This New Tel Aviv Cocktail Bar Wants You to Drink Like an Italian

Located in a boutique hotel on Rothschild Boulevard, Fontana offers light pre-dinner drinks and snacks – the Israeli version of an Italian tradition

Gin-based cocktails at Fontana in Tel Aviv.
Ben Yuster

From the Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar, named for the hotel in which it’s located, to the Café Nordoy in its eponymous hotel, bars and restaurants in hotels seems to be a growing trend. Now the Fontana bar has opened in the 65 Hotel on Rothschild Boulevard. Part of the bar faces the broad avenue and part looks out on Nachmani, a side street. This new watering hole arose from the collaboration of the Imperial crew – mixologists Bar Shira, Gilad Livnat and Dror Alterovich – with Atlas Hotels, the same team that just a year ago was behind the opening of the Bushwick bar in the Fabric Hotel on Nahalat Binyamin. They classify the Fontana as an “aperitivo garden.”

The aperitivo, a time-honored Italian tradition that has made its way to other parts of the world, refers to pre-dinner drinks served with small portions of food at particularly light prices. The drinks are light, too, adapted to the twilight hours when they’re imbibed as an appetite-arousing preparation for the culinary near future. The drinks are not intended to cause intoxication, but to accompany the food smoothly and gently.

“The aperitivo centers around a drink and something to munch on before dinner,” says Bar Shira of the owners’ group. “We are presenting our version of this custom and offering drinks that are far lighter than in our other establishments. As I see it, they aren’t really cocktails – more in the nature of beverages with a low alcohol content. The aperitivo is a very chic, meticulous concept, and I think ‘casual chic’ describes pretty accurately what we’re about. In fact, if until now we specialized in cocktails, the Fontana is a kind of downsizing of our operation. We serve upgraded drinks like gin and tonic, vermouth and tonic, and spritzes, and give them our interpretation.”

Light cocktails and snacks at Fontana in Tel Aviv.
Ben Yuster

An entire section of the drinks menu is devoted to gin and tonic, using diverse local phraseology, with additions such as citrus peel, geranium, forest fruits, essence of eucalyptus, olives, cherry tomatoes, blood oranges and passionflower. The vermouth and tonic selection includes Martini Fiero with Lillet Rosé, pineapple and basil; Martini Bianco with essence of lemon tonic and pepper leaves, grapefruit, pink pepper, Angostura bitters and tonic water; Martini Rosato with Hendrick’s Gin, orange blossom water, cucumber, rose hips and tonic water; as well as local spritzes (38-53 shekels, or $10.50-$14.70 per drink).

“The aperitivo offers a more elegant culinary experience, very fresh and just right for the many tourists in the city, who are accustomed to having a bite to eat and a drink alongside. It’s also for locals who want a light drink with a business partner, a colleague or friends in an offhand, noncommittal atmosphere. And that’s also expressed in the pocket, naturally,” says Shira. The menu, he adds, is “gentle Mediterranean,” with dishes such as Nicoise salad, fish carpaccio, fried cauliflower or a cheese platter.

Creating a drinks culture

It’s no secret that Israel, though a culinary power, hasn’t created a true drinks culture – certainly not like happy hours elsewhere – not even the custom of going out for a drink after work. It looks as though part of the Fontana group’s vision is to implant that culture locally: early-evening drinks with a bite to eat. To that end, the Imperial staff persuaded the hotel’s owners to subscribe to the vision as well, and were able to reduce the price of both food and drink during the aperitivo hours. “The aperitivo is held here from 5 to 7 in the evening, followed by a particularly worthwhile happy hour, when all the drinks on the menu are offered for 29 shekels, and wines and beers are also reduced in price,” Shira explains. “Beyond that, there’s a 30 percent discount on the entire food menu. We will consider ourselves a success if the place fills up in the early evening with people who work in the area and come to round off the day or hold their last meeting here in a somewhat less formal atmosphere.”

The Fontana bar in Tel Aviv.
Ben Yuster

The menu includes a cheese platter with crackers and a seasonal fruit (46 shekels) and – a variation on watermelon with feta cheese – a plate of watermelon cubes, green leaves, pine nuts and feta cheese (28 shekels). There’s a salad of market vegetables (38 shekels) and a Nicoise salad with Ortiz tuna, Chinese asparagus and a semi-hardcooked egg (55 shekels). There’s also fish carpaccio with prune chimichurri (52 shekels) and fish sashimi with fresh salad (55 shekels), grilled cauliflower with cream of Jerusalem artichoke and pickled lemon (38 shekels), pickled sea-fish brisket with cream of almonds (44 shekels) and a fish slider that is actually a small hamburger. Other options are yuzu aioli with chips (48 shekels), or a corned beef sandwich with mustard, parmesan cheese, rocket and pulp tomatoes (42 shekels). Dessert options include French toast or Nemesis cookies with soft cream and broken mille feuille with crème patissiere and confitures (38-42 shekels).

Fontana, 65 Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv; phone 03-7677699; open seven days a week 17.00-24.00