(photo credit: Courtesy)
In 2003, husband-and-wife team Zvika and Haya Shichor stood in the center of Florentine in south Tel Aviv and envisioned a booming local nightlife. They started it with Bugsy.
They named their first bistro bar after the mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, noting that he had the guts to go against the grain and establish the Flamingo Hotel in the barren desert that was about to turn into the Las Vegas Strip. While Florentine has replaced Sheinkin as Israel's bohemian center since the late 1990s, there was no heavily invested, carefully planned bar in the heart of the old neighborhood until Bugsy came along. Today, Bugsy is the center of a sizable nightlife compound on Tel Aviv's hip strip.
Bugsy's d cor reflects the charm, artsiness and vintage feel of the Florentine neighborhood. The leather chairs and fuzzy stools are ultra retro, and even some of the servers look like they wish they lived in the 1970s. Bugsy is a mixture of bar and diner, offering breakfast, lunch and business menus - eggs, salads, hamburgers, steaks and the like. The Shichors believe that for a bar to last, it has to offer more than just liquor.
"Bugsy wasn't the end for us," explains Haya. "We try to be very updated in the field."
And their next venture, Benjamin Siegel, proves that they are.
IF BUGSY is their Flamingo hotel, then Benjamin Siegel is Caesar's Palace. Located on the first floor of the Opera Towers along the Tel Aviv Promenade, Benjamin Siegel sticks out like a jewel in the sand. Located smack between the strip joints and worn-out beachside restaurants, Benjamin Siegel is a world-class, richly designed bistro bar.
"The promenade is a wasted area," Haya explains. Attracted to the beach, the view and the former charm of Allenby Street, she decided to try her luck in an area usually mobbed by the folksy masses, in the hope of upgrading the entire area. "I didn't open it for passersby; it doesn't speak to them. People will seek it out."
While Bugsy is first a bar and then a restaurant, Benjamin Siegel is first a restaurant and then a bar. Bugsy is like the rocking, long-haired, older brother of the aristocratic, refined and snobby Benjamin Siegel. Anyone who spends time in both places will notice that the layout and design motifs - the use of fuzz, leather and mirrors - are different yet related.
The interior of Benjamin Siegel could certainly pass for the dark, sexy state room of an extremely wealthy Mafia man. The fur-lined bar stools, finely crafted mirrors and elegant dangling crystal in the large expanse all scream "no compromise." It's winner take all - or nothing.
Haya and Zvika Shichor thus demonstrate that excellence is possible amidst mediocrity. The rich, eclectic menu features a fusion of gourmet and creative dishes spiced to perfection by chef Eran Goldstein, who left a culinary career in Canada to join the Benjamin Siegel posse. It's no wonder that Wine and Gourmet magazine chose Benjamin Siegel as the venue for its 10th anniversary last week.
Only five months old, Benjamin Siegel is slated to become a hot spot for high-class tourists, businessmen, government officials and Israeli cuisine connoisseurs. The prices are relatively affordable for a place that looks like a hideout for high rollers. It will take time to see if the million-dollar gamble pays off, but they're going for the bank, and Benjamin Siegel has the makings of a jackpot.
Bugsy, Rehov Florentine 26, Tel Aviv; (03) 681-3138; from 9 a.m.
Benjamin Siegel, Rehov Allenby 1, Tel Aviv; (03) 516-6224; from 9 a.m.