Behind the curtain

The Curtain Bar and Restaurant gets a makeover courtesy of team Tap & Tail.

Double rum cinnamon cocktail (photo credit: SHAI EZRI)
Double rum cinnamon cocktail
(photo credit: SHAI EZRI)
Jerusalemites Gil Barnea and Matan Parides, co-owners of Tap & Tail, have one of the Mahaneh Yehuda market’s most successful new businesses. The thriving cocktail and tapas establishment has been open for almost a year and shows no signs of slowing down. Unlike many other places in the bustling market that open quickly but close shortly thereafter, Tap & Tail is bursting at the seams nightly with satisfied customers.
Now Barnea and Parides are working their magic on The Curtain, a new eatery and bar at the Koresh Hotel in the city center. Koresh’s owners are two young brothers from the Hava family well known in Jerusalem for owning the building that houses the Great Synagogue, among other buildings. The boutique hotel, which opened in August, is nearly always fully booked, but the bar/restaurant was not living up to expectations.
“They don’t have as much knowledge about bars and cocktails,” Barnea says, “so they contacted us through our Facebook page and invited us to come see the bar and have a talk. They asked us if we would partner with them in the bar and that we could make it into whatever we would like. The bar was already there, but it was really just people who stayed in the hotel who knew about it. They wanted two young people to come and take it over. They heard that Tap & Tail was successful and they wanted us to do the same thing for The Curtain.”
Barnea and Parides chose a different style of decor for The Curtain, given that it is a hotel bar and not an establishment vying for a place in the buzzing Mahaneh Yehuda epicenter. The interior looks chic and classy, without coming off as stuffy or old-fashioned.
“We combined the looks of a few types of bars that we know and sprinkled the Tap & Tail magic onto it,” Barnea adds. “We also use cocktails with local Israeli liquors, like at Tap & Tail. In this way, the cocktails can explain something about Israeli culture to tourists.”
Some examples of the cocktails on offer at The Curtain are the Jamaica Pineapple, which consists of rum, lemon, pineapple and mint. Another, called Double Rum Cinnamon, was invented by Barnea and one of his bartenders about half a year ago at Tap & Tail, where it is also available. It has two types of spiced rum, cinnamon and peach puree. The cinnamon stick is burned before the drink is served to the customer.
“At Tap & Tail, the cocktails are great, but we are full almost every night, so there is no time to decorate the cocktails the way we would really like to,” Barnea states. “When we took over The Curtain two and a half months ago, we decided to take it to the next level and make the cocktails more decorative with more of a presentation. It’s a big bar and we have a bit more time to make the cocktails really special visually.”
Barnea believes that The Curtain’s cocktails can really showcase something about Israeli culture to those unfamiliar with it. This belief was put to the test a few weeks ago, when a couple from London, who were staying at the hotel, sat down at the bar.
Barnea was their waiter and overheard them talking about their visit to the Old City earlier that afternoon.
It was their first time, and after witnessing a clamorous quarrel taking place in the Arab quarter, they were too frightened to continue sightseeing and promptly returned to the hotel.
“I started laughing,” Barnea continues. “They asked why I was laughing and I said that this was not something to be afraid of, it happens all the time. It’s the culture here for people to scream, both Arabs and Jews. This is Jerusalem; the city that combines all the opposing things in the world. Then they wanted to order something. So I suggested that they order a cocktail with a base of Arak because it is Israeli, but its origin is Arabic. We sat together and I told them about Jerusalem and how I have lived here all my life.
The meaning of Jerusalem for me is to combine all these different elements, just like the cocktails we serve. I told them that I went to Mahaneh Yehuda and bought star anise from an Arab man and then alcohol from a Jewish man, and everything combines together. It was their first time in Jerusalem, but not their last.”
Barnea and Parides are busy to say the least; running two successful restaurants, back and forth between the city center and Mahaneh Yehuda. The Curtain is open from morning until night. It begins the day as a dairy cafe. Then in the evening, it morphs into a restaurant and cocktail bar. “We don’t have fries, everything is done in the oven and not in a fryer, which makes the food more healthy,” Barnea says. “This was a value of ours to offer healthier menu items.”
Since Koresh is a boutique hotel with about 30 rooms, even though it is full most of the time, it was important for The Curtain to expand beyond hotel patrons and bring in Jerusalem’s vibrant, cocktail- drinking crowd. While it is still early days, it appears that Barnea and Parides are accomplishing this goal with flying colors. Barnea has been in the restaurant business in Jerusalem for five years now.
He has seen the boutique hotel trend descend upon Jerusalem and believes that it is ultimately a good thing for the city. It gives tourists another option of where to stay besides Airbnb or one of the big hotel chains, and it gives locals exciting new restaurants and bars to frequent.
A recent and temporary addition to the hotel has been the use of the large event hall for students. Barnea and Parides met with a representative from the municipality to create a collaborative workspace at the Koresh for Jerusalem’s university students.
Opened about three weeks ago, students are coming in droves and utilizing the space to study for exams from the early morning until well into the night.
Until the end of February, there is even a special menu for students, who receive 60% off of The Curtain’s regular menu prices. If it goes well, the hotel may offer the collaborative workspace every time there is an exam period for Jerusalem universities and colleges.
“The Curtain looks different aesthetically, but people can recognize similarities to Tap & Tail,” Barnea shares. “Matan and I love black plates, so both places have those. We designed the food and drink menu together at both places as well; Matan is more on the food side and I’m all about the cocktails.
“I hope people who love Tap & Tail will come check out the Curtain.”