The party's over

After 20 years, legendary Underground club is closing its doors.

underground club 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
underground club 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It's been at least a decade since I first set foot in the Underground, Jerusalem's infamous dance bar off Kikar Zion, where many a tourist, yeshiva student or Israeli soldier experienced their first kiss or dirty dance.
I was 14 at the time. My friend and I were on a summer trip to Israel. We got fake IDs and lied to our parents about where we were going. We knew the Underground was the place where bouncers didn't scrutinize IDs; cute, impressionable girls were its best commodity.
For many former and current Underground regulars, the closing of the Underground after 20 years of operation is like the closing of a chapter in their young adult life.
The entire block of real estate it sits upon, from the Eastern goods boutique, Goa, to Apple Pizza on Jaffa Road, has been sold to a developer for $6.3 million. The Underground will be replaced by an aboveground multi-story business tower.
A huge bash is planned for its closing at the end of April. The owner is looking for a place in the city center to relocate, but has so far turned up dry.
The Underground has changed since my first visit: Its lower level has been rented by the Old Friend rock bar next door; the floor tiles are chipping; and its blackening stone walls have taken on a dungeon look.
But the loose, fun-loving vibe remains. Guys and gals in their late teens and early 20s (or so I was told) - crocheted kippa wearers, long-haired hippy types, Goth-looking couples and clean-cut looking lads - are all dressed up for a much-anticipated Saturday night out.
Despite being 10 years their senior, young men eye me up and down. Here men can take - and drink - cheap shots without shame or discomfort.
I see my inner teenager in some of the girls standing near the bar although I was never as hooked to the Underground as Na'ama, 19. "It's addictive. I came here months ago. Even if I don't want to come, I come," she says.
Her friend Mulu, 19, a pretty Ethiopian wearing a low-cut blouse, expresses similar sentiments. "It's a crappy place," she says. "The only reason I come is because I love the music. There are no good places in Jerusalem."
She was right about the music. I have encountered very few dance bars in Jerusalem that have no qualms playing Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce and Justin Timberlake and the pop and hip-hop MTV hits that electronic music-obsessed Israeli DJs consider philistine. I actually feel a little nostalgic and begin to move my hips.
I move onto the dance floor - to conduct more interviews, of course. "We love the place. This place is our life," cries Miri, 19.
I ask a pretty, long-haired brunette sensually dancing in the center what she likes about the club. "You have to dance and see for yourself," she says.
I indulge her and get more into the groove, although not as wildly as the people around me, and I actually enjoy myself.
Overall, though, no creepy guys - or girls for that matter - made any sleazy passes at me; I wasn't sure if I should be flattered.
Some clubbers hadn't heard about the closing, and when I tell them about it, they immediately go up to talk to the manager, Shay Houminer, of whom they speak as if he were their stepping stone into Jerusalem nightlife.
Houminer, 26, stands near the entrance every weekend - when the Underground operates - and checks IDs (yes, they do in fact check IDs, he assures me).
As the Underground's manager for the past seven years, he defines the club's closing as "death."
"It's a place people come to enjoy - without poza, games. People just come to dance," he says.
But not everyone is sad to see the Underground close. Limor, a 32-year-old American-Israeli who used to go to the Underground at least once a month about 10 years ago, looks back at her time there in wonder. "I actually went in there? I actually took my body into that place?" she says.
She went to the club for the same reason it draws its regulars today, she recalls: "Very poppy, danceable music."
But she has no intention of returning. "I passed by there recently and I wondered: When is this place finally going to close?"