Not long ago, if an Ashkelon or Be'er Sheva resident were asked what there is to see and do in the northern Negev city of Netivot, most would mention the tomb of the religious sage Baba Sali, or the courts of living rabbis Yaakov Ifergan (the so-called "x-ray rabbi"), Yoram Abergil or Baba Baruch, Sali's son. Today their response might be entirely different: Dando, Troya and Space, the city's three popular nightclubs.
The leisure spots serve not only the city's youth, but also attract clubgoers from the nearby communities of Ashkelon, Be'er Sheva, Omer, Lehavim, Ofakim and Sderot.
Dando, Netivot's first pub, opened two years ago and has quickly become one of the most successful bars in the Negev. It has placed Netivot firmly on southern night owl's map.
"We wanted to bring something new and stylish to the city," said Tal Atar, who owns the club with his brother Dror.
A month ago, the city's second pub, Troya, opened. The several thousand shekel investment seems to have paid off - every night, hundreds of partygoers crowd the entrance to see and be seen inside.
A third pub opened Wednesday night in Netivot, Space, and the hundreds of people crowding inside would not have been out of place even in Be'er Sheva's popular Forum club.
Even while the pub's opening attracted hundreds of partygoers, the city's other two bars were also packed, testifying to the strength of the local nightlife scene.
"I am first of all glad that Netivot is allowing young people to enjoy themselves in the city in places that are tightly secured," said Mayor Yehiel Zohar, who is running for a fifth consecutive term, Wednesday.
"This is significant economic development for the city, which will motivate more investment in Netivot. We should remember that in the coming months, 30,000 additional meters will be made available for commercial space, which will significantly benefit the city," he said.
Some 25 percent of city residents are ultra-Orthodox. Yeshivas and houses of worship stand next to fully-packed coffeehouses, restaurants and pubs.
"The economic development of the city will brand Netivot not only as a pilgrimage site for rabbis [in reference to Babi Sali's tomb], but also as a place where you can eat, go shopping and enjoy yourself. Ultra-Orthodox, traditional and secular residents live in harmony in this city," he said.
City Councilman Eyal Messika, who is also running for mayor, said, "This is a wonderful business enterprise and I wish them success."
The city's nightlife does, however, come to a complete halt on Fridays, to the delight not only of the city's ultra-Orthodox residents but also to traditional and secular denizens who relish their single night of peace and quiet every week.
Netivot is about 20 minutes from Be'er Sheva and Ashkelon, and only seven minutes from Ofakim and Sderot. Netivot's central location makes it ideal to serve the area's partygoing hub.
City resident Shlomi Hen is ecstatic about the transformation: "The pubs are encouraging leisure and party culture in the city, but on the other hand, we have to make sure to monitor outside visitors so that there aren't violent incidents at the pubs."
Itay Trebelsi, who works in public relations, recently moved from a nearby moshav to Netivot. "I'm very surprised that young people from all over the south are interested in coming to Netivot. I'm very curious about what the future will bring. The city of Netivot is breaking myths and becoming one of the capitals of culture and entertainment in the Negev."
City Councilman Ron Stern finds another positive element in the city's pub proliferation: "Not only is it great for the economy of Netivot, there is something else no less important, and that is keeping young people here and going out in Netivot."
Parents say they are also glad they do not have to stay up late worrying about their children coming home from nights out in Be'er Sheva or Tel Aviv.
However, not everyone is thrilled about Netivot's newfound popularity - such as bar and restaurant owners in Be'er Sheva, who for years enjoyed the patronage of Netivot clubgoers.
"Not only do we not go out there anymore, but we also led young people in Be'er Sheva to come to us," said a young Netivot resident. "The day has come that they should learn the way to Netivot, and not only on the memorial day for Baba Sali."