Just as the culinary scene has improved immeasurably in Israel over the past decade, so has the art of mixology. And fortunately, there are now places where one may enjoy creative cocktails followed by gourmet tapas that are far superior to ordinary bar fare.
We actually detected this trend two years ago, when our first list of recommended culinary bars appeared on these pages. After a pandemic-induced interruption, the following list comprises five additional establishments – all in Tel Aviv – that belong in this category.
In addition to exotic cocktails and tasty food, what all these places have in common are dimly lit premises, music that is on the loud side, wines by the glass as well as bottles, imported beers, and straightforward menus of largely intermediate-sized dishes meant for sharing. Many have “happy hours” (reduced prices early in the evening) and bilingual menus, while most also have adequate vegetarian/vegan options. As always, the entries are not ranked, but rather listed alphabetically.
Ambiance: Located in a picturesque alley tucked under the grassy mound of ancient Yafo, this bar-cum-gallery has one of the more unusual layouts you will find anywhere – one room dominated by the bar, alongside a long corridor where most of the simple wooden tables are. This corridor connects with another, perpendicular one which mimics an enclosed courtyard covered by a removable roof. Art exhibits grace the walls throughout, including in a number of side rooms that can serve as private eating spaces.
Hours: Mon-Thurs. 18.00-23.00; Fri-Sat 11.00-0.00; Sundays: closed.
Drinks: Seven specialty cocktails (NIS 48-54). One of the few places that serves San Miguel beer on tap, and a craft beer from the West Bank.
Menu: There are actually four menus: Evening (which changes seasonally), Brunch (weekends only), Desserts (with digestifs) and Wine. The winter menu comprises three untitled sections, the dishes of each progressing in size, and priced accordingly. Many of the vegetables served are harvested fresh daily from the bar’s own garden. The weekday happy hour offers reduced prices on food as well as drinks.
Recommended: El Jefe (among the cocktails); the Grilled Brinza, Kohlrabi Carpaccio and Sea Bisque (all from the winter menu); the Crack Pie with yogurt ice cream and the Chocolate Mousse with toffee, caramel and cardamom (from the Sweets menu).
Beit Kandinof. Not kosher. 14 HaTzorfim Street, Jaffa. No published telephone number.
Ambiance: The flagship bar of master mixologist Ariel Leizgold’s Bellboy Group (formerly Monkey Business) is located just off the lobby of Hotel Berdichevsky. Its decor is vintage 1920s, with a soundtrack to match. The lighting is especially dim, even in the bathrooms, which (as in the other bars in the group) are over-the-top – just like the award-winning cocktails.
Hours: Daily, 18.00-03.00 (since the weekend brunches were discontinued)
Drinks: The Bellboy Shortlist – all in English – itemizes no fewer than 22 specialty cocktails (NIS 59-68), each more fantastically presented than the next (including one garnished with your Polaroid photo). There is also the famous Jerusalem Beach Punch for four imbibers (NIS 220). One obviously comes here for the cocktails, as the wine list is rather limited.
Menu: After starting off with an English heading, the Things of Edible Beauty food menu switches to Hebrew only (a typically Israeli quirk guaranteed to confound everybody). The whole thing takes up only half a page, but manages to squeeze in two categories – cold dishes and hot dishes – as well as two desserts.
Recommended: Night @ 54 (with the photo garnish), Ring the Bells, and Hemingway Daiquiri (specialty cocktails); Filet (beef) Tartare, Duck Pâté and Red Drumfish Crudo (cold dishes); the Chai Panna Cotta (one of just two desserts), primarily for its artistic Buddha-shaped mold.
Bellboy Bar. Not kosher. 14 Berdichevsky Street, Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 728-9213.
Ambiance: The Nox Group is one of the leading conglomerates operating nightspots in Israel, and Emesh is one of its first bars demonstrating its commitment to exceptional food, when it recruited accomplished chef Ortal Rosenberg. Emesh comprises a complex consisting of two indoor eating areas with bars (one of which also has seating) plus a rear patio suitable for dining year-round. It has a sophisticated yet casual atmosphere, and gets livelier as the night grows older.
