By RICKY BEN-DAVID
Since it opened six months ago just blocks away from the Old City, Jerusalem's Mamilla Hotel has become one of the standard bearers for Israeli luxury lodging. More recently, the hotel brought the attention to detail shown in its gorgeously appointed rooms to its bar and dining amenities, leaving every guest in danger of never wanting to leave the hotel during their stay.
Unveiled last month, Mamilla's new showcase bar, the Mirror Bar, brings the upscale lounges of Manhattan and London to Jerusalem, sparing the "dipped in rhinestones" glitter and glam that most high-end Israeli establishments seem to be legally required to partake in. It is fast becoming the "in" bar in Jerusalem, filling up as early as 10 p.m. on Thursday with a clientele ranging from the just-starting-to-unwind-after-work crowd to the rowdy bachelorette party crowd. Reservations are strongly encouraged.
The bar's atmosphere is minimalist yet sleek with a mostly glass and - what else? - mirror decor. At the far end of the bar there's a plush cigar room where a strict no-cigarettes policy is enforced. You can kick back and order a pricy Cuban and a bottle of Herodion wine made deep in the southern West Bank, and really aggravate your Palestinian Cuban expatriate friends. Cigar prices range from NIS 46 to NIS 215.
At the Mirror Bar, the emphasis is on taste, hard-to-find upscale spirits and brew, and a decor that wraps you in warm, cozy comfort. Yeah, and it has a killer kosher tapas menu with prices that belie the chic surroundings. Unlike many posh Israeli bars, which adhere to a strict Red Bull and Grey Goose regiment with very liberal interpretations of cocktail standards thrown in, the Mirror Bar has an impressive selection of alcohol. The drink menu features over a dozen custom-mixed drinks, with ingredients ranging from cucumber to lemon grass and fresh basil with vodka - perfect if you're looking to try a rare cocktail, or if you just enjoy salad garnishes with your drinks and really like multitasking.
The delectable appetizers come in a wide range of styles. A virtual "tapas League of Nations," the menu features dishes from four culinary regions: Italy, France, Asia and "local" (one of the few non-controversial ways to say "Israel"). Each offers five different appetizers, with the option of ordering three for NIS 50 or four for NIS 68. One would assume you could also order seven for NIS 118, but that may be getting carried away. Dishes such as fish kebab with eggplant cream (local), ceviche and papaya (Asian), chicken with figs and apples (French) and lamb tortellini (Italian) are just a few examples of the vision Chef Roy Antebbe - formerly of Tel Aviv's infamous The Brasserie - has for a kosher but gourmet dining experience. Desserts are also on offer (two for NIS 33, three for NIS 44, four for NIS 60) and are of the variety found at Israeli weddings - adequate but oh so parve.
The Mirror Bar makes for a perfect early evening spot to impress a first date, or a classy place to retire to with friends or co-workers around a circle of colorful cocktails, a sound system that knows its place in the background, and patrons that don't look like they'll lunge at you with a fork if you spill tapenade on somebody's sneakers. Another aspect that sets it apart from many upscale watering holes elsewhere in Israel (we're looking at you, Tel Aviv) is that the menu selections are reasonably priced, or let's say priced at a level that leaves you feeling harassed, not bludgeoned - as is often the case here.
Another feature of the Mamilla's cocktail culture is the hotel's new wine bar, oddly dubbed "Winery," adjacent to the Mirror Bar. The Winery's cause de vivre appears to be the showcasing of Israel's burgeoning wine industry, which stopped being a punch line at least a couple of years ago. It employs a fulltime sommelier who can take you on a whirlwind tour of Jewish wines, perfect for the connoisseur or the amateur drinker, and, really, just about any type of Israeli patriot.
The Winery can pull corks on over 80 types of blue-and-white vino, with a price range of NIS 70 to NIS 3,000 per bottle. The latter, we're assuming, must be made of real authentic Torah grapes.
Mamilla's Winery and Mirror Bar are in keeping with their goals of seeing the luxury hotel become a weekend destination not only for well-heeled tourists and shadowy European businessmen-on-the-make, but also Israeli weekenders looking for a getaway that doesn't require battling northbound traffic on a Thursday. Call it the "anti-tzimmer" if you like.
It's easy to imagine sinking into the plush leather at the Mirror Bar late on a Thursday in the wintertime, drinking wine into the night as the wind leaves an icy chill on the stones of Jerusalem. You can sleep late in the morning and cure your hangover with breakfast in the hotel's dining room, which easily offers one of the most opulent and consistently delicious buffets in Israel. Really, who needs to drive to Galilee?
The writer was a guest of the Mirror Bar.
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