Mike’s Place – home for Anglo culture

Founder Mike Vigoda helped build Israeli-Anglo culture and community

The Jerusalem location of Mike's Place (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Jerusalem location of Mike's Place
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The tragic passing last week of Mike Vigoda, founder of the iconic North American-style music bar with locations in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Eilat, has left a gaping hole in the hearts of friends and family alike.
The loss of Vigoda (who took his own life) represents a tragedy not only to the patrons of Vigoda’s restaurant and his staff, but also to the larger English-speaking Israeli and expat community, who often found a home away from home, an understanding, warm and open environment, and some of the culinary staples Anglo-Israelis and expats are hard-pressed to find in Israel and in Jerusalem in particular.
Born in Toronto, Canada, where he first started as a photojournalist, Vigoda arrived in Jerusalem in the early 1990s after covering the civil war in the former Yugolsavia, only to come to a land also mired in political violence at the height of the First Intifada. In 1993, he opened his now legendary restaurant On Jaffa Road in downtown Jerusalem while the country was undergoing a period of profound turmoil.
While Vigoda did not stay for long, later returning to Canada in 1995 and giving the restaurant to Haifa-born, Jerusalem-raised Assaf Ganzman, the significance for Anglo-Israelis of his (at least at first) hole-in-the-wall bar cannot be overstated. For many who come to Israel and Jerusalem, whether as Sabras, immigrants, expats or foreign businesspeople, Mike’s Place was often the first North American-style restaurant someone craving hot wings, mac n’ cheese and draft beer could find. For both football and basketball fans alike who still cared about their home team thousands of kilometers away, Mike’s Place was, and still is, the central avenue for catching the big game – even at 3 a.m. in the morning.
Reaching a degree of prominence in the Jerusalem social scene by 1999, Ganzman opened a second Mike’s Place near the American Embassy in Tel Aviv and brought in his brother Gal as a business partner. Mike’s Place expanded, attracting more bands, regular customers and many new faces.
The story of Mike’s Place is not entirely one of good vibes and atmosphere, but like the loss of Vigoda himself, also of tragedy. On April 30, 2003, during the Second Intifada, British members of Hamas and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades perpetrated a suicide bombing at the Tel Aviv location, killing Israelis Ran Baron, Dominique Caroline Hass and Yanai Weiss. The hero of that day, security guard Avi Tabib, blocked the suicide bombers from entering further into the bar, preventing an even greater loss of life. Following the attack, the Mike’s Place websites received over 80,000 hits, and after the mourning period of seven days, a remembrance ceremony was held at the iconic restaurant.
Vigoda will have a lasting legacy of introducing the native Israeli public to American and Canadian culture, music and life. In providing a home away from home for all types of people, Mike’s Place and Vigoda himself built a conduit and base for Anglo culture and music in Israel. For Sabras who have never been to North America, Mike’s Place is often the first and best location for getting a taste of the vibe – and in the process, finding a unique community to be a part of.