New Tel Aviv and Jerusalem hotels bring the arts to life

The hosts of The JPost Podcast – Travel Edition report from two new hotels making headlines in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

 THE ELKONIN rooftop bar and pool. (photo credit: ASSAF PINCHUK)
THE ELKONIN rooftop bar and pool.
(photo credit: ASSAF PINCHUK)

What is a gallery? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it is a building devoted to the exhibition of works of art. 

Accor, Europe’s largest hospitality company, has almost simultaneously launched two new hotels in Israel as part of its boutique MGallery Hotel Collection, each with its own original artistic design and unique story.

Let’s start with the resurrected Elkonin Hotel in Tel Aviv, which has its place in Tel Aviv’s folklore as the city’s first hotel. It opened in 1913, just four years after the founding of Tel Aviv, and was situated in the Neve Tzedek neighborhood.

The first homes were established by Sephardi families in the area 20 years previously and it became a retreat for artists and writers. Russian immigrants Malka and Menahem Elkonin opened the hotel with 38 rooms to provide a temporary home for Tel Aviv’s shining lights, including David Ben-Gurion, Abdullah I of Jordan, and even Albert Einstein. 

The Elkonin changed over time, becoming an apartment building and then an office. By the 1980s it was abandoned. Step forward Franco-Israeli entrepreneur Dominique Romano with a plan to revitalize the abandoned art-deco building to its original glory, paired with a new seven-story glass tower.

THE THEATRON HOTEL and Residences is across the road from the Jerusalem Theatre. (credit: ASSAF PINCHUK)
THE THEATRON HOTEL and Residences is across the road from the Jerusalem Theatre. (credit: ASSAF PINCHUK)

A labor of love that took 14 years to complete. There are now 44 bright new rooms, and two suites named Menahem and Malka in honor of the eponymous founders.

The artsy and feminine MGallery brand is so appropriate for the hotel. Its design by creative director Adriana Shor has taken the plain white palette and straight edges synonymous with Tel Aviv and added curves and dashes of color everywhere: the striped floor of the rooftop bar, the bright terrazzo colors in the hallway carpets, the crenulated effect of the room dressers and the shower glass, and the subtle pink walls on the original stairway at the front of the hotel, with scattered areas of original frescoes from the first iteration of the hotel.

The hotel has refinement everywhere: a Clarins spa with products in every room, thick fluffy towels, exceedingly comfortable beds, and touches of luxury at every turn.

Every gallery has its prized possessions, its masterpieces. The Elkonin has three of them: a landscape, a portrait, and a still life.

The landscape picture can be viewed from the rooftop infinity pool. A marvelous 360-degree view that takes in Old Jaffa to the south, the Mediterranean to the west, the red-roofed neighborhood of Neve Tzedek, the White City, and city skyscrapers, and in the far southeast, you can clearly see the Jerusalem hills

The portrait picture is of the hotel team, led by the immaculate, friendly general manager Morgan Mondoloni. Hailing from a holiday resort town on the French-Swiss border, Mondoloni inevitably pursued a career in hospitality.

Assisted by guest relations manager Alexandre Assedo, they have created a culture of friendly yet professional service throughout making the customer feel very much at home. With a cozy reception area and library-style meeting room – the hotel contains intimate areas giving that home away from home feel. 

The still-life masterpiece of the Elkonin is L’Epoque, the hotel’s restaurant inspired by legendary French chef Joël Robuchon. Robuchon had long planned to open a restaurant in Israel to add to his worldwide empire, but passed away in 2018, two years after receiving his record 32nd Michelin star. Michelin stars are not available in Israel, but the restaurant is managed to the same high standards. 

The team is attentive without being intrusive, the sommelier displays his passion for his extensive wine list, while the waiting staff is informative without being pompous – Mondoloni’s ethos of professionalism shining through.

The food is divine. The ingredients are a mix of locally sourced and quality products from farther afield. There are local cheeses, hotel-made breads, locally farmed caviar, and some outstanding Israeli wines with hard-to-source ingredients imported to complete a menu that blends some of Robuchon’s classic dishes, including his signature potato puree, with very local touches such as labaneh and eggplant. 

The Theatron Hotel in Jerusalem

In contrast, MGallery’s new offering in the capital is strictly kosher with a stunning synagogue. As its name suggests, the Theatron Hotel and Residences is across the road from the Jerusalem Theatre. The 90 rooms offer sleep-inducing firm mattresses, a powerful shower you wish you could take home, and the most luxuriant of towels.

The décor is a mix of crisp, bright whites and earthy browns with public-area feature walls dominated by Kotel-like cladding.

The 15-year project in the making is the first of a series of hotels in Jerusalem to be opened by the Hasid Brothers. They hired high-end hospitality industry leader Sheldon Ritz as general manager. He is determined to make the Theatron the top small hotel in the city.

It is located away from the other main hotel clusters and yet is just a 20-minute walk from the Old City and downtown areas. The management team hopes the already close relationship with the theater will lead to conference organizers taking advantage of the proximity of excellent accommodation and first-rate restaurants to the numerous halls and exhibition spaces of the theater.

The spa by Clarins (whose products are in every bedroom) sits alongside an indoor pool, men’s and women’s saunas, and gym facilities.

The menus are rich and varied, with signature dishes including kohlrabi cooked for 24 hours and served in a cashew sauce to accompany lamb and asado. The wide-ranging breakfast is healthy, fresh, and enticing. The coffee beans are home-roasted. Look out for the cinnamon buns layered with cheese and a cherry hidden within.

MGallery clearly wants to make a statement with its entry into the Israeli market, offering luxurious intimacy, while successfully ensuring it meets the desires of the very different clientele in Israel’s two largest cities. And it has chosen two very contrasting hotels for that purpose – the modern luxury in Israel’s ancient capital and the historic panache in Israel’s modern Mediterranean heart.