The Tel Aviv alternative

Priced out of local clubs and bars, a group of soldiers have taken the night into their own hands by setting up an outdoor venue... free of charge.

outdoor party 88 (photo credit: )
outdoor party 88
(photo credit: )
It's 2 a.m. on a Friday night. Tel Aviv, the epicenter of Israeli nightlife, is bustling with young people meandering about the hot spots of Lilienblum, Allenby and Sderot Rothschild. Well-dressed partygoers wait impatiently at club entrances as bouncers look them up and down. Shalvata, Breakfast Club, Whiskey a Go Go and the plethora of other posh venues are brimming with hype. Sporting the latest Diesel jeans and a mild tan over her already olive-brown skin, a slender 27-year-old sips a NIS 45 cocktail as she sinks into the elegant leather seats beneath hanging chandeliers at Mish Mish on Lilienblum. At the Tel Aviv Port, youthful hipsters sip daiquiris by the ocean at Shalvata. The atmosphere is elegant and cool, akin to a South Beach experience, but with a Mediterranean vibe. At the Breakfast Club, a large crowd waits to be let in. Two discriminating bouncers standing outside turn down anyone younger than 25. Americans and tourists are typically allowed more leeway than Israelis, as they are known to spend more freely. Two and a half hours later, at around 4:30 a.m., crowds begin to dwindle. With outfits reeking of alcohol and cigarettes, eardrums attenuated by the hubbub of the night and the week's paycheck squandered, people dissipate into the darkness. While Tel Aviv's likeness to cities like Miami and New York is appealing to many, some are disillusioned with what they perceive to be a "decadent" nightlife. Aviv Saad, a resident of Givatayim who frequents Tel Aviv on the weekends, says the scene has become "phony." Enter "Hamachletzet." Roughly one year ago, a group of 15 friends, most of them soldiers, decided they were going to take the night into their own hands. After dutifully defending their country throughout the week, they would go hang out in Tel Aviv only to find themselves outpriced and "out-poshed" by the club and bar scene. One Friday night, Saad and his friends had the idea to lay out a machtzelet, or straw carpet, on the piazza at the intersection of Sderot Rothschild and Rehov Nahalat Binyamin to just relax with some friends, away from all the hype. Eran Fish, one of the soldiers and founders of Hamachtzelet, explains their conundrum. "We would come back from a hard week, ready to have some fun in Tel Aviv, but a lot of the bars had a very high minimum age of 24 or 26. At almost all the bars and clubs, the air is filled with smoke, the drinks are too expensive and we didn't see any point in having to spend that much money to have fun." That first Friday, Aviv reminisces, they just wanted to do "something different." So they gathered their friends, brought along some drinks and musical instruments and set up a little makeshift bar. Their lighting was the glow of the moon, their DJ was anyone capable of playing an instrument or singing and the dress code, as one might guess, was nonexistent. To his surprise, Aviv recounts, "people kept coming up to us and wondering what we were all doing. More and more people kept joining us and it turned out to be a very fun party." Spontaneously and unexpectedly, Hamachtzelet was established. From that Friday on, these partying pioneers have not missed a beat. Every Friday, their pseudo-bar is setup and all are invited for drinks, music, dancing and fun. Many even sport their own T-shirts with "Hamachtzelet" written in bold letters on the back. Up to 100 people tend to gather. Occasionally, they have been weeded out by neighbors or forced to lower the volume. But like persistent settlers, they always return. To many of the youngsters who congregate at Hamachtzelet on Fridays, its ambiance represents the antithesis of the pretentious Tel Aviv night life. Bar, an 18 year-old who frequents Hamachtzelet, says "Here, everyone is welcome. I can hang out with my older cousin, who might have otherwise been hanging out at a bar where the minimum age is 24. Plus drinks are free here. In bars you spend NIS 50 just to have a couple of beers." Running for about one year now, Hamachtzelet has already provided many fans with great memories. One of the founding members, Amir Ben-Nun, says he met his girlfriend there nine months ago. While the atmosphere in bars and clubs can sometimes be too raucous to be able to carry on a fluid conversation, the acoustic guitars at Hamachtzelet are fairly easy on the ears. The guitar and harmonica jam sessions and all-night dancing are conducive to a social environment that has strangers interacting as if they've known each other for years. A 22-year-old American-Israeli student at the Weizmann Institute of Science, says he and his friend Leor Radbil found the place by complete accident after being turned down by the Breakfast Club, across the street on Sderot Rothschild, for being too young. As soon as he walked on to the machtzelet, Eran was amazed at how friendly everyone was. He was also pleased to see that certain people still just go out simply for the sake of having fun. "This place is like a rebellion to the pozot (slang for elitists) of Tel Aviv," he said.