Photo: Sunset in Tel Aviv before a long, long night.
By the time we finished a plate of chocolate chip pancakes and home fries, paid our check and walked back home, we were beat and quickly fell asleep.
Now, I could’ve written that sentence six months ago – Tal and I would have been in Pittsburgh, and on any Friday, Saturday or Sunday morning, we would’ve gone to our favorite vegan brunch place (it’s better than it sounds), eaten breakfast, then driven home and taken a nap. Thing is, we don’t live in Pittsburgh anymore. Tal lives in Tel Aviv, and on most weekends, so do I. So that opening sentence, well, that was our Friday at 4 a.m.
It’s a played cliche to say that a ‘city never sleeps.’ In almost every case I’ve ever heard (aside from one inexplicable usage towards Columbus, Ohio), it’s applied to Manhattan, an island that is simply so overloaded with people that, statistically, someone is bound to be awake at every hour of the day. Some folks work the night shift. Tel Aviv is a different case. It’s not some huge metropolis, a Tokyo or New York or Berlin of the Middle East; it’s a small city with a huge, impressive percentage of the population that is young, beautiful and completely nocturnal. This city does sleep. It sleeps when it gets home from an after hours underground dance club at 6 a.m., then it gets up for work at 8, showers and hops on the bus.
Such was my Friday night this week. Tal and I spent our Rosh Hashana in Jerusalem with the Kahn’s, family friends of the Kassutto’s dating back to Zach Kassutto persuading Jeff Kahn to move from Brooklyn to Israel; decades later, the Kassutto’s are in Philly and the Kahn’s are still in Jerusalem. As it happens, there are four Kahn kids and three of them are at an age where we could be friends, so the chag felt more or less like hanging out with a bunch of old friends, regardless of the fact that I’d just met most of them that day. As an added bonus, oldest Kahn Yoni and his wife Michal just had a kid of their own; adding a tiny baby to any social situation, aside from a wild night out at a bar or strip club, is almost always an improvement. Said beautiful baby can be seen below.
I thought about sending the picture above to distant relatives who I haven’t talked to in awhile with a “Shana Tovah, from the Jacobs’” tag, but that seemed sort of cruel and somewhat misleading. So to clear any misconceptions, no that is not my baby, but yes, that is my girlfriend.
By Friday morning, it was time to head back to Tel Aviv. Yoni, Michal and beautiful miniature person Eitan were, thankfully, also headed into town, so we were able to skip what would’ve been almost certainly an overcrowded bus ride. ‘Friends with cars’ equal ‘people I regularly thank God that I know’ in this country.
The plan for the evening was to have a true Tel Aviv night, as in, drinks, dancing, minimal but stylish clothing, the works. After an afternoon spent exploring Neve Tzedek, a neighborhood that looks more like centuries-old Europe than the Middle East, we stopped for some slices of pizza, picked up some beers and, upon returning to Tal’s flat, watched ‘How I Met Your Mother.’ So the night began in a painfully overt American fashion. But after a nap and shower, we weren’t out the door until after 11 — and we were back to Tel Aviv mode.
Tal lives just off of Rothschild Boulevard. It’s the street where, earlier this summer, tents began popping up and thereby spread an arguably impactful social revolution of protests, marches and demonstrations throughout the city, then the country. It’s an important street, no doubt; the site of the tents almost certainly because of its posh, upscale restaurant and condo layout. Plus, of course, with it’s grassy, tree-lined promenade, it’s got room for tents. That probably had something to do with it. So I always argued with Tal when she told me it was one of the hippest streets in the city. The boulevard was cool and pretty, sans tents, I argued, but fine dining doesn’t necessitate coolness.
I was wrong.
After 11, and increasingly as the night goes on, Rothschild becomes a different place entirely. The strolling rich folk disappear, with the city’s young drinking crowd taking their place.
We began at a bar that, walking by during the day, doesn’t look like a bar. It looks like a wall with concert posters and announcements outlined with a few chairs and tables. Come midnight, though, the doors opened to a backroom dimly lit, crowded with your average 20-something Tel Avivian — basically, an American Apparel model with an accent and much more interesting style.
We left after just a drink to meet a friend from Pitt, Sam, and his Israeli girlfriend Lauren, at a bar called, simply, Milk. Directions to the place were a bit of a problem.
“So it’s on Rothschild, but down an alley way,” Sam said over the phone, he and Lauren on their way to meet us.
I looked around. No alleyways to speak of.
“Near a fruit stand.”
That I spotted. Tal and I took a guess and walked past the stand as I remembered the sage advice of Arrested Development: “The money is always in the banana stand.” With that in mind, I knew we couldn’t fail.
