Jerusalem’s Gatsby wins recognition as country’s foremost cocktail lounge

Small upstart, styled like Prohibition-era speakeasy, beats out crowded field of Tel Aviv heavyweights.

January 4, 2017 00:58
2 minute read.
PATRONS DRINK at Jerusalem’s 1920s-themed Gatsby Cocktail Room yesterday.

PATRONS DRINK at Jerusalem’s 1920s-themed Gatsby Cocktail Room yesterday.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

When it first opened its doors in October of 2014, Jerusalem’s Gatsby Cocktail Room was a veritable David against a highly-competitive field of Goliaths in Israel’s burgeoning cocktail scene.

Styled as an intimate Prohibition-era speakeasy, with just enough seating for 70 patrons, most people found it difficult to even locate the now-popular Hillel Street haunt.

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Despite its diminutive size, Gatsby slew the competition on Tuesday, after being named the best cocktail lounge in the country in a national competition sponsored by City Mouse, a popular Tel Aviv-based society and culture magazine and website.

For co-owners Jonathan Sagir and Alex Volovnik, the victory is not only a major marketing boon, but a testament to their love for Jerusalem and the power of their uncompromised vision, against formidable odds.

“The Gatsby is a cocktail joint, but I would describe it more as a Michelin-rated restaurant,” said Sagir on Monday. “We treat our drinks like chefs treat their food, and I think the customers can really see that and taste it.”

Indeed, Sagir, 32, said he and Volovnik, 31 – both Jerusalemites, who named the lounge Gatsby as an homage to the Roaring 20s – “take drinks very seriously.”

“We specialize in fine cocktails, and everything is made by us from scratch to the final product,” he said. “We use only the highest quality ingredients.”

Moreover, Sagir said, the partners take hosting as seriously as the drinks themselves.

“We take a lot of consideration of the experience of a guest the moment he or she walks inside the place, until they leave,” he explained.

“The process begins the moment a customer walks through the door.”

Asked how it feels to rise to the top so quickly in a city where many bars and businesses go under within a year, Sagir said winning the competition is a sign that Gatsby has officially arrived.

“It feels wonderful,” he said. “Because three years ago, when we started planning the place, we saw what was happening in Tel Aviv, where the cocktail industry was kind of grown up, with some very strong places like Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar, which we competed with and was named one of the 100 best cocktail bars in the world in 2015.”

Sagir continued: “Winning this kind of competition means that we’re in the big leagues, and are getting recognized for what we do daily, without any consideration about whether we will win a prize.”

To be sure, he said the victory is a direct result of a meticulous passion to be the best of the best, fine-tuned through their other popular bar, a stone’s throw away on Hillel Street, called The Barrel Public House, as well as two other smaller venues in the capital.

“This is our passion,” Sagir said. “And we’re very, very happy to be the ones to put Jerusalem on the map as the best hangout place to be in Israel.”

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