Travel: Jerusalem stone and Jerusalem of gold

The Inbal Hotel upgrades in bid to keep status as capital’s prime tourist destination.

THE COURTYARD of the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem.  (photo credit: INBAL HOTEL)
THE COURTYARD of the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: INBAL HOTEL)
Rony Timsit could have been discussing the renovations completed to his own home, such was his pride while leading a visitor through the main floor of Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel.
The pool, restaurant, dining room, courtyard – all upgraded last year, said Timsit, the hotel’s general manager. To say nothing of the biggest job of all: adding 48 guest rooms to bring the hotel’s total to 331.
How that was accomplished is what’s notable. Some hotels expand by gutting the interior and rebuilding floors with smaller guest rooms, the better to maximize capacity (and revenue). Others add a wing.
What did the Inbal do? It added seventh and eighth floors atop two sides of the original hotel. That approach would fit right in with Tama 38-happy Jerusalem, where construction companies feverishly add vertically to existing apartment buildings in the land-challenged city. (Tama 38 is a city plan for reinforcing buildings against earthquakes.)
Rather than unobtrusively extend the Inbal Hotel’s space, the architect for the renovation, Michael Schwartz, painted the two new floors’ façade gold-like.
“People will see the old building and the new building, the Jerusalem stone and the Jerusalem of gold,” Timsit said of the post-renovation hotel, whose immediate neighbors include the Montefiore Windmill and Liberty Bell Park. (Inbal means a bell’s clapper.)
The design contrast is stark when viewed from the ground, and more so up close. The ninth floor’s executive lounge – the original building and the addition are a half-floor off – extends onto a generous deck, from which one can readily see or touch the gold siding. Some people will favor the look for its boldness, while others might frown at its clashing with the clean appearance of the hotel’s, and the capital’s, Jerusalem stone.
“When you do a bold piece of architecture, there will always be people who hate it and people who love it,” Schwartz said. “Fortunately, there are more people who like it.”
Either way, the added rooms are plenty large and likely to impress. Guests wondering where their television is will smile upon realizing that it’s actually the enormous living-room mirror. From a wall in each new room hangs a small frame holding a colorful embroidery sewn by an Ethiopian Jewish artist. A booklet on the desk describes each room’s piece.
THE ART in our room was embroidered by Mesefen Alemu, who left Ethiopia in 2004 and lives in Jerusalem. It depicts seven Ethiopian Jews in a boat being rowed to Sudan shortly before Operation Moses, the 1984 airlift that brought 8,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Prints of the art in this and other rooms can be purchased through an initiative called Embroidery Dream.
When the Ethiopian-Jewish artists first immigrated, “many of them were depressed because of the gap between the dream of Israel and the reality, and because some of their families remained behind in Ethiopia. Creating this art helped them tremendously,” Zion Getahun, who immigrated to Israel in 1984 from the Ethiopian city of Gondar and launched Embroidery Dream in 2010, explained in a telephone interview. “Sales help them make a living.”
For a hotel, it doesn’t get more meaningful than that.
A stroll on the building’s main floor took in several other artistic and generally welcoming touches. In the courtyard, Timsit’s fingers grazed the leaves of sage, mint and basil sprouting from planters in several sitting areas. In the 02 Restaurant, a Middle Eastern copper candleholder hangs. The 02 – named for the city’s area code – touts its fusion of contemporary and traditional Jerusalem cuisine. Tradition is apparent at each table, where blue, hand-painted Armenian plates are set out for appetizers in a nod to that nationality’s quarter in the Old City, just a 15-minute walk away. At the entrance to the hotel’s dining room, and next to the buffet table, stand brown, wooden trellises in Oriental style, known as mashrabia.
Like any hotelier worth his salt, Timsit, who’s made his career in Israel’s hotel business since emigrating from France in 1980, knows his clientele well and tailors his staff’s service accordingly. Some 80% of the Inbal’s guests are Americans, predominantly tourists and those visiting Israel to spend time with loved ones living in the capital, he said. The visitors’ expectations include spit-spot cleanliness and reliable air conditioning – so much so that guest rooms in the Inbal won’t automatically shut off their air conditioning when people leave for the day.
The formula apparently works. Timsit said the hotel enjoys many repeat visitors. Some have returned almost annually for decades, going back to the Inbal’s incarnation as the Laromme.
With some visitors, “we’ve hosted their bar mitzvah and their kids’ bar mitzvah,” he said. “What’s very important to us is to be a local hotel [where] people can get to know Israel and will have an Israeli experience at an American standard.”
The writer was a guest of the hotel.