Tel Aviv’s notorious Allenby Street offers an array of fun nightlife options to choose from for locals and tourists alike, yet one particular neighborhood bar has stood the test of time. That’s because people love to hear themselves sing and at the Ballenby Bar, karaoke is the main feature.
While the bar hosts freestyle karaoke every Tuesday night, it has also experimented with a variety of karaoke theme nights over the years, including Disney, Hamilton, Musicals, Rock, Eighties, Nineties, and Boy Bands vs. Girl Bands. Different theme nights are what initially attracted different types of clientele. Hamilton and Disney nights have risen in popularity, and those are the nights where the bar is most crowded and lively.
Ballenby, which has undergone a couple of name changes since its inception, has been a staple of Allenby nightlife since 2005.
First, it was known as Temptation, then it rebranded to Stardust, and finally, it was christened Ballenby in an attempt to make a post-corona comeback.
Bar Eliezer, a regular since 2018 who became a Ballenby bartender after being told he simply looked like he was meant to be one by manager Gadi Shapira, has experienced his fair share of wild yet simultaneously wholesome nights at the bar.
One of the most memorable nights that he recalls working was when an enthusiastic group of datiyim (religious people) went the extra mile at a Hamilton singalong night and brought their own props. They even went so far as to print countless A-4 sheets featuring Reynolds Pamphlets in order to physically make it rain on the audience during the performance of “The Reynolds Pamphlet.”
The customers aren’t the only ones guilty of getting way too into character. Eliezer himself once got so invested in his performance of Sugar Daddy, from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, that he tore his meniscus upon jumping down from the bar and ended up leaving in an ambulance. He also happened to be stone-cold sober throughout this entire ordeal. Evidently, liquor isn’t the main ingredient fueling the party at Ballenby – it’s the karaoke itself.
A group of devoted customers managed to keep the vibrant energy of the bar alive during the corona era, even though they weren’t physically present at the bar. Nitzan Green, who has been a regular at the bar since 2019, decided to initiate a Zoom karaoke night once everything shut down in March 2020. Zoomioke was a hit, and became a weekly event to lift people’s spirits up. The attendees created a WhatsApp group chat titled Seger-Dust, in honor of Stardust, which was the name of the bar right before it shut down.
“Before corona, we’d been more like acquaintances at Stardust smiling and waving at each other and occasionally chatting, but we weren’t a tight-knit group,” Green commented. “The Zoomioke nights and the group chat made us into a real community and family. We got to know each other, and the weekly karaoke nights helped us combat the lockdown depression. Two whole years after the original lockdown of March 2020, we’re still a tight-knit group!”
Last month, two members of the Seger-Dust groupchat – Avia Gigi and Elkana Itskovich – got engaged at Ballenby, which is where they originally met. After the two of them performed Jon Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory,” the first song they ever performed together three years ago, Itskovich told their love story to the bar’s clientele, got down on one knee and popped the question.
“It was magical and beautiful and shocking and surprising,” Gigi gushed. “When we finished the song, the screen still read ‘Next Up: Elkana.’ I didn’t know why we were still on stage, and then Elkana started wishing me a happy birthday and telling everyone that ‘Blaze of Glory’ was the first song we ever sang together, and then said ‘a year ago, this friendship turned into love and tonight, this love turns into something more’ as he took the ring box from my friend who in the crowd and got down on one knee and proposed. It was genuinely amazing.”
Gigi continued: “Our story intertwines with the last three years of this bar. We met there, and we made new friends there... Do you remember back in the eighties when there was Cheers with Ted Danson and the idea was that it’s ‘where everybody knows your name?’ That’s Ballenby for me. Everybody knows my name.”
Eliezer, who has launched a music career since working at Ballenby, shared the same sentiment: “The bar is like a home that I grew up in, a lovingness that allowed me to thrive and get in touch with that part of myself. The first time that I actually sang in front of strangers willingly was at Disney karaoke on Purim 2019 when I performed ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ from The Little Mermaid. I knew that I could really perform well, but to get that affirmation from the crowd made me think of doing something with it. I test every new song that I create on friends from the bar. Some of them are really part of the creative process, and some of them are going to be featured in the songs that I’m releasing soon. It’s been super supportive to have that core group of friends to share that passion with. After they got engaged, Avia and Elkana were like ‘you know you’re going to do a 20 minute set for our wedding, right?’ and I was like ‘sure, absolutely, yes!’”
Oren Bunimovich started going to Ballenby in 2016 to mend the pain of Razor Bar closing down. Razor Bar was the rock and metal bar next door at which he frequently was the DJ. He, too, found a new nightlife community at Ballenby.
“For me, the bar is a place where time stands still. It’s a place where I could act young and stupid,” said Bunimovich.
“Everybody needs a place like this in their life, a place that makes them feel alive and Ballenby is that place for me. It represents the chance to go out, enjoy shining lights, loud music and good people.”
To hear more about the Ballenby karaoke community, visit their Facebook page or contact them via WhatsApp at 055-978-4978.