A funny thing happened last Saturday night. I had a friend visiting and I was telling her about how crazy my life is here. I'm constantly out until 3, 4 or 5 in the morning. The party scene is always on in Tel Aviv, never is there a dull moment to be found. She wasn't new to Tel Aviv but she was the first person that I could show around through my favorite spots.
We started out our night in search of drinks and small tapas. The bar we found could not have been more perfect. Unassuming, on a side street off a main avenue, outdoor seating with a popular crowd. We put ourselves on the wait list to sit outside, but once we saw the bar inside, we didn't care if the hostess ever found us again. French red wine was served to us in italian style tumblers and doo-wop and american soul music blasted out of the speakers. We clinked our glasses and surveyed the scene before us. This was no ordinary bar. The space was narrow enough to touch the bookshelf behind our bar stools, which interestingly enough was decorated with a library of vintage vinyl records and shelves of fresh cherry tomatoes. The bar we sat at also served as the line cook station. Brown sacks of fresh vegetables, herbs and prime cuts of meat was functional decoration as the chefs behind the bar reached in, grabbed their ingredients, and prepared all dishes right in front of us. We couldn't resist ordering then and there. The menu was only in hebrew so we just deferred to the bartender and told him to order us the two best vegetarian dishes. He kept trying to ask if we liked this, or would be ok with that. We kept dismissing his questions and cutting him off. We had all our trust in this establishment and believed no matter what was served to us, it would be amazing. Our trust was put in the right place. On a piece of, I can only imagine, recycled cardboard came a popular dish of eggplant served over tahini. The eggplant is whole but the skin has been peeled away. It's cooked in a way that it retains its shape, but is of a stringy, soft consistency. It's topped with fresh scallions and a spicy sauce and lay's on top of tahini, to be scooped up with each bite. The second dish was cooked okra in a tomato puree. The bartender tried to warn us that the okra would be slimy but it was melt in your mouth delicious. It was paired with a hardboiled egg and more tahini and was a really good combination of the woody okra and tahini, the sweetness of the tomatoes and then balanced by the egg. We oo'ed and ahh'd with each bite and the bartender winked at us as he poured complimentary shots of Arak. "L'chiam!" We cheered as we drank and ate in bliss.
The night was off to a good start. We went and stood outside to continue catching up on our girly conversation. Like every good Israeli bar, the time it takes to get hit on is always within a couple minutes of claiming a spot. Like clockwork, two Israeli's came over, heard our American accents and started in on the script. "Where you from? Why are you in Israel? What do you do here? Why come to Israel?" It can be refreshing at first for an American new to Israel to receive so much attention so quickly, the pickup scene in America can be downright depressing, but you learn to see this intense interest as the Israeli game and it can be exhausting and annoying. I dismissed these guys very quickly, sure there'd be better men and better times shortly down the road for my friend and I. We finished our wine and I took her to our second stop.
The dive bar we went to next was conspicuously quiet. I just attributed it to the general nature of dive bars and maybe it was still early, it was only just reaching midnight. We got some beers and I ordered olives on the side, I'm convinced, a very Israeli thing to do. With the quiet ambiance of the bar we worked hard to psyche ourselves up for the dance bar we were heading too. We traded funny stories of drunken nights past and even got up to practice "Cotton Eye Joe" in case it came on. By the end of our beer we had a happy buzz on and a party soundtrack in our head.
We walked the 15 minutes to the center, dancing and singing down the street. Again, things seemed oddly quiet. It was like the lead up in a bad zombie film. Everything seems normal and in its right place, but its this non disturbance that should be the tip off that something is off, something is wrong. When we reached the dance bar it was clear something was very wrong. The bar was CLOSED! Never, in my one month here in Tel Aviv had I ever heard of this bar closing. It is a standard, it is a reassurance that no matter how good or bad your night is, you can always end up there. I was so confused, perplexed, hurt. What was going on in my Tel Aviv? Where was everyone? Why was no one out? Why weren't the bars overflowing, the music blasting, the people drinking? I was clearly missing something big here. We walked to another bar that I knew just so we could use the bathroom and then call it a night, to crawl back in shame. This bar also was pathetically empty. The few people sitting inside were sad sights, eyes trained on any new person to walk in the door. I asked the bouncer, why is tonight so quiet? A tired looking soul leaned in from behind the bouncer, "Everyone's tired from the Holidays, they have to go back to work tomorrow." Stupid. It was no coincidence that this party stamina I believed Tel Aviv to possess was happening during the month of holidays. Just because I wasn't in real life doesn't mean other people treated their everyday Tel Aviv existence less responsibly. We went to the bathroom and left the bar in shame.
It was a sobering moment in more ways than one. The next two nights I ended up staying in, I thought my Tel Aviv party spell had broken. I would start on real life and crazy nights and crazy stories would be relegated to the weekend. I shuffled through my room in my slippers and curled up with my book or with past episodes of Homeland. The two days of sleep were necessary and refreshing. In fact, I feel I could use more. But my Tel Aviv hasn't abandoned me. Last night I went to a friends birthday party and ended up 6 drinks deep at the bar and still went to work today. Tonight I'm going to a concert and hoping I'll still be able to function for a 9 am call time. But I think that's what people do here, Tel Aviv.