With tears in their beer, some 200 loyal revelers packed Mike's Place on Sunday to bid adieu to the legendary downtown Jerusalem watering hole.
Though the Nahalat Shiva bar had 36 months remaining on its eight-year lease, last fall the landlord Darinel Business Inc. invoked a demolition clause in that agreement to force the bar out. The nondescript 19th-century building, which was originally put up by the Ottoman banker Chaim Aharon Valero, will be demolished shortly as part of an eight-story office tower and commercial complex stretching along Jaffa Road to Kikar Zion.
"The day our last bench is out of here, they'll start demolition," sighed Gal Ganzman, who co-owns the Jerusalem joint and its sister bar on the Tel Aviv seashore with his brother Assaf and Dave Beck.
For Assaf, the bar represented "many fine memories, great music, great musicians, and people getting together and having a good time." The bar chose to close on a Sunday, the slowest night of the week, to give its hardcore regulars a final chance to say good-bye, he said. The event was not advertised, and the news spread by word of mouth.
The crowd that final night - students, religious Jews, West Bank settlers, Arabs and couples who met there and subsequently got married - reflected the unique place that Mike's Place held in the city.
The bar was founded in 1992 by Mike Vigoda, a bon vivant journalist originally from Toronto, who opened his eponymous pub in a tiny Russian Compound cubbyhole that many people mistook for his private living room.
Moving three times before settling in at its Kikar Zion location in 2004, Mike's Place quickly became a raffish refuge from Israel's at times rough-and-tumble reality. From the beginning, the bar attracted an eclectic clientele of tipplers - backpackers, native Israelis, overseas students, Russian immigrants, Arabs, foreign journalists, diplomats, IDF soldiers and UN personnel - all sharing the laid-back vibe and Western pop culture.
Seven nights a week until the wee hours the good times rolled and the musicians played (without a cover charge) a mix of blues and rock 'n' roll.
Not even the April 29, 2003, terror attack on the Tel Aviv branch could alter the ambience. Three Israelis were killed in the explosion: Dominique Hass, 29, a French immigrant waitress; and musicians Ran Baron, 23, and Yanai Weiss, 46. More than 50 people were wounded. The bar suffered extensive damage but reopened a week later.
"We've made so many great friends. I want to tell them all we'll see them soon. A lot of people have lost their home away from home," lamented Gal.
Pointing to the "all-star crew" sign, "Downtown" Dave Beck added, "It's a shame. It was a very good team here."
All 10 staff were offered jobs at the Tel Aviv branch, he noted.
So far, only general manager Daniel Gorodetsky has accepted that transfer. The ponytailed GM will be heading the newly established Mike's Place franchise division. For $30,000 and a four to six percent royalty fee, the bar is selling its brand of bonhomie.
Gorodetsky and the three owners are optimistic that a new Mike's Place will open in Jerusalem, as well as several in Europe. "Our future is totally bound up in this project," said Gal.