Food for the soul

Nocturno cafe is launching its first entertainment program.

Nocturno is going for ‘the concept of nighttime entertainment with an underground feel’ while ‘keeping noise to a minimum.’ (photo credit: AMIT MAGAL-SCHECHTER)
Nocturno is going for ‘the concept of nighttime entertainment with an underground feel’ while ‘keeping noise to a minimum.’
(photo credit: AMIT MAGAL-SCHECHTER)
Having met many a musician at Nocturno over the years, I can vouch for the place’s musical credentials. And there are plenty of musicians who frequent the place even without setting up an interview date with me. Now, owner Amit Magal- Schechter is putting the café’s accumulated artistic client energies to tangible use as the popular Jerusalem eatery launches its first entertainment program.
Jerusalemites and others from out-of-town climes have long made Nocturno a favored spot for a quaff or a bite, and for getting together with pals. The café started out as a cozy corner enterprise that generally crammed seemingly inordinate numbers of customers into the ground floor area, the snug upper gallery with its endearingly dilapidated couches and armchairs, and the limited al fresco seating. Four years ago, Magal-Schechter realized it was time to spread his wings and move to larger premises.
In geographical terms, it was less a relocation than a subtle shift, as the business moved just a couple of doors along Bezalel Street to far more spacious surroundings in the Me’atzvim Ba’ir (Designers in the City) compound, which incorporates some 20 studio spaces across a range of disciplines.
AS ANY concept professional will tell you, you often undertake such moves at your peril. People get used to their regular café ambiance; some never really get used to new surroundings and may even elect to jump ship and head for another establishment. That didn’t happen when Magal-Schechter and his staff made the street-front transition four years ago, after 17 years on the corner.
The owner has now put lots of money where his dreams are, and the café has shifted into the entertainment business by converting an interior space into a performance and show spot, complete with stage, state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems, and plenty of seating. Typically, in addition to the mandatory café-style chairs and tables, Magal-Schechter has included some couch-like furniture along a couple of walls that adds a nice, homey touch to the cultural milieu.
The idea for adding live entertainment to the Nocturno fare began at the beginning of 2016, when some logistical changes took place at the artists’ studio complex.
“We starting thinking about this in January,” Magal-Schechter explains. “We were informed that Me’atzvim Ba’ir was being reduced from two floors to one. We quickly realized it was the lower level that was going to become available. That suited us, [as did] the concept of nighttime entertainment with an underground feel.”
He says he was determined to provide quality, as well as variety, but also wanted to maintain a healthy modus vivendi with his neighbors.
“We could keep the noise down to a minimum on the lower floor more easily,” he observes. “We very much took that into consideration in terms of the soundproofing.”
Magal-Schechter has clearly gone for broke.
“We spent over NIS 600,000 in the renovation and redesign work,” he notes.
The bar is well-stocked, the stage looks impressive, and the owner is evidently keen to accommodate as wide a cultural consumer sector as possible, including those with an unhealthy habit: The entire rear section of the bar is a smokers’ section; it is enclosed by floorto- ceiling glass with bellows and vents that expel smoke outside the building.
It’s now all systems go, and there have been all kinds of shows at Nocturno over the past couple of months.
The lineup for the coming weeks reflects a fundamentally all-embracing approach, with indie outfit Ouzo Bazooka recent guests, and the ethnically-seasoned rock-pop act Yakir Hillel VeHa’iggud due to take the stage tomorrow evening.
Standup comedy, lectures and spoken word slots also feature in artistic director Ram “Spinoza” Mizrahi’s offerings, and the coming weeks include Tuesday’s electronic music show by Jerusalem-born musician/ producer Adi Ulmansky (as part of the multidisciplinary “After Work Downtown Jerusalem” program taking place at various venues in the Bezalel-Shatz triangle), Arab rapper Muhammad Mograbi and veteran impersonator Moti Giladi.
Add in the hip hop Victor Jackson Trio and a screening of the 2012 Israeli film Testimony by Shlomi Elkabetz, with the director due to attend, and you have yourself one pretty comprehensive program with across-the-board consumer appeal. Mizrahi says there are also jazz, blues and flamenco shows in the pipeline.
MAGAL-SCHECHTER is the most devoted of café proprietors.
Turn up at any time of the day – the place works from 7 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Sunday through Thursday; 7 a.m. up to half an hour before Shabbat starts on Fridays; and Saturday evening starting half an hour after the Lord’s rest day ends, closing at 1:30 a.m.
The thirty-something owner has been around practically since Nocturno first opened its doors.
“I turned up at the corner café as a 15-and-a-halfyear- old youth. It was a new beginning for the lad in more senses than one,” he exclaims. “I was born in Tel Aviv, and my parents separated,” he relates. “I moved to Jerusalem with my mother. We were looking to change our surroundings and I was doing my bagrut [matriculation] studies as an external student, and working at Nocturno was a way to finance that.”
The flame of pioneering spirit burned brightly, even back then.
“There were just two of us working at the café, and we did absolutely everything that was necessary to run the place,” he recalls.
“I’d had a month’s experience at Aroma before that, and nothing else.”
That stint stood him in good stead.
“They taught me how to work under pressure,” he explains.
“At Nocturno, we did the cooking, set the tables, served and washed the floors at the end of the evening,” he goes on. “Nocturno opened three months before I joined and changed hands quickly. The new owner said I’d be managing the place by the age of 17. I didn’t believe him, but that’s exactly what happened. I don’t think I’d give a 17-year-old the chance to run this place today, but this is a very different business.”
It certainly is, especially with the latest entertainment enhancement.
“The great advantage of Nocturno is that it offers a lot of styles of environment at the same time,” says Magal-Schechter. “You can sit on the terrace, you can sit in the interior area or at the bar.
The place is designed to allow people to experience the events in different ways.”
Nocturno is also very much a Jerusalem venue even though the owner proudly notes that it attracts fun-seekers from Tel Aviv and elsewhere.
“The [entertainment] program will reflect the entire cultural melting pot that lives and works in Jerusalem,” artistic director Spinoza says. “And we have lots of events planned that appeal to all kinds of audiences.”
The primarily vegetarian food ain’t too bad either, and my vegan dietary requirements are catered to. With the litany of entertainment-venue closures across the city over the years, the Nocturno development warms the cockles, caresses the ears and titillates the taste buds.
For tickets and more information: (077) 700-8510, (054) 771-7442 and