Since 2013, Tel Aviv’s Imperial Hotel, a basic no-frills property adjacent to the beach and close to bustling Ben Yehuda Street, has emerged as an unexpected hot spot. Revelers flock here neither for the affordable guest rooms nor proximity to the promenade but for the eponymously named hideaway on the ground floor.
Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar, a dark boîte shrouded in wallpaper and blinds, was dreamed up by the aptly named Bar Shira, along with his partners Dror Alterovich and Gilad and David Livnat. While Tel Aviv has long been lauded for its lively street food culture, and with myriad terraces are packed with diners sipping quality Israeli wine, the cocktail scene has lagged behind. Shira, now a 15-year drink-slinging vet, set out to change that by “opening a bar that elevated our profession to a higher standard—an international one—and by giving the industry a worthwhile place to hang out in, which we felt was missing,” he says.
Thyme to Kill
A relaxed yet sultry space, designed to conjure a bygone officers’ club in colonial India or a French-owned hotel in Vietnam, Imperial is small, with just a few tables and chairs around the bar. It’s filled nightly with a mix of off-duty bartenders and imbibers who make reservations in advance to order cocktails defined by such categories as Fresh, Bitter and Deep & Aged.
After watching his friend tend bar in a New York jazz dive, Shira was also inspired to get behind the stick and did so as a law student. Since that adventurous foray, he’s helped put the Middle East, a region often limited by complex religious constraints, on the map as a modern drinks destination that is only growing more alluring.
Even in conservative Jerusalem, one of the world’s most sacred cities, well-wrought tipples are now made at Gatsby Cocktail Room. “It’s booming,” says Shira of Israel’s ascendant predilection for proper drinks. “There are more events and competitions, more venues opening and more people interested in the craft and coming to see what the hell is going on here.”
One place that will surely be a draw is Imperial Red, soon to debut at Cramim Resort & Spa, a wellness hotel big on vinotherapy treatments in the Judean wine region, just 15 minutes outside of Jerusalem. At this more luxe locale from the Imperial team, the kosher menu and vast spirits library, adhering to strict regulations, is particularly ambitious. As Shira points out, “It’s new and uncharted territory.”