'The fantastic location will be a draw for European tourists as well as Israelis wishing to take in the culture of downtown Jerusalem’.
(photo credit: ASSAF PINCHUK)
A whole lot of people think boutique hotels are the realm of Tel Aviv. That’s not true. Boutique hotels are springing up now in Jerusalem and the Brown chain has turned an historic villa on the venerable Haneviim Street (Way of the Prophets) into a magnificent hotel smack in the heart of downtown.
The Villa Brown is the newest boutique hotel to open in the Holy City and is quickly becoming a popular destination for Israeli couples looking for a quick “in country” romantic escape but it’s also drawing its share of international tourists familiar with the Brown chain’s devotion to style, design and, well, party vibe.
Stepping into the courtyard front patio, the bustle of the street seems to disappear. Canopy beds, marble-topped tables with classic cast-iron chairs seem to transport you back to a different era. History oozes from the raw-faced, Jerusalem stone interior walls of the hotel, done up in a safari-esque motif. One almost expects to run into Dr. Isaac D’Arbela, the colorful character who built this magnificent house. The Russian-born D’Arbela was a medical officer in the Tzar’s army whose sense of adventure led him to east Africa just as the imperial powers were carving up that continent. He befriended the sultan of Zanzibar and acquired status and wealth before landing in Jerusalem in the 1890s, imbued with a newfound sense of Zionism, taking the job as the director of the Rothschild Hospital across the street.
One can imagine the clink of glasses and gay evenings that took place here at the turn of the century. A friend and neighbor of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew, D’Arbela was himself a master of 12 languages and hosted receptions and balls for the local elite. This atmosphere is evoked by a pair of mounted bronze gazelle heads in the lobby, as well as the trademark Brown chain library offering lifestyle and design publications in multiple languages.
“It’s a very special building,” says Ruth Kaplan, the general manager. The Brown chain has done its best to mix its signature elements with this historic house. Two floors were added with the de rigueur jacuzzi on the roof, inviting all guests. The rooftop sundeck overlooks the premises of the Ethiopian Church and is a great place, quite private, to soak up the Jerusalem sun. The spa is also located there.
Building on its success in Tel Aviv, where they have four hotels, the Brown chain felt the time was ripe to establish a presence in Jerusalem. They renovated the D’Arbela villa so it offers 24 rooms, including three suites. Our room had a magnificent terrace overlooking the front patio and street. The rooms are all equipped with large showers with rain-shower taps on dark tiles. The attic suites have private Jacuzzis, and amenities include soaps and shampoos from Molton Brown. I thought the real key with a heavy, brass-handled tassel was an elegant touch. (Don’t worry, you can leave it at the front desk).
After checking in, my companion and I immediately donned the plush robes and slippers and headed to the rooftop Jacuzzi.
It was there I recalled that the villa makes a quick appearance in the classic 1960 film Exodus when Dov Landau, played by Sal Mineo, is fleeing the British after bombing the King David Hotel. He runs past it as he sneaks into the Ethiopian Church to hide.
The hotel offers complimentary bicycles (with shopping baskets on the handlebars) and in the evening my companion and I rode to town, nipping into a cocktail lounge, and then grabbing a meal in the bustling Mahane Yehuda market and later catching some live music in one of the pubs. Having the bike made it all the more convenient to get around town. Returning just before midnight, I asked the front desk to fill up the Jacuzzi again and we watched the stars from the roof sipping wine, relishing the romantic getaway.
One drawback with the Villa Brown, as with most boutique hotels in any downtown, is parking. There is none, so you’re on your own there. There isn’t even a driveway to unload your luggage. But alas, that’s the price one pays for such an excellent location, just a five-minute walk to the Old City, a block from Jaffa Road and surrounded by trendy cafes and restaurants.
The highlight of our stay was the breakfast in the morning in the open-air veranda. OMG. I was wondering if we were going to have a buffet as in most hotels. No. Instead, the waiter brought on a seemingly endless stream of little salads, each one bursting in flavor. My companion ordered the green shakshuka. I had a spinach-cheese borekas and endless coffee. A full brunch is served from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is open to the public. “High Tea” is served from 5 to 7 p.m. The hotel has opted for the “Hasgacha Pratit,” the alternative kashrut supervision, so while it is kosher according to Halacha, it is not glatt kosher. Nevertheless, its menu is strictly dairy.
The fantastic location will be a draw for European tourists as well as Israelis wishing to take in the culture of downtown Jerusalem.
“The idea is to bring the house alive,” says Kaplan, the general manager. According to him, the Villa Brown intends to make the premises, including the front garden and a subterranean bar located in what used to be the cistern, into a party scene. Brown is an brand; sophisticated folk seeking the hippest joints and hottest parties. Time will tell if the Villa Brown will succeed in bringing its brand from Tel Aviv to the Holy City; after all, as the saying goes: “Tel Aviv has too much sex and not enough God, whereas Jerusalem has too much God and not enough sex.”
Villa Brown is here. Let the party begin.Villa Brown
54 Way of the Prophets Road (Ha’Neviim St.)
Rates begin at $245, but special introductory discounts are available.
The writer was a guest of the hotel.