Mixing pleasure with business

Bar owner Gil Barnea serves delicious ‘innovative’ cocktails in Jerusalem

Gil Barnea pours a martini (photo credit: NIR ROITMAN/TAP & TAIL)
Gil Barnea pours a martini
(photo credit: NIR ROITMAN/TAP & TAIL)
Half-owner of the Tap & Tail Bar in Mahaneh Yehuda, Gil Barnea stirs up happy-time elixirs six nights a week – but he seldom tastes them. The 23-year-old was diagnosed with diabetes at age 13 and has to control his blood sugar levels with an insulin pump.
“I never drink at home, and I’ve never been drunk,” Barnea says with a grin. “I just enjoy the occasional taste, or sips when I’m training staff, to judge the drinks they make.”
How does a young bartender reconcile mixology with an almost alcohol-free life?
“I’m in the business because I love the nightlife; love hosting and entertaining. I learned to balance life and put things into perspective,” he says simply. Hard-won wisdom for such a young man.
Barnea’s health issues exempted him from army service. Instead, he volunteered with Holocaust survivors at the Jerusalem Municipality, while gaining experience serving the public as a barista, preparing and serving coffee at a local Aroma cafe. By the time he moved on at age 20, he’d been promoted to be the cafe’s manager.
Intrigued by alcohol and the bar life, Barnea took the advanced course at the Jerusalem branch of the Zman Amiti (“real time”) Bartending School. “I’d done a lot of reading on the topic even before I took the course,” he says. “I went in knowing a lot about drinks and cocktail recipes.”
At Zman Amiti, he learned the background and history of beers, spirits and liquors, and how to manage staff and finances. He also learned what style of bar he was most drawn to. His concept of a lowkey neighborhood bar with a difference began taking shape.
The course finished, Barnea began working at local restaurants to gain experience. Once more, his strong work ethic got him promoted to manager at one of them – Bolinat. By his early twenties, he’d accumulated a diverse background in restaurant and bar work.
“I started working at a younger age than my friends, because I wasn’t in the army,” he notes.
But, like many Israeli youngsters before starting college, travel and adventure called him – so he took off for Latin America. He learned all about local drinks as he went, especially the cocktail variations using pisco, the grape-based spirit produced in Chile and Peru.
“I liked pisco and brought some back with me. But when I returned home, I realized that while it’s fun playing with drinks from other countries, what I really wanted to do was work with the alcohols of the Mediterranean, especially Israel,” he says.
Planning to open his own bar in the future, he took his psychometric exams and started studying business and communication. In the meantime, he also worked at other bars and received permission from Bolinat to give out his original cocktails for customer feedback. He collected recipes and held tastings. Friends were only too happy to try out and critique his original drinks.
“I thought to myself, I’ve had enough of working in other people’s bars – I want to run my own place.”
A casual conversation with his childhood friend Matan Paribes opened the door to a future that Barnea hadn’t expected to reach quite so soon.
“Matan and I have been close friends since we were 12,” he recounts. “One evening he said to me, ‘We should open a bar together.’ At first, I thought, no, I just started college. But a few weeks later, we sat down and began discussing possibilities.” Tap & Tail, located in the “Gruzini” section of the Mahaneh Yehuda openair market, is the result. Barnea emphasizes that the partners share all the tasks, including tending bar.
Why put a cocktail bar in a side street of Mahaneh Yehuda? On the surface, it would have made more sense to relocate to Tel Aviv, or at least set up in a trendier part of town.
“We both like the shuk,” Barnea says. “Matan’s family has had a business there for a long time. And I’m a Jerusalem home boy; I didn’t want to go anywhere else.
“I looked around the shuk and saw that parts of it are going upscale, with a young crowd coming in at night to eat and drink. I also saw that there wasn’t a bar like the one I had in mind among the eateries. A bar with an easygoing ambiance – music, not too loud, from the 80s and 90s. Blues. Light, savory food, something a little different. And a big emphasis on innovative cocktails.”
It was hard for partners as young as Barnea and Parides to get help from a bank in order to open the bar. But with youthful optimism and persistence, they finally opened Tap & Tail, on Purim a year ago. As much as possible, they source the ingredients for the bar’s food and cocktails from the shuk.
“The shuk inspires me,” Barnea says. “I was walking through it the other day, and saw that strawberries are in full season now. So I took some back to the bar and invented a cocktail based on them, with a vanilla bean in it.” He chuckles and says, “I also like to promote Israeli alcohol. Do you know what Tubi is? I invented another cocktail based on it. I call it ‘Tubi Or Not Tubi.’” Tubi 60 is a citrus-based Israeli liquor made according to a secret recipe.
Tap & Tail is the base for Barnea’s creativity. “I like to organize innovative evenings, where I offer “specials” in food and persuade conservative wine and beer drinkers to try something different,” he says. “We introduce all kinds of details that no one else has. For example, every cocktail has its own kind of glass.
“Our clients are mostly students and soldiers,” he continues, “But we make older people feel at home too. In fact, an older crowd tends to gather here later in the evenings.” The successful enterprise has expanded to provide bar service for private parties, weddings and other events in Jerusalem.
For kosher-keepers, it’s pleasant to know that the bar is kosher. Tourists and anyone more comfortable with English will also be pleased to note that the entire staff – including Barnea and Parides – speaks English. “You can’t work in this business without speaking English,” Barnea says.
Gil Barnea can be reached at gilbarnea94@gmail.com
Tap & Tails can be found on Facebook.
Tap & Tail Cocktail Bar (kosher)
6 Etz Haim Street
Mahaneh Yehuda shuk
Mon-Wed: 7:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Thu: 7:30 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Sat: after Shabbat to 4 a.m.
Sun: 7:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.