Ask the Barman: A mate of yours is a mate of ours

Omri Yakov talks about life as a barman as well as the special family atmosphere that exists at Mate King George, the latest branch of the popular Tel Aviv chain.

Mate King George manager Omri Yakov (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mate King George manager Omri Yakov
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It's been eight years since the first Mate Bar on Dizengoff opened it's doors to the young revelers of Tel Aviv. Since then, it has grown into a small chain with branches in Florentin, briefly one on Lincoln Street, and now most recently on King George.
I could still smell the fresh paint when I went to check out the branch on King George, the newest addition to the family. As with the other Mate bars, the atmosphere is laid-back but energetic at the same time.
The team behind Mate try very hard to create a family atmosphere and they have been very successful in doing so. "I can't explain it but it really feels like a family," says barman and Mate King George manager Omri Yakov. "Everyone knows each other."
Set above street level in a converted old building near the busy intersection with Dizengoff and Ben Tzion/Bugrashov, Mate King George is in a prime location to attract Tel Avivians looking to take a break from all the hustle and bustle of the city. The small terrace overlooking the busy street provides a great entrance to the bar itself, which is simply decorated with modern furnishings.
Yakov, age 28 and originally from Petah Tikva, is very proud that the Mate brand has managed to become a regular fixture on the very fast-changing Tel Aviv bar scene.
With an extensive drinks selection (nearly 40 types of beer and over 80 types of whiskey) and bar staff that you would want to be friends with in real life, it's no wonder that after less than a week of opening, the bar was already full. The pool table, live sport and wide range of comfort food may also have something to do with it.
Taking the idea of Happy Hour to the next level, Yakov and his team at Mate have a "Super Happy" half an hour every Tuesday between 7:30 -8 p.m., during which they offer three third pints of beer for just NIS 20. It's offers like these that keep the regulars coming back for more.
Yakov sat down with The Jerusalem Post to talk about his life as a bartender. How do id you get into the world of bartending?
The money was very tempting. Also, I'm the kind of guy who likes people and enjoys talking to others. I am also a trained actor so for me it's a sort of stage. You get people coming into the bar and you host them, you talk to them, you joke with them. You have to be good at it. It doesn't even matter how good you are at the technical side of things, you need to know how to work with people.
How long have you been doing it?
Six years.
So have you just been bartending for the past six years or have you been doing other things?
I just finished three years of acting school a month ago.
Who is the most interesting person that you've served at a bar?
You know those people who go around restaurants and bars selling roses, well one of them came into the bar. I asked him if he wanted to drink something and he sat down and had a small beer. He ended up staying there for three hours. He had lots of interesting stories. He was a divorced Arab man from the North. His stories fascinated me. I just sat there and listened to him. It was amazing. He even left me a flower at the end.
Who is your ideal customer?
My ex-girlfriend's dad.
That's an interesting choice. Why?
He is a serious drinker. He would come with his friends and they would drink a lot and leave a massive tip. Also, once the alcohol started to flow he would reveal all kinds of interesting stories.
What would you serve him?
Only whiskey. Glenfiddich to be exact.
What's your favorite drink to serve?
I really like cocktails.
Most bartenders say cocktails are their least favorite. Why do you enjoy making them so much?
I like to take my time preparing them and making sure they taste good. I like to work with my hands.
What's your least favorite drink to serve?
Arak. I just can't stand the smell of the stuff.
On an average night how many people try to hit on you?
A lot. Flirting is a big part of the job. I actually don't like to get involved with customers. I prefer to make a clear distinction.
What's the best tip you've ever received?
[Israeli singer] Lior Narkis came in the bar one night. He and a friend drank two shots of Grey Goose and they left NIS 100 tip on a NIS 60 bill.
What do you do in your free time when you are not behind the bar?
Apart from acting, I write. I love going to the beach. At least four times a week I go the sea. I also love sport, both watching and playing.
How do you cope with the late nights?
I am used to it by now. It's not easy to live your life at night but it's a stage in your life that you get addicted to and enjoy but you know it's not for ever. It's fun to go to bed when everyone else is waking up and get up when everyone else is just going to bed.
Mate50 King George Street, Tel AvivOpen from 4p.m. till last customer leaves (never before 3 a.m.)