Heading out for a night on the town in Israel? Leave any pretension at the door (or in Tel Aviv proper) and head to Jaffa for a laidback Mediterranean vibe with an Arabic twist.
Forget what they say about old dogs and new tricks: With inventive menus, cutting-edge culture and endless live music, the local bar scene has been rejuvenating Jaffa’s ancient alleyways in recent years.
ISRAEL21c recommends these seven hotspots to sample Jaffa’s pulsing nightlife.
- Main Bazar, Olei Zion 7
You can tell a lot about a bar just by chatting to those who tend it. Meet Lo’ai, a local Arab who migrated to Tel Aviv and then as far afield as Los Angeles before circling back to his hometown of Jaffa and settling on Main Bazar, a wonderful, chilled-out pub where everybody knows his name.
This is the type of haunt where, in Lo’ai’s words, you stop on your way to work, on your break from work, and on your way home from work — even when your place of work happens to be the Main Bazar.
During the day, it’s a fabulous little eatery with delicious homemade hummus and by night it transform the graffiti-bedecked alley with all manner of music – including ethnic, hip-hop, jazz, electric — courtesy of its resident DJ or a live band if it’s a Saturday night. Proprietor Aviad Maya sums up Main Bazar thusly: “Hummus by day, drunk by night.”
- Shaffa Bar, Nakhman 3
Another indicator of a good bar is when punters are happy to go it alone. Such is the case of Shaffa, where I met Itai, a late 20-something who schleps out from Herzilya every Monday night to hear the live band – in this case Harel Shachal and the Ottomans – play.
As Itai observes, nowhere else can you hear authentic Arabic or Sufi music in such a small and informal space, and even end up drinking and dancing with the performers. Like the Main Bazar, by day Shaffa is a brunch and lunch spot offering creative dishes using local ingredients and by night pub-goers spill onto the street.
- Akbar, Nakhman 2
Well, there might be one more spot where you can drink and dance and listen to Arabic performers. And it just happens to be down the road from Shaffa at the Akbar.
Akbar has taken over the entire entrance to the Nakhman alley in the heart of the flea market, so be prepared to pay it a visit – even unwittingly. But you can’t help but be dragged in by the liveliness of this place. During live gigs, people are seated on the floor, on bar and makeshift stools, and on each other’s heads – armed with beer glasses and out-of-tune voices as they try and keep up with the arrhythmic twangs of the oud.
Older folk mingle with the younger and restless to jive to Latin reggae, Afro pop, Middle East electro pop – in short, fusion in every aspect of life is the order of the day at Akbar.
- Ramesses, Ha-Gimnasya ha-Ivrit 7
One of the trendiest joints to hit the scene recently, Ramesses is the hotspot for millennials-in-vintage-clothing. Spanning two street corners in the Greek Market and with cool light installations projected on its ancient facades, Ramesses makes for some very Instagrammable selfies.
And just as photogenic is the food: dishes like spinach leaf crab couches and burghul-embellished tartar by Chef Eli Stein – who, it’s worth noting, is just as young and hip as the clientele he serves.
Bonus points for the price point, which is friendly toward leaner millennial wallets. The resident DJ pumps music all night long for diners who also want to dance – just watch out for the cracks in the ancient cobblestones and don’t be surprised if occasionally you’ll get rubbed up against by a Jaffa cat wending its way through your legs.
- Paspartu, Rabi Khanina 8
Papartu is a local place in every sense of the word. It’s where you can shelve your regrets about going to bed early on a Sunday night and rock up in your PJs and flip-flops to order one of a huge range of Israeli craft beer.
This is definitely another of those places where going solo is smiled upon, and you’ll always have a friendly wait staff to talk to. It’s a quieter pub than the rest on this list but gets busy during soccer and basketball season when the games are projected onto screens. The food is great and affordable – don’t miss the home fries.
- Beit Kandinof, HaTsorfim 14
CAP Beit Kandinof in Jaffa is part bar-restaurant, part art gallery and much more. Photo via Facebook
Beit Kandinof is such an assault on the senses one hardly knows where to begin. Part bar, part chef restaurant, part cooperative, part gallery, part studio, part gig venue, the only thing this place isn’t is stuffy – despite its uber-culturedness and jaw-dropping setting.
The enormous, listed building with arched ceilings begs exploration between courses. At the far end is a studio where local and emerging artists work on their craft, and to one side is a miniature gallery showcasing more art. Even in the dining areas a cheeky installation with neon lighting illuminating a ghostly hand might find itself randomly wedged between diners’ chairs.
As Lior Sadam, who owns the place with three other artists in their late 20s, explains, art was the driving force behind everything about Beit Kandinof. “Whereas lots of bars will showcase art in order to serve the bar, we’re coming from the opposite place,” Sadam told ISRAEL21c. “Here the bar’s purpose is to serve the art.”
Another fundamental tenet of Beit Kandinof is doing everything together, whether it’s drinking and drawing simultaneously or eating off the same plate as your dining mates. Chef Shami Golomb does, in his words, “whatever my heart desires” to spice up the already spiced-up menu, consisting mostly of “sharing food.”
Two or three diners might order five or six of these portions. Golomb mixes up Western fare with local flavors. Think whitefish ceviche with za’atar chili or Cambozola cheese on artichoke hearts.
Be sure not to miss Thursday’s “Drink and Draw” nights with art materials and requisite booze all included in the ₪100 price tag.
- Anna Loulou, HaPninim 2
This is where Jaffa revelers typically end the night but calling it a bar is far too limiting. Anna Loulou is a cave of community. It’s where Jaffa’s different identities – Arab, Jew, gay, straight, bourgeois, bohemian, scrimping student, old and young – merge for a drink and late-night dance in a dimly lit grotto-esque room in the Old City.
Like practically everywhere other place on this list, Anna Loulou blends live music with resident DJs and performances by international artists. There are also lecture nights, movie screenings and dance-offs.
Co-owner and programming director Marwan Hawash bats away the hype. “At the end of the day, it’s a bar,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “It’s a place that allows you to be who you are and to feel comfortable.”
Along with three others, the Bethlehem native decided to take over the reins of Anna Loulou after it was poised to be shuttered when its original owners moved to Berlin three years ago. While Anna Loulou often hosts artists from all over the world who have a steady following, the careers of many of its DJs begin and end at the bar itself.
Hawash, who holds a degree in marketing and advertising, said that he aims to expose people to music that they wouldn’t hear anywhere else in Israel. Apart from the standard sets, Anna Loulou showcases alternative Middle Eastern tunes with Turkish, Persian, Egyptian and Palestinian influences.
Anna Loulou’s latest promotion offers 25% off all alcoholic drinks all night long on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays for women on their period. Called “Bloody Hour,” the controversial gimmick has been picked up by media outlets all over the world. And no, women won’t be required to provide any proof. “When you’re ordering drinks just let us know and that’s it,” Moran Barir, a frequent patron of the bar who came up with the initiative, told ISRAEL21c.