PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVID VAAKNIN
On a central Jerusalem street, unmarked doors open to reveal a parlor straight out of Roaring ’20s America, where a bulky two-piece telephone hangs on the wood-paneled wall and jazz music plays softly. An attendant slides open a bookshelf to reveal the Gatsby Cocktail Room, a glitzy speakeasy with gilded mirrors, a sleek black marble bar, and waiters in bow ties serving handcrafted cocktails. “For me, the fascinating thing is that people actually find this place,” says manager Libby Tartakovski. “That means they’ve heard about us.”
Since opening in 2014, Gatsby has not only made a name for itself among savvy locals but also has served as a catalyst for a burgeoning cocktail scene—a surprising addition to a city that, unlike Tel Aviv, is better known for its holy sites than its nightlife. “Jerusalem didn’t really have any cocktail bars when we opened, and a lot of people told us this was not going to work, but it worked,” says Tartakovski, who uses fresh herbs, seasonal fruits, and local spirits to spice up the classics and offers only-in-Jerusalem creations such as the Gatsby’s Local Pride, made with herbal Galliano L’Autentico liqueur, homemade coconut cream, passion fruit, lime, and arak, a Levantine anise-flavored spirit. “I don’t think we invented anything, but we have made a buzz. Now more people know about cocktails.”
A similar mix of elegance and creativity can be found at Zuta, an intimate new bar connected to chef Yankale Turjeman’s 1868 restaurant. With indoor seating among stone walls and a patio surrounded by lush gardens, Zuta features a menu that pairs new creations with trending modern classics, such as the bitters-based Trinidad Sour (a wildly popular drink throughout Israel that was invented by a New York bartender in 2009). Order the Maid in Tunis, which mixes cucumber—a vegetable seen in seemingly every salad in Israel—with lime, fresh mint, and boukha, a North African fig brandy.
Tucked in an alley of the busy Machane Yehuda open-air market, Tap & Tail opened in early 2017 in a former butcher’s stall. “The idea was to create a more civilized atmosphere—and with style,” says co-owner Gil Barnea. The To Be or Not to Be features the semi-mysterious Tubi 60 liqueur, which is made in the northern Israeli city of Haifa with citrus, herbs, spices, flowers, and tree extracts. It’s mixed with melon Midori liqueur, lemon, and fresh mint leaves and served in a lightbulb-shaped glass.
Nearby, on the outskirts of the market, Bakshish offers an extensive menu of cocktails served around an ultra-modern square bar with purple and white glass orbs hanging from the ceiling. Patrons sip on creations like Grey Goose vodka stirred with lime, elderflower, lemonade, and freshly snipped basil and rosemary alongside tapas like bruschetta with zatar, honey, and eggplant. “The market is a very authentic and traditional place, but we wanted to bring something new,” explains co-owner Ron Ben Yair.
While all these new spots have no doubt created competition for Gatsby, Tartakovski doesn’t see it that way. “I would be happy if a few more cocktail bars opened,” she says. “I think the city needs it.”