Jacqui Gal

A Sydneysider’s guide to the “real” Tel Aviv

Illustration: Toni Bernal

With a delegation of 530 Australians heading for the Maccabiah, and another 500 on-lookers in tow, Tel Aviv will be swamped with Aussies hoping to taste a little of the local culture. JACQUI GAL compiled this lift-out guide to help punters in their quest to find fun and avoid the old tourist traps.

With more than 200 bars and an even greater number of restaurants and cafés, Tel Aviv boasts an after-hours life that comes close to New York – it’s known as “the city that never stops”. But the task of finding Tel Aviv’s best entertainment can be daunting for tourists. All too often, this can lead to frustration, desperation and a sad settling for mediocrity. As the final whistle blows on a day of play at the Maccabiah Games, why not try one of the activities recommended below.

Tel Aviv Marina
Tel Aviv’s marina has undergone a drastic redevelopment and emerged with a new wooden boardwalk, teeming with restaurants and bars.

For those with larger-than-life pocketbooks, Mul Yam is popular for its fresh fish: (03) 546 9920. Boya at Ha Ta’arucha 3 has a big bar with dramatic views, a friendly atmosphere and a diverse menu: (03) 544 6166. Armada, an opendecked restaurant at Hangar 21, sits perched right at the water’s edge and has a grandiose decor: (03) 5445522. There are also a number of open air bars like Seabreeze, Galina, Erlich and Rivendal.

These establishments are ideal spots to take in the sunset and observe the socialphenomenon of “tsfonis” (north-Tel Aviv trendies).

Beating Shabbat drums
For a Kabbalat Shabbat with a difference, head to the Dolphinarium beach on Friday afternoon just before sunset. There, you will usually find a spontaneous gathering of drummers, bringing in the day of rest. Feel free to join them. In addition, the length of Tel Aviv beach’s boardwalk (or “tayelet” in Hebrew) is alive with restaurants, bars and stallholders selling trinkets, so be sure to take a stroll there.

Café creatures
Tel Aviv is known for its café culture and, with a coffeehouse on almost every street corner, punters are spoiled for choice. There are, however, a few coffee chains worth trying. Espresso Bar, Aroma, Arcafe and Ilans can be found spread all over Tel Aviv, selling gourmet coffee and snacks. The cinnamon pastry snail at Aroma comes highly recommended.

Neve Tzedek
Tel Aviv’s oldest neighbourhood, Neve Tzedek is worth exploring for an afternoon. It houses the Suzanne Dellal Arts Centre, an impressive building that has hosted some of the world’s most famous dance troupes. It is also the preferred neighbourhood of Tel Aviv’s young and well-to-do. Wander past old buildings, galleries and small shops selling art, jewellery and ceramics. There are a number of small cafés and restaurants tucked away in the neighbourhood, including Suzanna, which serves home-style comfort food at Shabazzi 9, (03) 517 7580.

Ben Gurion Boulevard
With cafés on every corner, Ben Gurion Boulevard is a great place to stroll. Visit a small bar called Paula (named after David Ben Gurion’s wife), a large, but cozy bar with a second-floor lounge and pool table, at Ben Gurion Boulevard 22, (03) 529 9956. The restaurant at Bar Ben Gurion boasts cheap and tasty meals, with main courses at only 25 shekels (about $7). Continue walking and you’ll reach Kikar Rabin, the infamous site of former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination in 1995. You can visit a memorial there.

Around the square is Iben Gvirol Street, and the Brasserie, a Parisian-style bar restaurant, that is usually packed with patrons on account of its large portions and reasonably-priced fine dining. Bookings recommended: (03) 696 7111, Iben Gvirol 70.

Club cats and bar flies
Jerusalem’s famous music haunt Haoman 17 opened branches in Haifa and Tel Aviv (at Arbanel 88 in Florentine). Usually boasting world-class DJs, it’s a popular spot, but make sure you bring cash for a cover charge (70- 100 shekels; $20-30). Shoshanah Johnson is a sultry and crowded bar at Allenby 97. Choose from seats at the bar or in the courtyard. Reasonable prices. (03) 560 7443.

