Monday, Jun. 07, 2010


Having mostly sat out the global recession, Israel's economy is booming — and Tel Aviv is its seaside cultural and commercial HQ. High-end restaurants are debuting monthly, boutique hotels are opening their doors and a nascent contemporary-art scene is garnering global attention; once no-go neighborhoods are being spruced up — and properties snapped up — by sharp-eyed foreigners. Throw in year-round sunshine, 10 miles of seafront and a now iconic collection of pristine Bauhaus architecture, and Tel Aviv emerges as the perfect mix of the contemporary and the classic — a place where the locals love to chill at cafés, sizzle on the beach and otherwise block out the regional conflict around them.

1. Museum of the History of Tel Aviv — Jaffa

This facility, tel: (972-3) 517 3052, is housed, appropriately enough, in Tel Aviv's first city hall, a monumental Modernist structure built in 1927. The building was shuttered for some four decades before undergoing a meticulous restoration. Today, the museum runs the gamut of historical and contemporary displays, from the original offices of its first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, to exhibitions of photographs collected from ordinary residents.

2. The Gallery Scene

Much of the momentum behind the city's flourishing arts scene is thanks to a trio of key galleries — Noga, Dvir and Sommer Contemporary Art. At Noga, tel: (972-3) 566 0123, look for local up-and-comers such as Keren Cytter and Ori Gersht. At Dvir, talents such as Douglas Gordon, Jonathan Monk and Adel Abdessemed create mostly abstract works. Sommer represents a slew of blue-chip names including photographer Adi Nes.

3. Ali Karavan

Hummus is more than a mere meal for Tel Avivis — it's a way of life. And locals display an almost sacred loyalty to their favorite hummisiyah. But Arab-owned Ali Karavan, tel: (972-3) 682 0387, is the rare hummus spot whose popularity transcends traditional ethnic, cultural and culinary allegiances. Pop in for their ultra-fresh batches, served either as masabacha (still warm with chickpea chunks swimming in sesame paste) or with foul (stewed fava beans).

4. Design Stores

Israeli design is still in its infancy, but compelling and affordable pieces can be found. In the Dizengoff Center, the SoHo boutique, tel: (972-3) 621 2450, offers the best local product design, fashion and jewelry. At Retro TLV, tel: (972-3) 685 0663, look for vintage midcentury-modern furniture salvaged and restored from across Israel. In the posh Rothschild quarter, Elemento, tel: (972-3) 620 9848, features the work of local Yossy Goldberg, who creates colorful, whimsical pieces for the home.

5. Bauhaus Architecture

Tel Aviv's 4,000 or so Bauhaus buildings collectively called White City are recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. Explore this aesthetic patrimony at the Bauhaus Foundation Museum, tel: (972-3) 620 4664, and the Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv, tel: (972-3) 522 0249. Don't miss the latter's two-hour walking tour, conducted in English, Hebrew and German.

6. Hot Tables

Tap into downtown Tel Aviv's culinary boom at a trio of buzzy new restaurants. Tzfon Abraxas, tel: (972-54) 678 6560, is a cozy boîte from local culinary bad boy Eyal Shani. His slim, split-level hot spot delivers mod takes on Levantine classics like grape-marinated lamb schwarma swimming in tangy tahini sauce. Nearby, Tapas Ahad Ha'am, tel: (972-3) 566 6966, delivers Spanish-styled small plates from chef Jonathan Roshfeld. The seared scallops and tuna a la plancha are foodie favorites. Up the road, chef Eran Shroitman serves up classic Italian at Amici, tel: (972-57) 944 3790.

7. New Neighborhoods

For decades, South Tel Aviv's gritty districts were overlooked in favor of the city's posher northern core, but now hot hoods such as Noga, Gan HaHashmal and Florentine are luring fashion and design fans. At Noga's Rose & Bloom, tel: (972-3) 527 9175, you can pick up small-sized home accessories. In Gan HaHashmal, which has evolved as a hub for the city's 20- and 30-something designers dabbling in everything from clothes to shoes and accessories, Kisim, tel: (972-3) 560 4890, stocks the city's best selection of locally made leather accessories. And in Florentine, top furniture maker Kastiel, tel: (972-3) 683 6334, has opened a sprawling split-level flagship.

8. Manshia Train Station

Tel Aviv's newest attraction is actually one of its oldest. The Manshia Train Station in Jaffa was built back in 1892 to link the ancient port town with Jerusalem. Abandoned for more than 60 years, its elegant, Ottoman-era structures are now open after a half-decade restoration as a four-acre leisure complex,, housing galleries, boutiques, restaurants, cafés and a weekly farmers' market.

9. The Design Museum

Tel Aviv's Bauhaus architecture may be famous, but the city was noticeably short on contemporary architectural flair until the arrival in 2010 of Ron Arad's ruby-red Design Museum, The $18 million venue is the first major public work by the Anglo-Israeli Arad — a swirling, swooshing piece of construction displaying a rotating roster of international design exhibitions.

10. Hit the Beach

Tel Aviv's greatest allure is unquestionably its Mediterranean seashore, which gives the city a Miami- or Rio-style sense of ease and openness. There are eight major beaches in town, each with its own crowd and character. Gordon, across from the Sheraton Hotel, is the most popular (and populist), packed with families, teens and tourists. The beach across from the Hilton is Tel Aviv's gay slice of sand, while the scene between Jerusalem Beach and the Dolphinarium draws hipsters and hippies with its Friday-afternoon drum circles.