It has been seven months since Pablo and Lilly went to a restaurant, much less sat indoors at one. But on Sunday, like many others in Tel Aviv, the couple (who did not want to be identified by their real names) treated themselves to dinner at A Place for Meat, a steak house in the trendy Neveh Tzedek neighborhood.
“We took restaurants for granted,” Lilly, 30, told Haaretz, digging her spoon into a rich chocolate mousse sprinkled with orange zest. “I’m so grateful this is open and to be able to just enjoy the small things in life.”
Last week, among other loosened pandemic regulations, the government announced that as of Sunday, restaurants, cafés and bars would be permitted to reopen with restricted capacities. People who hold the so-called green passes, showing that they have been vaccinated or have recovered from the coronavirus, are now allowed to sit indoors, while those who do not have the passes can dine outside. A 2-meter distance between tables is also mandated.
On the night of the reopening, the enthusiasm was palpable on the streets of Tel Aviv, with people lining up outside eateries and raising glasses at the city's numerous outdoor bars.
“It is amazing to be here, to just put my feet under the table and be served – not cooking at home,” Lilly smiled.
“We missed it. It was a really hard time, but I’m so happy to be here with my wife, to enjoy, to go out,” husband Pablo, 29, added.
Making a reservation, however, was not easy.
“We tried to call a few places, but some of them still had the coronavirus voicemail message so you could not reach them. Some said they were not open yet, that they would open on Thursday,” Lilly said. “And then I was just walking by the neighborhood and I saw that this restaurant was open, so I just went in and asked if it’s possible to come tonight.”
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“Everybody is excited,” she added. “Everybody is so happy to feel alive and just want to enjoy normal life.”
For Laurence Harroch, 43, and Susie Baumohl, 45, going out for dinner on Sunday felt like a special occasion as well. They opted for Fu Sushi on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv’s Old North.
Just getting dressed to go out, Harroch said, was exciting. “Too bad it’s not a date and she’s just my best friend,” she joked, as she entered the restaurant for their 7 P.M. reservation.
Baumohl, who has been out of work for the past year due to the COVID-19 crisis, said she is “super tired of cooking at home” and missed the dining experience.
“When you’re with some good friends and you’re sitting at a restaurant and eating delicious food and having a drink – there’s just something about it,” she said. “As nice as it is to do it at home, it’s sometimes nice to be out and to enjoy a different ambience.”
Further down Dizengoff, by the corner of Basel Street, the popular 223 Bar’s outdoor area was full. Waiters in tuxedo-like garb sporting transparent face shields moved between tables with decorated cocktail glasses and hors d’oeuvres.
“Today at 6 P.M. we opened; by 6:01 we were already full of people who really missed us – like we missed them,” said Ariel Leizgold, co-owner of the 13-year-old bar, observing the place from the outside.
“The most significant and important thing that was taken away from us [during the lockdown] was the communication with the public and all the things that come with it: the ability to touch, to see a smile, the reactions, the body language and all these things that we missed very much,” he said.
Although he hopes the policy of reopening restaurants and other entertainment hubs is not just a political stunt in advance of the upcoming election on March 23, Leizgold added that he was “happy to have what we have right now, and we’ll do our best to make it count.”
According to other diners, some Tel Aviv restaurants were not asking to see proof of vaccination or recovery, merely making do with asking people if they had a green pass. However, Lilly and Pablo said they were not concerned for their health while dining at A Place for Meat. They felt it was “completely safe.”
For Baumohl too, there was little to fear. While she might have been reluctant to dine indoors previously, “knowing that only vaccinated people are inside makes me less nervous,” she said, adding she already has a reservation at another restaurant for Monday evening.
“It’s very clear we are 100 percent respecting the rules, protecting ourselves and our clients,” Leizgold said about his bar. “We’ll do everything we can so that this reopening will be a long-term one and not until the next time.”