Two vices too few

Tel Aviv from the bottom of a coffee cup and a beer glass.

espresso coffee 88 (photo credit: )
espresso coffee 88
(photo credit: )
Pullquote: 'In the absence of peace, representational democracy and an intellectual/enlightened populace-at-large, a strict dietary regiment of caffeine and alcohol gets you going and keeps you going' Tel Aviv turns me on. From the beautiful women to the nooks and crannies it has to offer, I can't seem to get enough. Stuck between the Mediterranean coast and Israel, coupled with the malaise of life in general, this city, which combines the best of the First World with the exotic tragedy of the Third, is made livable for two reasons: coffee and beer. Let me explain. In the absence of peace, representational democracy and an intellectual/enlightened populace-at-large, a strict dietary regiment of caffeine and alcohol gets you going and keeps you going. Then, at least one of them can help you sleep. In short, they provide the borders to this otherwise borderless existence. For me, coffee began with LoveEat - we're talking a good six years ago. Back then this place did it all in house at its Rehov Mikve Yisrael location, its first. With its early bohemian appeal, pioneering the appropriate neighborhood, long before tattoo-clad, tight-jeans-wearing, ironic-T-shirt-decked, low-rider-bicycle-riding residents moved in, this is where I first fell in love with that quintessential Tel Aviv beverage, the hafuch (somewhere between a latte and cappuccino). Using beans roasted on the premises and expertly foamed milk, I realized, "Yeah, I could drink one or six of these a day." I didn't, of course. That would be expensively ridiculous. I bought their beans as well, to brew the stuff at home. But what's financially prohibitive is financially solvable. All you have to do is eliminate cost (increased income not being a realistic expectation in these parts - long before the current economic "whatever-it-is" set in). So I began a three-year tenure waiting tables at the Rehov Sheinken mainstay Orna and Ella. Civilians would be shocked at the amount of coffee consumed by restaurant workers. We lived our lives in line with a variant of a popular local phrase, "When your pee's yellow, you've got problems, fellow. When your pee's coffee brown, you're sound as a pound." I discovered an intense love for that bourgeois beverage - the short espresso. It's small, tasty and warm. And your pinky naturally extends on its own when you pinch the itty-bitty mug's handle between your thumb and forefinger. COFFEE, IT should be said, is often just an excuse to occupy a table for hours on end. I saw it regularly at Orna and Ella and I do it myself elsewhere. I don't think a day went by that author and academic Gadi Taub didn't take up a table for two for at least twice as many hours - four - racking up a bill for all of about NIS 20. But he tipped well, an important point of note. My own haunt, until a recent move, was Cafe Sucar on the corner of Pinsker and Zalman Shneor streets. Unlike Orna and Ella (at the time), Sucar had wi-fi, enabling the set-up of a virtual home office. I'd join a handful of others, all facing our laptops as if in some odd, esoteric version of the game Battleship, each warrior armed with coffee. Having spent hours on end at Sucar - some productive, others spent nibbling the skin around my nails to bloody pulp - it has come to occupy a mythological place in my consciousness, a sure sign of a well-loved cafe. When I walk past it now, on rare occasions, I nearly feel pangs of guilt, the weight of a new cafe heavy on me as if I'd taken a new lover while still harboring feelings for my previous one. Hakovshim, my new cafe, located on the street of the same name, was chosen for the same reason as Sucar - proximity to my place of residence. The coffee, Mauro, served at both is great, but the baristas at Hakovshim are probably the best skilled in the country. And so the circle of life continues. My caffeinated mind is pleased that in under five minutes I can be at a round, black table, seated in a faux wicker chair, with a hafuch in hand. One additional note: When there's no time to sit and you're out of beans at home, there remains the option of coffee to go. For such scenarios I always try to bring with a mug from home. After all, that's the decent thing to do. BEER IS a bit more complicated. While geographical considerations are important in choosing both pub and cafe, it's easier to walk a bit further to arrive at your favored watering hole since beer isn't the same type of fuel that coffee is. So while my regular cafe changes every couple of years, I've kept my pub consistent since moving to Tel Aviv half a decade ago. It's safe to say that a person can define himself by his choice of pub, much like some define themselves by their place of worship. I am a Minzar man. From the taps to the music to the suds-stained wood, I never feel as comfortable downing a brew at any other spot - aside from at home. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and - up until a few years ago - 365 days a year, my pub (located close to the Carmel Market and the Yemenite Quarter) is like a hospice for the uncommitted. To make you feel that much more at home, its "happy day" runs for 12 hours, from 10 a.m. till 8 p.m., during which the cheap beer is dirt cheap. Until recently that meant NIS 15 Goldstar by the half liter - the local, metric equivalent of the pint. During the Zionist brew's reign of supremacy, I drank much of it. Though perhaps not enough, since prices were recently raised NIS 5 per glass, a most disturbing development. I've switched to the mediocre Czech beer Staropramen, priced at the ludicrously low NIS 14 a glass, which is cheaper than you think. Since it's less tasty, you drink less of it. Regardless, the Minzar stands as a refuge for all of us looking to numb reality for a few hours. Alongside a nondescript collection of intellectuals, hipsters, artists and no-one's-askings, it's possible to lose oneself while simultaneously being in the thick of it all. And to do so in the safety of a well-loved pub creates just the right environment to take an all-too-brief leave of absence from both misery and happiness, allowing for the digestion of all life's lessons. And when you've succeeded in processing all the parameters of all your existential dilemmas, if you've been able to bring life into focus - just a bit - you can, at the Minzar (one of the all too few pubs offering it on draft) reward yourself with a Taybeh, the only Palestinian beer and the tastiest this region has to offer. Yum!