There are trips where you plan, and plan, and plan – and feel like you visually know a city before you even get there. This was not one of those trips. Knowing I only had one night in Tel Aviv, I didn’t even bother with the thought of research, let alone actually doing any, trusting instead that a friend would leave me in good hands.
I’m so glad I approached this city with blind faith, because in just one night, Tel Aviv captivated me…
The obvious head scratcher here has probably already entered your mind: why come to Tel Aviv for just one night? The answer, is that I wanted to be on board Virgin Atlantic’s first ever flight into and out of Israel. For a plane geek like myself, there’s something a bit magical about an inaugural flight connecting two cities for the first time. The flight landed into Tel Aviv around 8PM, and was departing back to London at roughly the same time the very next morning.
The obvious notion for most tired and weary travellers would be to simply get to the hotel, and get to sleep ASAP. But with encouragement from friends, I did just the opposite, leaving 2 hours for sleep and the few hours I would get to spend on Israeli soil out and about.
After a relatively painless immigration experience, Tel Aviv quickly began to unfold right in front of me. As it did, it occurred to me that I’d never really pictured what it would look like, or how it would feel. My first read was that it was more inviting, warm and unapologetically hip than anything I’d squared in my mind. It’s not that I thought it wouldn’t be inviting, there was just a uniquely inviting buzz about the place at 9PM which even some of the world’s largest cities don’t quite have. This was Tel Aviv by night…
I certainly didn’t expect it, but being in Tel Aviv felt like being in Santa Monica, California, but with the rebellious infusion of nearby Silver Lake. It was cooler than Apple execs on scooters with their Airpods and people seemed to be having more fun too, but come sunset, it’s the only other setting deserving of such picture worthy comparison, other than perhaps Ipanema in Rio.
As we piled out of the hotel, there was a sense of calm and tranquility not often associated with the region. I wasn’t stressed about a thing, and neither was anyone in Mashya, often regarded as one of the best restaurants in Tel Aviv, either. For a non religious outsider like myself, you have to quickly remind yourself on your first visit that you’re near the Middle East, because it feels like the middle of Venice Beach.
Everyone was in their best casual chic, the service was delivered with perfect irreverence and the food was absolutely to die for. I would describe my face as I write this, but the words would take an unfortunate turn. “Any dietary restrictions: meat, dairy, coriander” said our waitress, not long before offering us all a group shot. Why not, right?
After a barrage of beautifully plated modern food at Mashya, it was time for a leisurely stroll along the vibrant beach towards the Imperial Cocktail Bar. It’s quiet at night, but with warm weather and happy people, there was an energy. As someone who fundamentally doubts recommendations from virtually everyone on the planet, I quickly wondered what went wrong as we entered the next spot. I’d heard from many that Imperial is magic, but as we walked in the door of a hotel I was perplexed. Then, the magic door opened.
Tucked into a nondescript borderline backpacker hotel, Imperial Cocktail Bar reminds me of the uniquely “cooler than you vibes” I used to love living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The cocktails, such as the clarified milk punch were absolutely on trend, and the tunes and service affirmed the notion that they knew what they were doing in this bar better than you. Alas, with just 4 hours remaining before a return to the airport, for a process I’d never heard a positive word about – Israeli exit immigration- it was time to retire for the night.
In some cities, you feel as if a meal and a nights sleep is more than enough. In Tel Aviv, I knew full well that I had only scratched 1/1000th of the full experience this city holds, and many kind readers have already given me laundry lists of the next “must do” spots for my return.
Tel Aviv’s main draw is vast, gorgeous Mediterranean sun the city enjoys in tandem with the crescent shaped sandy beaches, which adorns the city from Jaffa to the port and while I unfortunately didn’t get to experience it on this trip, if night is any indication of the vibe here in this modern, open minded city, it’s certainly worth a return journey. And I say that, even though I did get selected for additional screening on departure.
No hard feelings, I’d select myself for additional screening too. It’s not easy explaining an immigration official how or why I’d come to this city for only 12 hours, but it was amusing enough to do so that I’ll be back…