchen or cuisine) is in the Fontana name to signify the importance of food in the bar’s offerings. The food menu comprises two untitled sections, one revolving around fish and seafood, and the other a variety of cold and hot vegetarian dishes (the sole exception is the presence of pepperoni on one of two pizzas; it is also the only meat anywhere on the menu). Two desserts are listed in the one titled section of the food menu.
Recommended: Cocktails: Mamacita Caliente, a specialty cocktail with two kinds of tequila, yellow chartreuse, fresh passion fruit, lime, agave, and chili; Tonic Tropicale -- gin, blood orange cordial, passion fruit and tonic water. Food: Shrimp in broth, Grilled calamari on labane, Burrata with zucchini, Romanescu cauliflower. Desserts: Lemon meringue pie, chocolate nemesis
Prices: Cocktails: NIS 44-54; Food: NIS 42-86
Fontana. Not kosher. Rothschild Boulevard 65, Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 767-7699.
Ambiance: This establishment on the strategic corner of Dizengoff and Nordau Streets has a rustic European feeling, emphasized by its long, wooden bar. There is an al fresco area on the sidewalk.
Hours: Monday-Wednesday and Sunday, 09.00-01.00; Thursday-Friday, 08.30-02.00; Saturday, 08.00-02.00. Lunch Deals: Sunday-Thursday, 12.00-17.00. Happy hours: Sunday-Thursday, 17.00-20.00.
Cocktails: There are 11 specialty cocktails.
Menu: There is a full menu covering the entire day, from breakfast to dinner. The food menu comprises six sections: Breakfast (served daily until 16.00), Salads, First courses, Sandwiches, Pastas, Main courses.
Recommended: Cocktails: Chili tequili (tequila, triple sec, mango, lemon, chili, mint, ginger beer); Gentleman (whiskey, amaretto, thyme, apple, honey, wheat syrup).
Food: Beef filet carpaccio, Spinach “falafel,” Black risotto with mushrooms. Desserts: Cheesecake, toffee-chocolate bar.
Prices: Cocktails: NIS 51/99 (NIS 57-111 for two of the same); Food: 26-112
Happy hour 50% off all alcohol, 20% off food. Lunch deals: main courses, NIS NIS 50-75, plus 20% off first courses.
Room Service. Not kosher. Dizengoff St. 245, Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 532-9654.
Ambiance: This place in Jaffa’s Greek Market was made for warm, balmy evenings, with its large al fresco area whose centerpiece is a lovely fountain.
Everything else is fixable, with a little attention to detail: the indoors that is cold and drafty in the winter, the tables that are either too large or too small, the uncomfortable wood and metal chairs, and the music that is deafeningly loud.
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 19.00-last customer; Friday-Saturday, 13.00-17.00, 19.00-last customer
Cocktails: There are six specialty cocktails.
Menu: The kitchen is the domain of Chef Lior Ohayon, a recent winner on the Master Chef TV show. Her food menu consists of just 11 dishes, grouped in three sections: Another Way to See Salads, From the Sea to the Plate, From the Taboun and Meat Time.
Recommended: Cocktails: Sir Abdul’s Mule (gin, St. Germaine, anise syrup, lime juice, pear, ginger beer), Saraya Colada (rum, Cynar, cream of coconut, lime, pomegranate juice). Food: Duck salad, Ceviche flowers, Fish wrapped in spinach on chestnut cream. Desserts: Crack pie with whipped cream, Ferrero Rocher sphere
Prices: Cocktails, NIS 49-58; Food, NIS 28-89.
Sir Abdul. Not kosher, Pinhas ben Yair St. 4, Jaffa. Tel. (053) 776-9738.