Escaping reality at The Norman

Jonathan Lourie has given his father the ultimate memoriam

The Norman was named by a US travel magazine as the world’s best boutique hotel (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Norman was named by a US travel magazine as the world’s best boutique hotel
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Charming, intricate and elegant describe the Tel Aviv treasure that is The Norman Hotel. A boutique hotel located on Nachmani Street just a short walk from bustling Rothschild Boulevard, The Norman exhibits rich history, exquisite works of art, tasteful interior design, and delectable cuisine.
It was built almost five years ago as a homage to South African native Norman Lourie, the father of its UK-based owner, Jonathan Lourie. Jonathan established the hotel in honor of his father’s 15-year-success, the Dolphin House, Israel’s first luxury hotel, which Norman Lourie built in Shavei Zion, a moshav in the north, in 1950.
Lourie, a film producer, had established Palestine Films, which not only produced Israel’s first feature films, but also became a distributor for Hollywood movies. According to a 1948 article in Variety, he was a “one-man film industry” during the 1940s.
His 12-room Dolphin House hosted Israeli dignitaries (its first three presidents, Chaim Weizmann, Izhak Ben-Zvi and Zalman Shazar, all stayed there) and welcomed celebrity guests such as business magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, comedian Danny Kaye and actors Kirk Douglas and Sophia Loren. Author Leon Uris stayed there while writing the screenplay for Exodus, as did the 1960 film’s cast – including Paul Newman and his wife, Joanne Woodward. While it initially saw great promise, its popularity eventually waned, forcing the elder Lourie to close his prized establishment.
The success of Jonathan’s hotel, on the other hand, seems to be growing with time. The Norman is one of Tel Aviv’s top-rated hotels, maintaining its elite status since earning the title of Best Boutique Hotel in the World by US travel magazine Jetsetter in 2015. Last year, Conde Nast Traveler included it on their list of the 50 best hotels in the world.
The minute we walked through the hedge-covered gates, Tel Aviv’s bustling city disappeared and a serene bliss washed over us. As we passed through the lobby’s mahogany doors, our instincts told us staying at The Norman would be a special experience. We immediately noticed the hotel’s unique and detailed design: pastel off-whites dominated an elegant lobby that interspersed modern architecture, such as glass-framed staircases and an elevator, with retroistic lounging areas. Yoav Messer, the hotel’s architect and David d'Almada the interior designer, drew inspiration from the flea markets and streets of London to give a different feel in every part of the hotel.
The staff treated us like royalty, greeting us with smiles, beverages and a private tour led by Eduardo Rodriguez, the front-desk supervisor.
The hotel has 50 rooms with 20 suites. Unlike most five-star resorts, The Norman is intimately personalized. As we traversed each floor, we found pictures of Norman Lourie in his glory days. The black-and-white photographs capture beautiful moments he experienced at Dolphin House. A poem he penned in 1956 entitled “Castle in the Sand” runs down four floors of the hotel atrium for guests to read.
The balance between a familial feel and exceptional elegance is present in every corner of the hotel. Jonathan Lourie leaned into his legacy not only by naming The Norman after his father, but also calling one of the hotel’s acclaimed restaurants, Alena, after his mother.
After dropping off our bags in our quaint yet elegant room, we made our way downstairs to begin our dining experience. We first went to The Library Bar, which resembles a crossover between a 1940s speakeasy and a personal library. The interior of the bar, British-style with ornate wallpaper designs, polished wood finishings and old-fashioned lamps, emitted a cozy yet sophisticated atmosphere. The rays of afternoon sunlight peeking through the lightly draped windows made for a nice ambience as the bartender created our cocktails.
We ordered the bar’s two most popular items: the Crazy Earl, a spicy drink that featured an artistic splash of spices inside of the glass, and the Gringo Punch, a cocktail of tequila, mango purée and homemade pineapple-chili syrup. While the Crazy Earl was smooth with a hint of fruitiness, the Gringo Punch was more tropical with a kick. The Library Bar mainly functions for guests, but is also popular among locals, and fills up for happy hour and afterward on weekends.
We continued our food tour three floors up at the world-renowned Dinings. A branch of London’s premier Japanese restaurant, Dinings was listed among the world’s best restaurants in 2019 by La Liste.
With the sun setting behind Tel Aviv’s highrises to our right, we sat at the sushi bar to observe the five-star chefs in action as they cut dark red tuna like butter with both speed and precision. We began our culinary experience with tuna tartare chips, which embraced a crunchy texture perfectly contrasting with the inside of soft tuna. The mildly sweet tuna, creamy avocado and spice of the Yaki-miso sauce fused to create an extremely satisfying taste.
The Dinings chefs continued to serve us unique dishes that blended traditional Izakaya-style Japanese tapas and modern European cuisine, leaving us more than content when we had to leave for our next course.
We ventured from Dinings to Alena, The Norman’s other acclaimed venue, voted among the best hotel restaurants in Tel Aviv by Time Out.
The elegant indoor-outdoor restaurant is located in the courtyard of The Norman, between the main hotel and the building containing the luxury suites. We sat outside where tables were placed under a cream-colored canopy while others were under the night sky.
We were served the aubergine tortellini, which consisted of ricotta dough pasta stuffed with charred eggplant, butter-infused herbs and asparagus. The al dente tortellini was packed with flavor, as the creamy eggplant and savory but sweet herb-filled butter sauce tied together nicely.
In conjunction with the pasta we shared a double lamb chop. The meat was char-grilled with dark jus, leeks and seasonal vegetables that enhanced the sweetness of the meat rather than masking it.
To drink, we split a bottle of Special Cuvée, Bollinger NV (Champagne, France), a feature item on The Norman’s top-rated wine list. Acclaimed sommelier Shira Tsiddon is the mastermind behind the success of The Norman’s wine list and cellar, which won Best Wine List in Israel in 2017.
Before leaving, we had the chance to relax at one of the world’s top rooftop pools, rated in the top 25 by the Weather Channel in 2015.
The fully glass-tiled pool overlooks Tel Aviv’s spectacular skyline. The Norman’s height allows for a special viewpoint, as one can see the tops of older buildings, look upward to modern skyscrapers, and the Mediterranean Sea in the distance, all at the same time.
Rodriguez informed us that The Norman Hotel would soon celebrate its five-year anniversary. With its half-decade mark, the hotel is set to reach new heights as an old apartment building across Nachmani Street is being renovated into more secluded penthouse suites, hotel apartments, and a large fitness center and spa. According to Rodriguez, the interior designers are constantly creating new ideas for the hotel each year.
Jonathan Lourie has given his father the ultimate memoriam. He has also given visitors to Tel Aviv a luxurious place of escape and rest that features an exquisite dining experience in the heart of a city that never sleeps.
The writers were guests of The Norman