New tails on the block

Tap & Tail, a tapas and cocktail bar, brings something new to Mahaneh Yehuda

Tap & Tail (photo credit: NIR ROITMAN)
Tap & Tail
(photo credit: NIR ROITMAN)
Jerusalemites Gil Barnea and Matan Parides have been friends since they were 12. The former schoolmates decided to become business partners a year and a half ago.
Barnea has worked in many restaurants and bars throughout Jerusalem over the past five years and has loved it ever since he first set foot on the ginstained floors. He loved the business end of things and learned everything he could about managing workers and how a place runs.
“It became my dream to open up a bar or a restaurant,” Barnea says. “Matan hasn’t worked in restaurants or bars, but we are good friends and we decided to do this together.”
Tap & Tail Cocktail Bar (which is kosher) opened four months ago at 8 Etz Haim Street in the Georgian shuk section of Mahaneh Yehuda. Barnea and Parides sat together in the fall, before opening, and wrote down all of their ideas for something different and exciting, ultimately deciding to offer a selection of tapas (smaller menu items) and cocktails.
They knew they wanted to be in the shuk, because Parides’s family has a long-standing history with the area. His grandfather opened a business many years ago on Agrippas Street called M. Parides Housewares which is still there today. With the Parides family and religious connections, it was easier for the two young men to open up a business in the shuk, where kosher and nonkosher establishments alike must agree to remain closed on Shabbat.
Barnea is studying business management and marketing at the Open University. He admits that the more he learned, the more apprehensive he was about starting a business, but he felt that if they could offer something unique in the kaleidoscope landscape of the shuk, they would have a real chance at success.
“I wanted to open a place that was directed at students,” Barnea says. “The shuk has become more for soldiers and younger teenagers. A few years ago, when friends of mine wanted to go to the shuk, I would say that there is nothing there. But it’s different now; it has changed. We decided to go with a new concept for our place. We give a 12% discount to students with a student ID. Students are really our crowd and also tourists.”
Barnea invented most of the cocktails on offer at Tap & Tail, with the help of a well-known Israeli mixologist, who happens to be a friend of Parides’s family. After receiving some helpful tips, Barnea refined his cocktail concoctions, utilizing friends for tastings.
When Tap & Tail first opened, the only alcoholic options were bottled beer and an array of cocktails, but Barnea and Parides quickly saw that people wanted draft beers as well, so they obliged, even though they felt it made them a bit more like other places in the shuk. But the focus is still on cocktails.
Their best-selling drink is called Lion’s Milk, which is another name for arak. A base of arak is combined with star anise, lemon, almonds and blue curaçao. Customers love the color and the simplicity. Another favorite, especially with tourists, is called Tubi or not Tubi. The cocktail is a mix of the lemon-flavored liquor Tubi with melon-flavored Midori.
In total, there are 16 cocktails on Tap & Tail’s menu. Barnea points out that certain drinks are favored by the fairer sex.
“Women love the Majestic Red,” he says. “It’s a base of rum, lemon, orange juice and strawberries. It has a red crown because we take a wine glass and put it inside grenadine and sugar. That makes the crown of the glass. They love it, they lick the glass.”
The first four months have been a learning process for Barnea and Parides. They have learned what people like and now have a finalized menu after many permutations. When Tap & Tail first opened, they asked people to rank the tapas. In this way, the two new restaurant owners learned what needed to be changed and what should be kept.
Tap & Tail now offers larger dishes, in addition to tapas, after customers expressed a desire to have more menu options. Among these are a whole eggplant served with bruschetta, fresh salad and spicy pepper. There is also a pizza pita, consisting of three personal pies – white, red and green. The white is a mix of cheese and mushrooms, the red is tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes, and the green is homemade pesto. The larger portions allow people to order just one dish instead of multiple appetizers.
The most popular tapas items, according to Barnea, are the fried gnocchi and the coated mushrooms. Tap & Tail offers seven tapas dishes in total and four other dishes. They also have three homemade desserts.
To create their menu, Barnea and Parides enlisted the help of Yotam Bar, private chef turned culinary consultant. Bar has worked with them over the last four months, while they continued to change it. Barnea emphasizes that his counsel was invaluable.
“Still, if we want to change something with a dish, we consult with Yotam,” Barnea adds. “Like on Passover, we stayed open, and he helped us invent a temporary menu.”
When asked what they’ve learned thus far as new business owners, Barnea highlights the need to stay calm and hope for the best.
“You have to work all the time, be with the customers all the time, and to not stop even if it’s hard,” he continues. “The beginning of the business can be a bit frightening, but we made it, we made our dream come true. We will do anything to make this work. It’s like a baby. It’s bringing something new into the world. After four months, we feel more steady, with real menus and more workers, and I think the customers feel that. We can even take days off occasionally. We have definitely become more steady and more calm.”
Barnea and Parides looked at eight venues in the shuk but ultimately decided on the Georgian shuk precisely because it is not right in the middle of the central hubbub. They like that the location is off to the side and that it requires some searching to find. They also appreciate being able to create their own environment with their own music, unlike the bars along the main street of the closed shuk.
“There is bar after bar now, and you can’t decide where to sit, because they all look the same,” Barnea states. “We chose a different location. I think that people can relax more in our place. It’s not too noisy. The customers feel good and at home. It’s the cocktail bar of the people. We don’t have a hostess at the entrance. We don’t want it to be too fancy, just high-quality food and drinks.”
Tap & Tail is now open from 6 p.m. until the early morning hours, depending on the night. With Barnea also in school, it doesn’t leave him much time for anything else. But he says that he doesn’t mind; it is all to make his dream come true.
There were times, when they first set out, that Barnea and Parides weren’t sure they would see the day when Tap & Tail would open its doors. Since they are both only 22, banks were reluctant to give them a loan. It took five tries before one finally took a chance on the ambitious young men.
Then they were told by many people not to bother with Jerusalem; that Jerusalemites wouldn’t know what to do with a tapas bar, and they would be better off going to Tel Aviv, where Tap & Tail would be a huge success. But Barnea and Parides are both Jerusalem- born and Jerusalem-bred, and they chose to stay.
“Every couple of months now, new places are opening. The vegetable stands in the day become bars at night. It’s a funny place,” says Barnea.
“Some people think that we broke the shuk and made it less good, and some say that we helped to improve it. We are very young, and we are both from Jerusalem. We are not trying to bring the city center to the shuk. We are trying to bring something classier than that. Matan and I have worked really hard.
“There were some days that we thought we couldn’t do it, because nobody wanted to help us. But in the end, we did it.”
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