Turning the tables
Calm down, there's enough of everything. And if something runs out there's a place to take it from." Nana Schreier is holding the shift manager's shoulders last Wednesday afternoon, and speaking to her quietly. They are surrounded by a combination of pandemonium and circus: In two hours from now there will be a wedding with 70 guests at her Nanotchka bar-restaurant, which will be closing two days later. In the evening she opens her new place in the adjacent building on Lilienblum Street in Tel Aviv: two stories of a combination restaurant-bar-entertainment spot.
A video photographer is walking around in the midst of everything, recording the last moments of the old Nanotchka for Schreier. The result is a series of events enough to make an average person collapse. But Schreier remains calm. Completely. This is precisely the time when she sits down to be interviewed, looks around and lights a cigarette.
In the 20 years she has been in Tel Aviv, Schreier has established three different places that became institutions, the kind the clientele stayed with - because of the exceptional food, the words of poet Yehuda Amichai written on the tables, the oil paintings on the walls, the always surprising music and above all that elusive spirit called "atmosphere." Her places are unique on the Tel Aviv landscape thanks both to their staying power and the experience they provide. People tend to go to them several times a week, in the knowledge that each time they will experience a different scenario: interesting meetings with people, dancing on the bar or smashing plates on occasion.
Now Schreier is facing two turning points simultaneously: She wants to transfer the magic of Nanotchka to a larger, newly-designed establishment. And in a surprising move, she is entering a partnership in the Breakfast Club at the end of Rothschild Boulevard: a black basement, a club that is considered an updated version of the 1980s Penguin Club - less romantic and more chemical. Schreier, who actually favors a homey atmosphere, says that now it will look different.
Schreier's acquaintances called her a "phenomenon of nature." Perhaps they are referring to the following package of traits, an unusual combination: a dyslectic who reads over 200 books a year but makes terrible spelling mistakes: "I saved a few signs that I wrote here, for the fun of it," she says with a smile. An experienced businesswoman who considers herself a stage director rather than a manager. A perfectionist. A massive consumer of art. A woman whose profession is night life, but is far more establishment and sane that people think.
Schreier is one of the only female entrepreneurs in the night life business, which is dominated by men. She says she learned a lot from Zohara Avitzedek, owner of the Siegel pub in Dizengoff Street, where she worked as a waitress when she started out. Now of all times, in the midst of a recession, Schreier is daring to move her restaurant-bar to a place that is twice the size, at an investment of over NIS 2 million.
The old Nanotchka, which has now closed, is decorated with works of art and furniture that Schreier plans to sell at a public auction at the end of July. She designed the new place together with the talented designer Marta Bar. It contains such design gems as a bar checkered with books, massive copper faucets in the bathrooms, chandeliers and a display of carnations on opening night. "I love installation art so much," says Schreier. "Installations that are warm rather than distant, like those of Bill Viola. The carnations were inspired by Pina Bausch's performance.
"Look, doesn't this look like an installation?" she says, pointing at two older female chefs sitting at a wide wooden table next to the window, rolling pockets of dough as though in a painting by Vermeer.
In all her establishments she serves Georgian food: Dozens of rich, home-style, traditional dishes. In the new place, too. "It's very comforting food," she says. "I wanted a place with food from home, so there would always be something I really want to eat, without preparing it for hours. I brought something new to Tel Avivians: They encountered Georgian food at the bar in the evening, of a type they had never heard of before, about which they had mainly prejudiced opinions. True, I didn't want to forget the language and customs either."
The comfort food is only a symptom: Schreier admits that if there's a long dialogue that she is conducting and is not yet over and won't end, it's with the Georgian home where she grew up. David Tor, her future partner in Breakfast Club, is of Georgian origin, as is the architect Tamara Bar and the chef David Eldan.
She was born in Georgia 41 years ago and immigrated to Israel in 1972, at the age of four, with her father and grandmother. The rest of the family came later. "I remember a very long journey, a train ride, a flight and a ride in a bus, until we arrived in the city of Afula," says Schreier.
The moment etched in her mind is "the moment when I'm walking in a fancy dress and high heels at the age of 12 in the street in Afula, and a gang of children is following me and laughing. Georgians don't buy everyday clothing. Every dress is a wedding dress with three layers and the shoes are shiny, with buckles and high heels. At the age of 12 you put on high heels, never to take them off again. And I told myself at the time: If they want to see me as the exception, as the strange one, I'll go along with it, I'll make it pleasant, interesting."
She adopted the family name Schreier at the age of 18 after the book "Papillon" by Henri Charriere [she invented her own spelling of his name], "because I remember waiting in class for the letter 'tzadi,'" she says with a bitter smile. "When they got to Tzutziashvili, everyone would start to laugh. I told myself that like the hero in Papillon, I would reinvent myself."
At that age she also left her family home in Kiryat Yam and moved to Tel Aviv. "In a Georgian home a girl is brought up for one purpose only: to get married and be handed over to a man," she says. "That's it. You have no other destiny, you have no profession, no schooling, nor is there any need for you to love your intended. He has to be a good match. The women are only servants. And if you choose to leave home because you want a different fate, you leave everything behind and are totally alone. No holidays, no Shabbat and no phone calls. You're on your own."
