For travelers, not just tourists

The Drisco Hotel rewards explorers to Tel Aviv’s German Colony with refined restoration of Ottoman-era luxury hotel

THE DRISCO HOTEL in Jaffa’s American-German Colony has been lovingly restored as a boutique hotel named in homage to two brothers from Maine who founded the landmark in 1866 (photo credit: ASSAF PINCHUK)
THE DRISCO HOTEL in Jaffa’s American-German Colony has been lovingly restored as a boutique hotel named in homage to two brothers from Maine who founded the landmark in 1866
(photo credit: ASSAF PINCHUK)
The Drisco Hotel opened in 2018 to restore some of the luxurious Orientalist spirit that its predecessor’s famous explorer guests breathed in during the Ottoman period. 
Acquiring the property and finally restoring the historic structure took about 12 years to complete, and was worth the wait. Originally called the Hotel Jerusalem, it was considered the first luxury hotel outside of old Jaffa’s walls when it opened in 1870, with 57 rooms nestled in the American Colony (subsequently known as the German Colony.)
The developers renamed the hotel after the two brothers who originally built the structure, John and George Drisco, who arrived in Jaffa from Jonesport, Maine in 1866. The brothers had landed as part of a Protestant Evangelical delegation that bought the land plot on which the hotel for pilgrims would be built.
However, the Drisco brothers were forced to sell the hotel to a German missionary, as their finances had evaporated, along with their interest in remaining in a new land where living conditions proved less than ideal. Missionary Peter Martin Metzler briefly used the hotel as a mission for Swiss-German pilgrims, and then sold it to the Temple Society, co-led then by Georg David Hardegg. Hardegg’s son, Ernst Hardegg, transformed the property into the Hotel Jerusalem. Famous explorers and dignitaries including Mark Twain, Thomas Cook, and German Emperor Wilhelm II and his wife Augusta Viktoria flocked to the establishment, enjoying a menu and style reflective of the sensuous Middle Eastern surroundings.
INDEED, THE Drisco Hotel revives the period’s grandeur.
While its setting is caught between the charming cobblestone streets and idyllic Immanuel Church of the colony, it sits just off the more urban Eilat Street that leads to Florentin hot spots and connects to the colorful Neve Zedek neighborhood.
For those who appreciate the restoration details, one will enjoy its Ottoman arched doors and windows, and the delicate tiling design in the bathrooms. The lobby’s Drisco Bar, which also serves as the dining area, is supported by lean marble columns reminiscent of its original style. The velvety seating and hand-painted walls of floral motifs are intended to match the reproduction of the former hotel’s piece de resistance that hangs by the bar area. The boutique hotel’s intimate drawing rooms below the lobby level bear further testament to the care taken to restore the unique German and Scottish-influenced wall paintings that once adorned the Hotel Jerusalem.
The Drisco Suite, where this writer was booked, looked like something out of a Restoration Hardware catalogue: the salon area was complete with a leather couch and handsomely stocked bar (an array of complimentary liquor included); a suite-long balcony was accessible from the bedroom and the salon with large French doors; and a bathroom gleamed with marble and soothing gray tiling that mirrored the Ottoman arch style. A sizable bathtub next to a walk-in shower, speckled with Molton Brown products and all sorts of bathroom accouterments stood ready to pamper anyone who appreciates a lavish bathroom.
Starter classic rooms in the hotel are abbreviated versions of the suites, with a continuation of the delicate tiling, large arched windows and a cozy attic-like structure throughout. The Garden Suite in particular is enchanting, with its access to the hotel’s piazza and a separate private garden balcony, while the sea-facing rooms have access to the hotel’s easygoing rooftop lounge. All rooms contain a Nespresso machine, a smart television, a courtesy mini-bar and a king or queen-sized bed.
The waitstaff were prompt and friendly, with the excellent timing of cheerful housekeeping armed with towels and water.
The hotel’s restaurant, Zada, features a dinner menu that hearkens from a Hotel Jerusalem original, but slightly updated to appease contemporary taste buds. The writer enjoyed the goose confit as a solid entrée, while the artistry put into the appetizers (especially the Gozleme filled with beet leaves, mint, lemon and Tulum cheese) did not skimp on substance, to suit the dining hall’s sultry effect.
The slow trip back to the room includes admiring the genuine simplicity of the hotel’s wooden banister staircase, which reveals the developers’ choice not to go glitzy with the chandeliers or wide spaces one may expect in luxury hotels. Rather, the small spaces allow Diana Krall tunes to sleepily wander through the corridors as one retreats.
The Drisco’s breakfast does not disappoint for an Israeli breakfast buffet either – as most of the customers themselves during the writer’s breakfast were Israeli. An array of cheeses, salads, breads, quiches and all the favorite pastes, tahinis and fixings were complete for a buffet that deserves multiple trips. Zada’s full menu is listed on the hotel’s website for more detail.
If you’re looking to retrace the footsteps of 19th and early 20th century explorers to the Holy Land in search of walking adventures and to relish in their Middle Eastern-glammed lodgings, the Drisco is a lovely boutique hotel answer. The Drisco Hotel prides itself on appealing to the senses and to a sense of curiosity, while still leaving its guests fully pampered and refreshed.
The writer was a guest of the hotel.