Togas, bling and coffee-flavored beer

In Tel Aviv anything goes. People aren’t fazed by being spotted wearing a pair of slippers that double as walking-the-dog shoes, and by the same token it’s totally acceptable to be wearing heels and a full face of makeup while walking the dog.

Tel Aviv fun cartoon 521 (photo credit: Deborah Danan)
Tel Aviv fun cartoon 521
(photo credit: Deborah Danan)
One of the things I love about Tel Aviv is that as a female of the species, every so often I get the chance to indulge in my girly side and play dress-up. That’s not to say dressing up for a Thursday night in Jerusalem can’t be fun. While the proclaimed center of the world might not be the center of the fashion world, it’s still about the only place that I can get away matching overwashed, psychedelic lunghis purchased in Goa with funky, threadbare neon earmuffs and designer flip-flops.
Problem is, on those rare occasions when I used to fancy going the whole hog and getting out the bling and four-inch heels, I always felt like a fool in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, you get funny looks if you so much as put on eye-shadow for a big night out. Unless, of course, you team it with aforementioned earmuffs in an attempt to look “ironic.” If you look nice just for the sake of looking nice, you risk being the recipient of evil glares that clearly say “arsit” or “freha” (the Hebrew equivalents of “white trash.”)
But in Tel Aviv anything goes. People aren’t fazed by being spotted wearing a pair of slippers that double as walking-the-dog shoes, and by the same token it’s totally acceptable to be wearing heels and a full face of makeup while walking the dog. And as someone who likes to experiment with fashion, this works for me. Nothing over the top, mind, just a “Save water, drink beer” T-shirt coupled with a knee-length tailored jacket and a fire-engine-red wig. Just enough so the fashion-forward regulars at Dizengoff Center can point and say, “Honey, you have style.”
But I think even I went a bit too far when I turned up an underground party in South Tel Aviv wearing a button- down shirt, cream business suit and sensible, beige flats. Oh yes, did I mention that the event was a toga party? And this time I wasn’t dressed in office chic to be “ironic,” I’d actually come straight from an important day at work.
And yet, even in a Grecian-themed, Tel Avivian party – where people wore little more than a sheet wrapped creatively around their body and some sandals from the Arab market – no one raised an eyebrow at my Marks & Spencer pumps. That’s South Tel Aviv for you.
The party was located in the Living Room, a cool hideout on the eighth floor of some office building that you have to walk through about three dodgy neighborhoods to get to.
This brings me neatly to my second topic of the week: Tel Aviv nightlife. A rather broad subject – and no doubt I’ve not lived here long enough to be deemed an expert on it – but nonetheless, I’ve been out enough to fill at least a few column inches.
Back in the day, leaving Jerusalem for a night out in Tel Aviv was usually in honor of some guests from overseas and invariably we’d end up in one of the many bars and clubs that line the area by the port, known as Namal Tel Aviv. In the summer, the place is teeming with local and international revelers that wear enough bling to support a small African nation. However, these days the Namal is sort of like an aging actress who’s lost her sparkle. Or perhaps it’s me that’s aging. Either way, bopping to Sarit Hadad while being blinded by strobes just ain’t my idea of fun anymore.
But neither are the partying activities that some of my fellow expats choose to partake in my idea of fun. The Anglo community in Tel Aviv is rather into house parties, I notice. And it’s always hit-or-miss with these affairs. They’re often on the roof of some apartment building in which reside three American/Brits/South Africans/ Aussies/fill-in-the-blank, and they’re more often than not BYOB (bring your own booze) parties.
The kind I hate. Because no one ever remembers to buy alcohol before the 11 p.m. watershed and then you’re stuck drinking whatever’s to be had at the party – usually some cheap, ethane-smelling beverage of Russian origin.
And to top it off, despite the pumping music – courtesy of the host’s disk-jockeying hobby – hardly anyone ever dances at these parties. You’re usually just stuck in some dull conversation with an even duller stranger about when you made aliya and what you do for a living.
Honestly, I don’t remember a single time in Jerusalem I was ever made to answer those questions while at a roof party. In Jerusalem, you can be sure that people are waaaay too busy dancing like elephants in a ballet class to be even thinking about small-talk. Heck, us Jerusalemites will be busy celebrating the fact that it’s even warm enough to throw a party on the roof.
But back to Tel Aviv nightlife: Another common night out I detest is what I like to call “bar-window-shopping.”
This is where you go to a fancy bar with some funky, new-age name like Freedom – any bars along the Dizengoff or Rothschild stretches will do – and you stand outside on the street like mannequins in a cordoned-off section drinking overpriced beer. It always occurs to me how dumb people look in those bars when they could just as easily buy a beer at half the price and sit on a bench outside the local AM/PM across the road.
And if you want to actually go inside the bar, be warned that the music is far too loud to hold a proper conversation, and yet curiously once again no one seems to be dancing.
But, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, in Tel Aviv, if you haven’t found it, it simply means you haven’t looked hard enough, and the same is true for decent bars. There are some great local dives that remind me of Jerusalem bars with their chilled-out, no-fuss-or-frills attitude. One such establishment is the Minzar Bar by the Carmel Market, a bohemian spot favored by artists and musicians where the beers are still proportionately priced. Or the Dancing Camel, a fabulous craft beer brewpub and a place where you can chill with a top-grade, coffee-flavored beer while listening to live blues.
There are also some good watering holes in the Florentin area, the hippie neighborhood where all the ex-Jerusalemites seem to reside.
Sometimes it’s better to find out what’s going on in different locales on any given night of the week. Monday night in Bar Giora is open-mike night, and whoever cheers on the musicians the loudest is rewarded with free shots. The place distinctly lacks any of the “posa” – pose, or snobby attitude – so prevalent in many of Tel Aviv’s bars, and makes for a great night out if you have musical friends who like to jam and who don’t need to wake up in the morning for work on Tuesdays.
And then of course there is Tel Aviv’s massive underground scene. Fans of electronica, dub-step or drum and bass can find plenty of parties around the city held in places like the aforementioned Living Room. Often, you might feel like you’re partaking in a scavenger hunt just to find the place, and when you finally get there you may only be able to get past the bouncer by uttering the secret password or by showing him the exclusive text message you received in lieu of an invitation.
Just one last word of advice: If you’re going on a night out straight from work, make sure to carry a bedsheet and some safety pins in your handbag just in case the text message mentions that it’s a toga party.