Not even the Passover Seder? Years later?
"Not even the Passover Seder. Nothing. It's true that you get stronger over the years, nobody can beat you. But sometimes you want things to be different."
On arriving in Tel Aviv she worked as a salesgirl in a Steimatzky book store, studied acting and worked in the Siegel pub. "I was a shy girl from Kiryat Yam, and there I met Shmulik Kraus, Natan Zahavi, Shraga Harpaz," she says. "I learned everything: How to entertain, how to behave with customers, how to create an interesting place. I got an education."
The indissoluble bond with the culture of her parents' home led her one evening to a Georgian film at the Cinematheque, where she met the man who would be her partner in the coming years: the artist Meir Pitzchadze. "There was nobody in the theater, only him and me. I didn't understand the film well enough, the language was hard for me, but I met Meir."
Did you give up the high heels?
"It's a process. Of course I rebelled against the clothing and the lifestyle, but something remained. After you get past the initial resistance and you mature, you discover that you have received a few aesthetic principles. An eye that loves colorful clothing, a desire to dress up. Extravagance is a trait I like."
Schreier often performs in fashion productions and is known as an exceptionally stylish person. Fashion designers like Nait Rosenfeld, for example, chose her to present new models, and she loves fashion accessories. In this area as well, as in her places of entertainment, she has developed an interesting eclectic taste.
She opened her first established with Pitzchadze in Tel Aviv's Florentine neighborhood in 1992. "Meir helped me with the design and related to the bar like a work of art," she says. After four years together they split up, and Schreier went to work as a manager in the restaurants Stephan Brown and Dosco. She met the man who would become her husband, Golan David, and together they opened Nana Bar in Neve Tzedek in 2000. David is also the father of her daughter Eden, who is now nine years old. "When I saw him I knew that he would be my partner and I would have a child with him," she says. "That was the best and smartest decision in both our lives."
The couple separated after three years, and David (who now owns Nana Bar) is a very involved father. "The best I could ask for," says Schreier. She says that motherhood placed her stormy life in a different light. "It's a motivating force. If I sleep four hours over a few days, as happened in the past month, I always manage somehow to be there for Eden when she wants me, there is no alternative. Everything is dwarfed in comparison with her. She's growing up to be an independent, self-confident child. Not the way I was brought up."
When the Schreier-David couple split, she went on to Nanotchka at 28 Lilienblum Street, which opened in 2003, and the crowds followed her. Over time they ran out of the cracked plates they would take out of the closet at the end of an evening, so the customers could throw them on the floor after dancing on the bar. "I just love to see someone's face after he's broken a plate," says Schreier with enthusiasm. "There's a kind of expression of 'I did something wild.' It's a tremendous release."
She enjoys going out. "I always prefer to go out in the evening and meet people, no matter what they are on, over sitting for an hour and a half with Facebook on, only to ask someone 'What's up?' I don't understand that. I for example can hold my liquor. It's my tool. It suits the night. People want to open up at night, to spend their time differently, and if they drink a little they loosen up and interesting things happen to them."
She doesn't entertain much at home. "I don't produce events there," she says.
What does she have at home? "I covet things I like. I have a lot of paintings, statues. Loads of books. I buy used books in large quantities and sort them, and that's how you find the most interesting things. Look what I found for example," she says, producing a thick, luxurious volume of "The Man in the Leopard's Skin" by 12th-century Georgian national poet Shota Rustaveli, translated into Hebrew by Avraham Shlonsky. Inside, the book is densely marked with a pencil. "What beautiful lines," she smiles, caressing the pages. "Where would I find such a thing?"
On Thursday night, a day after the place on 30 Lilienblum Street opened for a dry run, Schreier is sitting at a large bar table at the entrance. She is surrounded by a kind of retinue that hovers around her and takes care of everything. The two-story place is completely full. The time is 9 P.M., the dinner hour. "I don't want any music at all now," she orders the deejay. "No fooling around. Now we're sitting and eating here."
She didn't sleep at all in the past two days. That's how it worked out, she says. In a few hours from now she'll go and collapse at home. For now she is demonstrating an ability to drink alcohol that really does make one think that the description of her as a "phenomenon of nature" is apt. She eats a Georgian filled pastry prepared for her by chef Eldan, and tells about a trip to Georgia with her daughter to explore her roots. She shakes her whiskey glass and explains: "There's no place like Georgia, do you understand? Those are the nicest, happiest, most polite people. How can I explain it?"
Now it's already 11:30 P.M. The clientele of Nanotchka is filling the aisles. Schreier skips lightly over to the deejay's station and slaps him on the back twice. That's the signal. As though someone suddenly released the cork of a champagne bottle, the music becomes louder and the audience rocks back and forth in their seats. Nana Schreier, with precise stage direction, as she wanted it, has done it again.