Hours: Mon-Thurs. 18.00-23.00; Fri-Sat 11.00-0.00; Sundays: closed.
Drinks: Five specialty cocktails (NIS 55-57). There is a very interesting large selection of international bottled beers, and a wine list that rivals those of restaurants.
Menu: The one-page food menu (which is updated online in Hebrew, but not English) is subdivided into quite a few sections: Starters, Intermediate, Sea and Meat. In addition, there are daily specials and a separate “best for last” dessert menu. While Chef Ortal is unfortunately no longer there, one may still find good things to eat. There are some vegetarian options, but vegans may have to ask for some special adjustments to certain dishes.
Recommended: The Citrus Margarita (cocktail), the Garlic Brioche, the Emesh Burrata, the Raw Fish and the Duck Breast (food menu); the Brioche Bread Pudding (among the four desserts).
Emesh. Not kosher. 30 Lilienblum St., Tel Aviv. Tel. (054) 680-4699.
Ambiance: While this is definitely a bar, as alcohol fuels all the meals and the entertainment (which includes live music by different guest artists every week), this unique establishment with extended hours describes itself as an “all-day cafe & DJ nightspot.” Another distinction is that Herzl 16 is part of celebrity restaurateur Ruti Broudo’s hugely successful R2M Group. There are a number of different spaces: a front (open-air) courtyard, a main room with a stage, a rear patio, and a side room that was once the home of the late lamented Tokyo Disco.
Hours: Daily, 08.00-02.00 (or last customer, in the wee hours).
Drinks: Ten specialty cocktails (NIS 48-56), plus more in the Happy Hour list. There is a fairly long wine list, with the strange characteristic that many foreign names that are usually left in the original language are transliterated into Hebrew.
Menu: As one might expect from a place that is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, there are menu items suitable for any and all times of the day. During the peak evening hours, the menu is quite varied and eclectic, with a good number of dishes inspired by Asian cuisine, a legacy of the aforementioned dearly departed Japanese eatery, plus some notable Thai entries. The evening food menu is divided into three sections: Vegetarian, Non-vegetarian, and Main Courses.
Recommended: Jasmine and Green 16 (from cocktails); Spring Chicken Nam, Grilled Fish Curry, Thai Shrimp Salad, and the [very filling] Shoyu Ramen (evening menu); Bread Pudding and 5-spice Crème Brûlée (among the four desserts).
Herzl 16. Not kosher. 16 Herzl Street, Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 554-4300.
Ambiance: This intimate speakeasy-style hideaway on the second floor atop the bustling neighborhood hangout Rosa Parks might just be the best kept secret on upper Dizengoff Street. The decor is vintage, and the eclectic playlist a distinctive and intriguing mix of swing, jazz, blues, calypso. A particularly nice gesture is the winter welcome drink of a warm rum, ginger and lemon punch served in a demitasse cup.
Hours: Every day except Friday, 19.30-03.00; Fri 20.30-04.00.
Drinks: Eight specialty cocktails (NIS 52-58) – and this is in addition to the seven specialty cocktails (NIS 47-54) that may be ordered from Rosa Parks downstairs. The wine list is adequate, and all vintages are also available by the glass; if you are ordering bottles, the second comes at a 50% discount.
Menu: Patrons of Josephine have the advantage of ordering from its special Josephine Baker Soul Food menu, as well as the comprehensive Rosa Parks 5-section food menu: Starters, Dream Pizzas, Salads, Sandwiches and Sweet. Chef Roei Hadad is a master at carpaccios, whether vegetarian, like beet or artichoke, or roast beef. The sole dessert is chocolate rogalach, which served as the inspiration for the signature pastry of the Landwer chain of cafés.
Recommended: Sixteen Bananas and Medal of the Resistance (cocktails); Beet Carpaccio, Pink Cauliflower, Truffle Artichoke and Sensual Healing [roastbeef rolls] (from the Soul Food menu); Ceviche and White Truffle thin crust pizza (from the Rosa Parks menu); rogalach with choice of toppings, including vegan and ice cream (dessert).
Josephine @ Rosa Parks. Not kosher, 265 Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv. Tel. (054) 881-0188.