Lillenblum Street is a great nightlife spot with a number of groovy restaurants and bars. Abraxas is a lounge bar that boasts live shows, DJs, pool tables and a lounge bar where Tel Aviv’s celebrities have been known to hang out; Lillenblum 40, (03) 510 4435. Mishmish is a 1950s-style cocktail bar that prides itself on its authentic cocktail menu and jazz music. Found at Lillenblum 17, its quality comes at a price. (03) 516 8178. Rumoured to be Lillenblum’s most relaxed location, Oozibach has a wide bar with an eclectic bunch of tables and an intimate atmosphere at Lillenblum 30, (03) 516 2260.

Frenetic and colourful, Nanutchka, with its Alice-in-Wonderland decor, boasts world music, a sumptuous Georgian kitchen and a circus atmosphere at night. Food is served at the bar and adjoining tables, but securing a table can be tough. If you’re keen to try the food, consider turning up for lunch. Lillenblum 28, (03) 516 2254.

The joy of Jaffa
With its old city walls, flea markets and harbour views, Jaffa (or Yaffo) is a beautiful spot to explore. Guided tours of Jaffa and old Tel Aviv are run by a number of companies, including the Tel Aviv Visitors Centre (03) 510 0337. Tours are approximately 25 shekels (about $7).

Jaffa’s famous 24-hour bakery Abulafia serves fresh bagels and sweet and savoury pastries. Or for some more serious noshing, try Cordelia at Yeffet 30, a candlelit restaurant run by Israel’s hottest young chef Nir Zuk. It boasts a degustation menu derived from classic French cooking with a Mediterranean twist; (03) 518 4668. (Say hi to Tal, daughter of AJN associate editor Chemi Shalev).

For Israel’s most sought-after and authentic hummous look for Abu Chassan – Ali Caravan just south of the Jaffa port on Yehuda Yamit Street. Expect to queue for a short while, especially in the afternoon, and share a table with fellow customers. But be quick, because they usually run out of the stuff by 2pm.

Stylin’ in Shenkin
Although it’s almost passé by now, Friday afternoons at Shenkin are still the place to see and be seen among Israel’s trendiest inhabitants. It’s a great spot to shop and, naturally, stop for a cup of coffee or fresh juice.

It is situated close to the Carmel market, which is a must-see for those wishing to experience the hustle and bustle of an Israeli shuk. On Tuesday and Friday afternoons, visit Nachlat Binyamin, right next to the Carmel market for an array of jewellery and crafts made by local designers, while being entertained by street performers.

Shoppers’ heaven
Tel Aviv’s Azrieli shopping centre is a shopper’s dream. The mall stretches tall into the sky with floor after floor of department and boutique stores, as well as food outlets and cafés. It’s Tel Aviv’s answer to Westfield Bondi Junction.

A feel for good felafel
Although local Israelis may wage war based on the veracity (or otherwise) of this list, here are a few suggestions for where Tel Aviv’s best felafel might be found: Geena at Shocken 22; Hakosem (the magician) at Shlomo Hamelech 1; Dr Seadya at King George 45; Tadmor at Salame 98; andFalafel Banin at Tsernichowsky 4.

Beating the summer heat
Spare a thought for your Aussie pals back home, shivering beside their heaters as Israel’s finest ice-cream melts down the side of your cone. As with all milk products, Israel does ice-cream extremely well. Try: Bravissimo at Ben Yehuda 254; Italian Park at Yehuda Maccabi 67; Shokolad Marir Aldo (bitter chocolate) at Ben Yehuda 122; Chai Vaniglia at Hafarchi 22; and Malaga at Shenkar 14.

With information sourced from Time Out Tel Aviv, timeout.co.il