And we didn’t — Milk was simply a doorway leading to some steps. The alleyway Sam spoke of just meant it was in a section of Rothschild where construction blocks the streetview. Still, as we descended into this hidden bar, it was hard not to feel excited. The excitement wasn’t unfounded — the bar was exactly what I was looking for: loud rock’n'roll, framed old photographs of people with mustaches paired with walls stacked with vinyl records and familiar shots of long dead rock stars, the bar fully stocked with whiskey and the bartenders matching the clientele of tight pants chic. So, sure, that sentence probably reads: “Douche-bag hipster bar” and your response might well be “I have 12 of those in my city and they all suck” and that response would be right. I lived in Atlanta, and Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh, and we did have 12 and they did, for the most part, suck.
But this bar lacked the pretension, it lacked the uniformity. Everyone there looked unique, and smiled and laughed and was there to have fun. The cooler-than-thou attitude so ever present at cool bars in the states was missing. We ordered some beers and waited for Sam and Lauren, staking out a good spot on the bar. They arrived minutes later and said how bummed they were for having paid a 30 shekel cover charge each. That’s a 30 shekel cover charge that Tal and I didn’t pay. Lesson to be learned for our friends: Never ask the bouncer if there is a cover charge, or he will probably say yes. Walk right in, and that ‘official cover charge’ may just be waived!
Regardless, we got to drinking.
Around 12:30, the bar began to fill up and we decided to do some exploring, as I noticed that near the bathroom there appeared to be a different room. I grabbed Tal to check it out and, whaaat!?, there was an entirely different bar attached! Double the possibilities! We learned quickly that we were in Milk, but attached to Milk was The Breakfast Club. It wasn’t until we woke up the next morning and explored the Internet that we realized The Breakfast Club is called The Breakfast Club because it is often open until 9 a.m., and is one of the most notorious after-hours dance clubs in the city.
That last part about it being a dance club — we knew that right away, and all four of us got to dancing. Sam and Lauren are fun to go out with because, like Tal and I, they don’t pretend to be too cool. So in the middle of one of the sexiest, hippest dance floors I’ve been a part of in my recent adult life, we began dancing like fools. Tal and I swam through the floor, doing matching finger-points and other dance moves that probably, from an outside perspective, looked like a step aerobics video from 1988. To be honest, it kind of felt like one too. When Tal and I dance, especially after a few or more drinks, we tend to do it in exaggerated movements with giant, goofy smiles. Maybe not the sexiest thing to watch, but we have a great time. We wove through some of the best looking and best moving people I’ve ever seen, through a constantly thumping house beat that hammered our ears and put a ripple in every drink sitting on a flat surface. Lights flashed, sweat dripped and everyone, absolutely everyone, was moving, shaking, dancing.
The only sense of this being a ‘notorious’ club was when I approached the bar at a seemingly open spot between two dudes. As I ordered another drink, I realized both dudes were glaring at me, in that ‘How dare you order a drink and stand so close to me’ glare that most guys who’ve spent enough time in bars can recognize. So maybe The Breakfast Club is notorious for nasty glares, but I doubt it. My guess? There seemed to be a pretty intense scene near the bathrooms, where all things illicit and grossly sexual tend to go down at notorious bars.
By 2:30, it was time for actual breakfast. We were drunk, and so fittingly, we were hungry. When we emerged from the basement of Milk, the street was completely packed. Music blared from open windows and rooftop parties; couples and whole groups of people danced down the street, arms around each other. It wasn’t just a Friday night; Rothschild felt like a celebration. Of Shabbat maybe? I doubt it; the scene felt simply like a celebration of life, of youth, happiness, freedom. Even the drunks walked with stylish, suave movements; no one was bent over, sloppily intoxicated.
Our destination was clear: Benedict’s, the most popular breakfast restaurant in Tel Aviv, and right down the block. The four of us sat outside and watched the action on the street, these smiling, flailing Israelis making their way home or making their way out or just outside to be outside and enjoy a drink while dancing down one of the city’s greatest streets. Before too long, breakfast arrived — chocolate chip pancakes, and an order of gourmet home fries for Tal and I. Laid down before Sam was an “English Breakfast,” which included every meat item that could possibly be included in a meal that was labeled ‘breakfast.’
By the time we made it home just before 4 a.m., Tel Aviv was deep in the midst of another Friday night with no sign, honestly no sign of stopping. It’s not a city that doesn’t sleep. It’s a city that would rather be awake, and alive, in the present than waste a second in dreams.