Grapevine: Villa Brown arrives

Pop music was blaring loudly, even though the street is on the edge of an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.

Meir Adoni (photo credit: DAN PERETZ)
Meir Adoni
(photo credit: DAN PERETZ)
The word “boutique” actually means a small shop selling luxury goods, but the word has been appropriated by the hotel industry, and is particularly applicable to Villa Brown, one of a series of boutique hotels that are now dotting the landscape of Jerusalem both in the inner city and suburbia.
There are new ones cropping up all the time in the center of town – on Hillel, Shammai, Mordechai Ben- Hillel and Dorot Rishonim streets, King George Avenue, Jaffa Road, Agrippas, Shlomzion Hamalka and Koresh streets, and more.
Villa Brown, located at 54 Hanevi’im Street, after a highly successful running-in period, held an official opening this month, with invitees coming from all over the country.
Pop music was blaring loudly, even though the street is on the edge of an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. Waiters and waitresses walked around with trays of spicy finger foods and tasty desserts, and at one stage there was entertainment in the small courtyard at the front of the building by way of modern ballet, followed by a spirited tango. It’s not very easy dancing barefoot on stone that has no bounce, but the dancers scored enthusiastic applause.
If the address seems familiar, it’s because the premises – originally built in the late 19th century by Russian-born Dr. Isaac D’Arbela, whose portrait hangs in the lobby – went through several identity changes. In D’Arbela’s day, it was a familiar venue for the party-going elite. In later years it became a vegetarian restaurant and, after that, the famous and enormously popular South American-style meat restaurant Vaqueiro, which was owned and managed by Stanley Lifshitz.
After Vaqueiro closed, the building fell into disrepair and was purchased by the Fondaminsky family, whose forebears were among the Chabad Hassidim who came to Hebron in the mid-19th century and later moved to Jerusalem. Naturally, several members of the Fondaminsky family were present at the official opening, to which they brought some of their friends.
Villa Brown is part of the Leopard Hospitality chain founded by Leon Avigad and his business and life partner Nitzan Perry, together with Nir Waizman, who is the husband of television star Michal Haketana (Little Michal), who is the queen of children’s television and who is expecting twins. Perry is the son of veteran radio broadcaster Menachem Perry, who was also present.
The East-West décor of the hotel, with its bright colors, is inviting, but the rooms are incredibly small, including the public areas. People with a British or Commonwealth background will be pleased to know that the hotel serves afternoon tea with scones at 5 p.m., and breakfast-brunch is available all day till 4 p.m. The guest rooms are extremely compact, with showers but no baths; but strangely enough, the double beds are quite large. There’s a rooftop spa and also a rooftop balcony. The bar in the cellar is very attractive but also tiny.
It was a very emotional evening for Avigad, who, addressing the guests in the courtyard while standing on the balcony, said that he felt a bit like Herzl.
The hotel currently has 24 guest rooms, but Avigad said that because it has building rights for another two floors and that part of the building can extend into nearby Ethiopia Street, the hotel will soon have 80 rooms.
He did not say whether this would affect the room rates, currently running at NIS 1,150 per night for a double room with breakfast and use of the hotel’s amenities, which include a meeting room that can also used for screening movies or PowerPoint presentations. The hotel has signed an agreement with celebrity chef Meir Adoni, who will act as a culinary consultant to the hotel’s in-house chef, Ishai Shoufan.
Guests were arriving from 7:15 in the evening till late at night. Among those in the latter category was Moshe Lion, who was hailed by Avigad as “the next mayor of Jerusalem.”
That being the case, In Jerusalem asked Lion his opinion of the Emek Refaim light rail controversy, to which he replied that in view of the fact that there are so many objections to the light rail running along Emek Refaim, the matter should be reexamined in depth. That didn’t necessarily mean that he would oppose any move to have the light rail on Emek Refaim Street. What it meant was that the whole issue, with all its pros and cons, should be examined again from scratch.
Whether Lion has any influence on Mayor Nir Barkat in this respect remains to be seen, but if he does, and Barkat decides not to make another run for mayor, the time factor could be the saving grace for those involved in maintaining the character of Emek Refaim.