It’s the height of summer and a big orange moon as bright and unreal as a dream hangs halfway between warm sea and indigo Mediterranean sky. In an instant I am hooked-not that I needed Mother Nature to sell me on Tel Aviv. This is a cosmopolitan city with a vibe more newish than Jewish and for almost every shade of urban charm there’s a deluge to the senses too: Ravishing beaches? Check. Snarled traffic? Check. You’ve got California-caliber girls and joys, and an immeasurable quantity of New York attitude too. A pretty seductive mix.
Tel Aviv is not the kind of place you go to with a tourist site checklist in hand because, the truth is, its dense thickets of Bauhaus architecture notwithstanding, there is not much of historical interest (yes, there’s atmospheric old Jaffa), but culturally, gastronomically and otherwise, there’s plenty percolating. In the latter category there is, of course, shopping, and the most exciting entrant to the varied retail scene actually does have a historical tie-in: the HaTachana marketplace is an outdoor shopping complex on the site of the old Jaffa Railway station. It was built long before there was a State of Israel, in 1892, but reborn as an upbeat designer outdoor shopping center just a few months ago. There are myriad fashion boutiques and inviting al fresco restaurants. The old train depot itself now houses a coffee bar alongside Made in TLV, a shop that’s packed to the rafters with Tel Aviv-themed gift items simply too cool to call souvenirs.
If a place like Paris seems too caught up in its own legacy of beauty to foster new creative expression, here the opposite is true. And Ohad Naharin’s famed Batsheva Dance Company is only a starting point. The organizers of a relatively obscure monthly club night called PAG produced a music video for its final soiree of the season so well-crafted it caught the eye of Perez Hilton, who naturally tweeted it to his good pal Lady Gaga. Speaking of Gaga, the guy who shot her for a Rolling Stone cover, David LaChappelle, currently has a show of his postmodern pop photography at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. How did I find out about this? LaChappelle was staying at my hotel. Sparks of creativity also fly in the direction of architecture: Kerem Halbrecht’s Spaceship collaborative “seeks to explore the viability of and changing nature of public space within the constraints of an increasingly privatized world.” As the kickoff to the Bat-Yam Biennale of Landscape Urbanism in September, Halbrecht is spearheading the first 72 Hour Urban Action, in which selected teams have three days to realize their design projects.
Just keeping up with all this activity-to say nothing of actually participating in it-is going to work up your appetite. And when it comes to table-hopping, Tel Aviv does not disappoint. Like the urban topography itself, the culinary scene is varied. At Asif, which is Hebrew for harvest, female chef Einav Berman tries “to create something that has a connection with the country and also with the Jewish history of cooking.” That could mean minted lentil and goat cheese strudel with tomato vinaigrette or almond tortellini in truffle butter, but it definitely means you won’t leave her restaurant hungry.
At Social Club, just off Rothschild Boulevard, the scene’s at center stage but the food, with more of a Continental tilt, is top-drawer. Shila is another spot that draws local raves, Container is a hip spot in an old warehouse in Jaffa Port and Manta Ray is a happening spot right on the beach. Then there’s the delectable Herbert Samuel (not the man, the restaurant), Tony Vespa for New York pizza by the slice and, at all hours, Catit for a gourmet repast in the trendy Neve Tzedek neighborhood. Not to mention Lala Land, also on the beach, near the American Embassy and oh, did I mention Benedict, the 24-hour breakfast diner with two locations?
Of course, if you check into a hotel like the Carlton, once you finish with the breakfast buffet you’re going to be set for most of the rest of the day. Homemade cakes, custom omelets, farm-fresh Israeli fruits and cheeses, tangy frittatas, strong Israeli coffee, and more. Even at less luxurious hotels, expect a copious breakfast and generally it’s included in the price of the room. Another hotel to note is the Hotel Savoy, with its boutique ambience right by the beach. For longer stays, the way to go is actually TLV2go.com, a short-term apartment rental agency with good listings and amazing service.
Now, no matter how you slice it, the flight to Tel Aviv from Los Angeles is a long one and you can’t do better than El Al Israel Airlines (www.elal.com). Business class is recommended but economy will do; moisturize well and arrive refreshed. After a day or two in Tel Aviv, other forms of revitalization (see above) are bound to follow.