Originally published in Out April, 2008, issue 173
Considering that it's barely 60 years old, Israel has become quite gay quite quickly, and nowhere more so than in Tel Aviv, its boy- and Bauhaus-filled commercial, cultural and culinary capital.
This sunny seaside town, with its Miami-esque Mediterranean promenade and easygoing caf? culture, is packed with the kind of "we're here, we're queer" vibe more typically found in Sydney and San Francisco than in one of the most conservative regions in the world.
But it wasn't always this way. Just a decade ago the country witnessed its first televised gay kiss, courtesy of producer-director couple Eytan Fox and Gal Uchovsky, who went on to make the iconic gay-themed Israeli films "The Bubble" and "Yossi & Jagger." "The Bubble," in particular, presented an air-kissing, gym-going, chest-shaving Tel Aviv that -- at least for visitors -- is not so far from the truth.
There are easy-access saunas, a troika of sex clubs, cruising and sunning on gay beaches and plenty of high-culture diversions like symphony, opera, dance and theater -- with many performances in English.
31 Yavne St.; 011-972-3-5669559
Evita is one of Tel Aviv's rare true lounges, with comfy furniture, a full dining menu and an excellent range of cocktails. Its three owners are thoroughly tall, dark and handsome, and the casual vibe ensures a welcome balance between professional types and just-out club kids.
37 Nahalat Binyamin St.; 011-972-54-7750707
Serving both cocktails and light cuisine, this split-level lounge bar includes a gallery and events space up top, while the downstairs bar features rotating DJs spinning an eclectic mix of punk, electro, classic soul and deep New York-style house.
7 Levontine St.; 011-972-3-5605084
Opened late last year, this is a performance space established by New York City jazz musician Assif Tsahar and Ilan Volkov, the Israeli-born conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The duplex club showcases the best of local and international punk, rock, jazz and modern classical. Its queer Yod party (Yod.shoyn.com) is an '80s hitfest starring Madonna, Morrissey, et al.
70 Ibn Gvirol St.; 011-972-3-6967111
With its art deco atmosphere, authentic Parisian menu and prime city-center location, Brasserie lures everyone from politicians to celebs, army officers to high-tech whiz kids. Do as they do and park yourself on one of Brasserie's rich wooden banquettes to enjoy Left Bank classics like oysters, steak tartare, braised short ribs and coq au vin.
Martha Kitchen and Bar
26 Ibn Gvirol St.; 011-972-3-6966843
Owned by Israeli-American fashion designer Elie Tahari (of Theory fame), Martha Kitchen and Bar is an all-hours hot spot with a tasty range of house-made vodkas (flavored with cinnamon, lavender or ginger) and a mod-Mediterranean menu. Come for lunch, followed by a visit to the nearby Tel Aviv Museum, or pop in for a late supper after artsy performances at the neighboring Tel Aviv Cinematheque.
13 Harechev St.; 011-972-3-6878090
Tel Aviv's indie homo haunt of choice which moved to grand new digs in the gritty east end about a year ago. Now housed in a massive, stark industrial space, it hosts weekly rotating DJs and themed party nights, including its (very) after-hours PAG party on Thursdays. Don't even think of arriving before 1 a.m.
Lima Lima bar
42 Lilenblum St.; 011-972-3-5600924
A new weekly party here called the Notorious G.A.Y. delivered an unexpected dose of funk and soul to staid Monday nights. Named in honor of a fallen rap icon, G.A.Y. lures some of Tel Aviv's tastiest fun-seekers, who groove to hip-hop, R&B and disco classics from the '70s to today. The terrace is great for cocktails and flirting in warm-weather months.
Moadon Hateatron, 10 Jerusalem Ave., Jaffa; 011-972-3-5184715; Popring.co.il/site/english.aspx
This monthly party for men 29-plus may have a slightly "aging student union" feel, but it's refreshingly friendly, surprisingly popular and a welcome respite from youth-oriented gay club culture, and it should be adopted worldwide.
Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv
99 Dizengoff St.; 011-972-3-5220249; Bauhaus-Center.com
The bijou Bauhaus Center packs in nearly the entire history of this distinct design genre as it developed in both Israel and abroad. Don't miss the center's art and design exhibitions that are in rotation, and ask about its two-hour walking tour of Tel Aviv's Bauhaus legacy -- conducted in English, Hebrew and German.
12 Kaufman St.; 011-972-3-7951111; Interconti.com
This soaring five-star 600-room glass-walled affair was good enough for Madonna during her hyped cabala pilgrimage a few years back and remains a prime address for both business and leisure. The alfresco swimming pool hosts surprisingly fun parties during the summer.
Nina Caf? Suites
29 Shabazi St.: 011-972-52-5084141; NinaCafeHotel.com
This new five-room B&B is located in Tel Aviv's upscale Neve Tzedek district. Decorated by the owner, it includes custom-crafted original furniture and antiques sourced from Parisian flea markets.