Number 9 Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv; early 1930s. Dr. Joseph Burg is having breakfast at the Carlton Restaurant. "At the time, he was a teacher in the Gymnasia Herzliya high school, and like many other bachelors in the young city, he lived in a room without a kitchen," says Benny Cohen - son of Monia (Shlomo ) Cohen, who owned the Carlton, one of the most famous restaurants of the day. "He used to sit at the same table every morning and shave with an electric shaver, a rare modern wonder he had brought from Switzerland, in front of a large mirror on the wall of the dining room.
"Dr. Burg's breakfast included a hard-boiled egg, toast, Tnuva butter, jam and coffee. He knew that pork was served at the restaurant, and asked my father to buy him a special set of glass dishes, on which his modest meal was served. Later I asked him why he didn't ask my father to buy a kosher frying pan, too. 'A hard-boiled egg is enough for me,' replied the doctor. He continued to breakfast on hard-boiled eggs in non-kosher restaurants abroad, when he served as a minister in the Israeli government."
9 Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv, 2010. On the floor above the site that once housed the Carlton, there is now a fashionable bar and club. Cohen, who arrives in the morning from his home in Herzliya, is disappointed to discover that the place where he spent his childhood years is open only in the evening. Courteous and smiling, he crosses the street to drink his morning coffee at 12 Rothschild, a cafe and bar owned by restaurateurs Ruti and Mati Broudo, curiously observing the old-new setting of the place opened by the people from Brasserie and Coffee Bar. Rivka and Avraham Fogel, who were among the founders of Tel Aviv, lived at No. 12, and here Avraham Fogel was murdered with hammer blows in May 1939.
"The mystery of the murder upset the small city, but few really mourned the loss of the irate man who was not exactly popular," recalls Cohen. "The police arrested his son, engineer Yaakov Fogel, as a suspect in the murder. My father turned to Major Brodhurst, the Tel Aviv police commissioner, who was one of the regular guests at the Carlton Restaurant, and asked to be allowed to provide meals from the restaurant for Yaakov, who was in prison. The approval was given, Yaakov was released after a few days, the murdered man's housekeeper disappeared, and the murder was never solved."
12 Rothschild provides a perfect view of the lovely building at 9 Rothschild, one of the first houses in Tel Aviv, which was renovated in the mid-1930s in the spirit of the International style. Benny Cohen continues to gaze at the wide balcony and reminisce. When his father's restaurant was located here, from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s, the balcony stretched up to Herzl Street, almost twice its present size. The restaurant's customers were as cosmopolitan and pleasure-loving as those of the cafes and restaurants on Rothschild Boulevard today. On the straw chairs of the old balcony, in the light of art-nouveau street lamps, sat members of the British administration, mukhtars from Jaffa and petit-bourgeois merchants dressed in tailored three-piece suits. In the two dining rooms, one large and one small, and in the spacious wood-paneled bar - 12 meters long - sat the publicists, headed by Etta and Walish, the designers of the first Hebrew stamps, the lawyers, writers and poets. Avraham Shlonsky used to divide his time between the Carlton and the Sheleg Halevanon cafe.A group of admirers and young writers would gather at his table, avidly drinking in his words and watching him down one vodka after another.
The waiters, dressed in white jackets in summer and black in winter, made their way among the tables, which were covered with white cloths and set with English porcelain plates and glass goblets from Bohemia. In charge of everything was the boss, Monia Cohen.
"It was one of the largest, most luxurious and best equipped cafe-restaurants in Tel Aviv in the 1930s and 1940s," attests his son, portraying his father as an uncompromising aesthete, whose main interests were good food, beauty and the art of entertaining.
The Carlton Restaurant was not Monia Cohen's only initiative in the field. He attempted to establish branches in Jerusalem and Haifa, which later changed owners; he opened the luxurious Ritz Hotel on the Tel Aviv seashore; and in 1945, after the Carlton closed, he opened the Tnuva restaurant on Hayarkon Street. In the spirit of the changing times, this restaurant was more modest in character and design and the menu was dairy and vegetarian. But his faithful customers followed him there. They included President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and his wife Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi; prime ministers Moshe Sharett, Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir; Lt. Gen. Yaakov Dori, Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon and the opera singer Herman Yadlovker. (The latter liked to tell the story of how he had reserved a stateroom for the first sailing of the Titanic, but didn't board the ship because Kaiser Wilhelm ordered him to be present at an evening at the Berlin Opera, in which the Kaiser himself was participating. ) Other prominent restaurant patrons were photographer Robert Capa, journalist I.F. Stone, Marc Chagall and many more.
There were no heirs to Monia Cohen's lifetime enterprise in the restaurant field. Benny, his only son, served as spokesman for the Ministry of Education and Culture, worked as public relations and press attache at the Israeli embassy in Washington, and eventually joined Israel Aircraft Industries and was involved in human resources management. Two years ago, encouraged by his son, Dr. Gadi Cohen, he decided to record his father's story. In a modest, charming book that includes dozens of amusing anecdotes, menus and rare photos, he tells the story of the family restaurants and the origins of Tel Aviv's culture of food and hedonism.
"From Carlton to Tnuva: Impressions and Memories from the Beginning of the Restaurant Business in Tel Aviv," by Benny Cohen, Maarechet Publishing House (in Hebrew )