The influence of Mike’s Place founder Mike Vigoda lives on – appreciation

Rest in Peace, Mike, and thanks for all you have done.

The Jerusalem location of Mike's Place (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Jerusalem location of Mike's Place
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In the midst of this difficult time, I was sad to hear of the passing of Mike Vigoda. Besides the individual tragedy, it also underlines the hard time we are all going through, particularly for those of us from our tiny segment of the population – American and Canadian olim – playing American roots music in Israel.
I can’t say that I knew Mike well – I only met him a handful of times – but I can say that he had a great influence on my life of the past three decades because of the unique establishment he created – Mike’s Place.
 In the early ‘90s I was playing in the Ted Cooper band. Ted and I had lived in Jerusalem for many years, but had recently relocated to Tel Aviv by the time Vigoda opened Mike’s Place in Jerusalem.
Still, we were part of that great “underground” scene of American music in Jerusalem, and loved to travel to the capital to play at various small bars, and when Mike’s opened, we made sure to come up and check it out. It was a real under-the-radar music lovers den, a small half-underground room where a musician or two would be playing – mostly for tips and drinks – but the love of music was real and the friendly atmosphere just made you want to play all night. Mike made young and unknown musicians feel welcome and made a home base for the small intimate scene. Restless Anglo rockers adrift in the Middle East made it their home port.
When Mike had to leave Israel for personal reasons, one of those young musicians, Assaf Ganzman, and his brother Gal, took over, and preserved that special ambience that makes Mike’s Place unique. I became much more involved when they opened the Tel Aviv branch of Mike’s Place in 2002 and in those early years, made it my home away from home, playing acoustic shows on Sundays and rocking with the full band on weekends.
It was a real community feeling, with a regular crowd of ex-pat Americans and Israeli music lovers who came each week. Sometimes it was hard to tell the staff from the customers – the guy drinking next to you on the bar tonight might be flipping burgers in the kitchen tomorrow... never a cover charge for the music but always a tip jar going around for the band and people dancing on the tables on a weekend night.
Mike Vigoda eventually returned to Israel a few years ago, and had been running a small bar in Haifa called Café Tea Pool. Musician Itamar Beck, who was running the blues jam there, wrote a very moving tribute to Mike this week on Facebook, highlighting Mike’s love of music and his mentoring of a small blues scene in the Carmel city.
In these corona days – when small businesses are struggling to survive and the musicians have nowhere to ply their trade – the passing of Mike Vigoda seems even more symbolic and sad to me.
Rest in Peace, Mike, and thanks for all you have done.
Blues musician Dov Hammer will be playing at the Blue Hall Music (Kikar Hamusica), Jerusalem, on Tuesday, July 21, at 9 p.m.