As with many coffee shops and restaurants in Tel Aviv, Juda 177 is gay-friendly. But this cute, homey establishment on busy Ben-Yehuda Street right near the sea is a little different. Sammy, one of the owners, says that what makes his place gay-friendly is not the fact that a number of the customers, many of them his friends, feel comfortable there, but more importantly that he donates some of his earnings to gay charities such as the Open House and the fight against AIDS.
“I can’t be gay-friendly unless I give something back to the community. I can’t take money from people without giving them something back,” he says. He stresses that it is this desire to help the community that makes the place gay-friendly.
While this is an important feature of the cafe, it by no means defines it. There is so much more on offer.
I recently visited Juda 177 with my brother on a lazy Friday afternoon, and we watched the world go by on the busy street in an area popular with tourists and locals alike. Sammy is all about making people feel at home and explains that he wanted to create a homey atmosphere where everyone is welcome, even if they feel like putting their feet up on the furniture.
Steering clear of the cliche trendy vibe, Juda 177 takes a more relaxed approach to impressing its customers. The philosophy here is to treat everyone who walks through the door as a guest rather than a customer.
The service is also on the more laid-back side but still very attentive. Our extremely friendly waitress was very approachable and stayed true to the mantra by making us feel at home. By the end of the meal we felt as if we had known her all our lives. At one point she said she was getting hungry watching all the tasty food coming out of the kitchen, and we proceeded to invite her to sit down with us. If she wasn’t so busy, I think she might have taken us up on the offer. She even inadvertently invited us to her family’s house for Friday night dinner. While this eagerness could have been perceived as being contrived, it was actually very natural and added a lot to our experience.
Each person that arrived during the afternoon seemed to know one of the owners or one of the waiters and was greeted with a big hug and kiss. My brother and I noticed that there was a whole community who came especially to this place to enjoy the great food and the atmosphere, whether they were gay or straight.
The menu is similar to that of many of the coffee shops in Tel Aviv, offering a wide selection of sandwiches, salads, pastas and main dishes. However, Sammy decided to mix up the menu a little by introducing a few personal twists on some of the classic dishes.
For starters, I went for salmon and cream cheese, which was served with mini toasts. The dish was simple but tasty and was just the right size. My brother had merguez sausages and wasn’t disappointed. Starters range from NIS 14 to NIS 21.
When it came to the main course, I fancied something a little healthy, so I chose the chicken breast with mashed potato (NIS 48). When I say breast, I should really say breasts. While one would have sufficed, the portion came with three large chicken breasts.
We joked with the waitress that it was too much, but she laughed and said that most Israelis don’t find it big enough. The dish was tasty, and even though I didn’t manage to finish it, I really enjoyed it.
My brother had lamb kebabs with chips, served with Tunisianinspired sauce, a house special (NIS 49). The large portion was more than enough, and the sauce gave it a little kick.
We both finished off the meal with a small dessert each. One was carrot cake and the other a creamy biscuit cake.
There are a number of qualities that make Juda 177 unique, but perhaps the most interesting is the relatively low prices. While it can’t be considered a cheap place, it’s certainly less expensive than most of its competitors in the mid-range coffee shop category.
For a good value, friendly cafe, where you genuinely can feel at home, Juda 177 is pretty high up there on the list in Tel Aviv.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
177 Ben-Yehuda, Tel Aviv
Tel: (03) 544-6706
Open Sunday through Saturday