Boho in Florentin

Gentrification in this southern Tel Aviv neighborhood has been incomplete. In this case, that means cheap, good food and an authentic, funky vibe.

old photo tel aviv cafe (photo credit: Archive)
old photo tel aviv cafe
(photo credit: Archive)
Teetering on the cusp of becoming truly in vogue for over a decade, the Florentin neighborhood of Tel Aviv has a lot to offer. This small area in the south of the city balances the influx of trendy bars and furniture studios with ramshackle buildings and dirty streets; and the juggling act works. The slow shift towards gentrification began years ago, jump-started in the late 1990s by Eytan Fox's popular television show Florentin, which featured a group of post-army 20-somethings living and finding themselves in the neighborhood. The neighborhood residents are as diverse as the landscape, ranging from young to old, student to shopkeeper, rich to poor and sabra-Israeli to foreign worker. While rent here isn't low, it's lower than in many other parts of Tel Aviv, leading many to seek refuge from the dog-eat-dog world of brutal prices in the center and north of the city. Despite the popularity of Florentin, and intensive attempts at municipality funding, the gentrification of Florentin is incomplete, especially when compared to neighboring chi chi Neveh Tzedek. Social problems and its location at the edge of the city, bordered on one side by the Ayalon freeway, hasn't helped matters. All this, however, only seems to have done good for Florentin's social scene, which is buzzing with fun restaurants and other hot spots well worth checking out. Don't forget to pick up a bargain at the Levinsky market when you're there. SHIRALEH ESPRESSO ART BAR (Rehov Yedidia Frenkel 18, (03) 681-2010, kosher, vegetarian) is a neighborhood gem named for owner Boaz Ronen's wife, Shira. The walls of the restaurant are decorated with Boaz's own artwork and occasionally the cafe-gallery hosts other exhibitions. As one of the few kosher restaurants in the area, Shiraleh prides itself on having a 'Jewish theme' and the owners say the entrance is designed like a synagogue. They serve up delicious vegetarian fare and traditional Israeli cafe offerings with an emphasis on using organic ingredients. For an added treat, eat out back in the cozy courtyard. Öº Just down the street, sandwiched among the multitude of chic furniture boutiques, EHRLICH CONTEMPORARY ART GALLERY (Rehov Yedidia Frenkel 7, (03) 681-9594) can satisfy more of your modern art cravings with exhibitions changing regularly. Opening hours are Sun., Tues. and Thurs. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wed. 5 to 8 p.m. and Fri. 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The current show, on display until October 19, is 'Realism, Only Part of the Story,' featuring works by Itzu Rimmer and Nadav Peles. The Florentin district has two funky Indian restaurants, both boasting tasty food and laid-backed atmosphere, which seem designed to ease the transition of those returning from their treks across the subcontinent and the Far East. Located on the outskirts of the neighborhood, in the more industrial part of town, 24 RUPEE (Rehov Schocken 14-16, (03) 681-8066, vegetarian) has delicious dal (a traditional lentil dish), low tables and comfy cushions inviting clientele to relax and stay a while. There is also a strict no-shoes policy adding to the feeling that you are hanging out in a friend's (very large) living room. The most popular menu offering is the 'thali,' made up of three Indian dishes (changing daily), choice of brown or basmati rice and naan-like bread, a filling meal for NIS 27. Not to be outdone, SAB KUCH MILEGA (Rehov Hamashbir 22, (03) 681-3412, vegetarian) distinguishes itself with its 'pay what you want' policy. What does this mean? Certain menu items, namely beverages, appetizers and desserts, have fixed prices. But to fill your plate from the main buffet, which includes a wide sampling of Indian dishes, curries, rice and salads, there is no set fee. At the end of your meal you are expected to pay what you find fair, which could be determined by how much you feel you ate or how much you enjoyed your meal. More people end up overpaying than skipping out on the bill. The restaurant has three levels with many seating options including an open rooftop with bar, which gets packed quickly on a warm night. If Indian food isn't your thing, BUGSY (Rehov Florentin 26, (03) 681-3138, not kosher), at the heart of the neighborhood, is a staple of the Florentin scene. From breakfast to late-night, Bugsy caters to all tastes at all hours. You can start your day off here at its juice bar, or with its delicious Israeli breakfast (NIS 39), which comes with all the usual suspects: eggs, salad, bread, jam, coffee, juice, as well as a sumptuous pancake for dessert. Lunch and dinner are also tasty here, with menu samplings ranging from sweet potato tarts to hamburgers (NIS 38 to NIS 48). Or, if nightlife is more your style, come by at night for cocktails and a swankier bar scene. For nightlife at a different pace, check out HUDNA (Rehov Abarbanel 13, 054-524-1601). Far from pretentious, Hudna is as relaxed as it gets. Opening up around 10 p.m., it offers a beacon of light on the otherwise nearly abandoned Rehov Abarbanel, which is full of workshops and industry during the day. The bar maintains an inviting feel with couches and chairs spilling out into the empty street. It's a great place to kick back with friends and enjoy a beer. People are drawn to Florentin for any number of reasons - reasonable rent, hipster-esque culture and proximity to central Tel Aviv. One of the neighborhood's residents, who moved in only a few months back, says he was attracted to Florentin because it was 'cheap, pretty and has a young soul.' So far, it hasn't disappointed.