Tel Aviv's Legendary Bars Will Take You Back in Time

They’ve survived all the trends, kept their names, and branding isn’t their thing. Five veteran drinking holes that will leave you happy and pleasantly inebriated

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Grab a beer at Amiram.
Grab a beer at Amiram.Credit: Courtesy Amiram Pub
City Mouse
Gal Sides

They introduced the first beers on tap in Tel Aviv and have been in business for more than a quarter of a century, serving a classic menu and maintaining early opening hours. They are unvanquished by any trend. Declining to succumb to the fate of beloved veteran establishments that have shut down forever, such as Elimelech and Kassit, they have survived into the third millennium. So don your kova tembel, put on those Source sandals – we’re off for a visit to old-time Tel Aviv, guaranteed to raise nostalgia for a period before many of us were born.

40 plus: Amiram Pub

At the turn to Ussishkin Street near the sea, a wall painting of a Guinness beer exudes infinite tranquility. There, behind old wooden doors, one of Tel Aviv’s first drinking places has been operating for more than 40 years. The small bar at Ta’aruha 8 has changed hands a number of times since Amiram and his wife decided to de-tap and see the world. After undergoing a series of managerial metamorphoses, it’s run today by the affable Hagit. The regulars say that even though Amiram is no longer around, the place feels “exactly like 30 years ago.” And, in fact, the pub hasn’t changed very much since it first opened.

On the menu: This is where people come to drink Guinness. And not just any Guinness – the first Guinness in Tel Aviv. And here, too, it turns out, not much has changed. The barrels are directly below the tap, which works with an ancient system of valves and pipes that are no longer in use elsewhere. Mysterious gas canisters do a swirling thing just before the beer streams out – with the proficiency and patience reserved for barmen of the old school. The result is nothing short of amazing: thick, foamy and tasty. For good reason Amiram’s beer has been dubbed “the best Guinness in Israel.” Recommended alongside the beer is a frozen chaser of sweetish, spiced Tekirdag raki (arak’s Turkish cousin). The food at Amiram’s includes shellfish and fish skillfully fried by Hagit. You’ll also find platters of sausages and cheeses – de rigueur in this kind of establishment – and, of course, a rainbow of delicacies from the Levinsky market: pickled and smoked fish, ikra and labaneh from a secret source.

Clientele: A long list of regulars and notables who show up at least once a week. You will find veteran drinkers as well as young folk looking for a taste of the old times.

Hashoftim. A pleasant, unpretentious atmosphere. Credit: Mark Shapira

38 years in the city: Hashoftim

Hashoftim has been opening its gates at midday since 1981. Passersby can spot it from afar by the wooden benches scattered on the sidewalk. The pub, at 39 Ibn Gabirol, is also closely identified with Guinness and evokes a London tavern of 30 years ago. The heavy wooden tables, the beer-themed merchandise adorning the place and the rock music conjure up the atmosphere of a timeless drinking gallery.

On the menu: In the drinks arena, Hashoftim stays up to date with a range of bottled beers. In addition to the Israeli boutique beers that entered the market a few years ago, there are a few intriguing draft beers. One that caught my eye is Filou, a light, strong Belgian pale ale with 8.5 percent ABV. Sip it while munching on a grilled ham and cheese sandwich – as simple as it is delicious – or a generous platter of fried items that can sate three plastered munchers at once.

Clientele: People of all ages who just want to relax with a good beer and nibble on something light in a pleasant, unpretentious atmosphere. It’s a formula that works really well.

Arnold. All in the family. Credit: Courtesy of Arnold

57 years young: Arnold

The place Arnold opened in 1962 was a small restaurant on Rokach Boulevard, whose specialty was eggplant. Three generations later, in its relatively new spot at Shitrit 6 in the northern Hadar Yosef neighborhood, a grandson pours beer in this pleasing veteran establishment. The “all in the family” principle appears to be at work here: the atmosphere remains homey, not least thanks to a long-time staff who know their job, backed up by musical hits of the 1970s and 1980s. The old-style wooden décor catapults you 40 years back in time.

On the menu: Arnold has five beers on tap, each of which is poured into the appropriate glass at the right temperature and with the proper attentiveness – the natural result when you have a third-generation professional bartender. Here, too, there’s a heightened presence of Guinness, which gushes forth from a smart, well-kept setup. At Arnold you’ll want to eat eggplant as homage to the restaurant of yesteryear, and if you have a taste of the Bulgarian kebab, you’ve done your duty to Arnold’s flagship dish.

Clientele: Aficionados of true Balkan food, people who appreciate a quiet, pleasant, family-style experience, and anyone who’s looking for the most decent beer this side of the Yarkon River.

Haminzar. Joker in the pack. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

26 years and counting: Haminzar

Haminzar is the youngster on our list. Since opening at 60 Allenby St., at the corner of Gedera Street, adjacent to the Carmel Market, it’s been a warm home to the Tel Aviv drinking crowd. It’s actually one of the most stable establishments in the city, the kind of place you know in your heart will always be there for you. Like a vintage wine, it gets better over time. Proof: in recent years Haminzar has upgraded its culinary section and elevated itself from “drinking hangout” to a genuine bar, offering one of the best eating menus in the city.

On the menu: Haminzar has a fine selection of draft beers at super-fair prices. Fairness, by the way, is a recurring motif, also reflected in the interesting culinary realm. The regular menu includes classic bar dishes such as the legendary toast, sausages or the Reuben sandwich. The morning menu, served after midnight – Haminzar is open 24/7 – offers a complete and splendid English breakfast. but the real joker in the pack is the weekend menu, featuring the best market picks, from delicate shellfish to roasted variety meats, charcuterie and even steaks.

Clientele: The human backdrop at Hamnizar is the most diverse crowd in the city. This is one of the busiest spots in Tel Aviv, with an outdoor lounge packed with people of all ages, origins and nationalities.

Mati HaMekalel. A classic selection in the munch department. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

46 years in the city: Mati HaMekalel

The mother of all the Tel Aviv hamaras. The corner spot at 41 Matalon St. in the south of the city has been serving drinks for a good few decades and has seen everything there is to see. You can sense immediately the millions of liters of beer that have been poured here over the years, and the stories that have been told in this small space with its four tables max. Mati, of blessed memory, parted from us this year, but his devoted family continues to run the business. Even today, just like 40 years ago, the place opens in the morning and hosts different types and different generations who want their first drink in the early afternoon.

On the menu: This place has one of the city’s veteran Goldstar taps, from which the Israeli-brewed beer flows slowly, with years of experience. The beer at Mati’s is always cold, fresh, foamy and rich: It bears no resemblance to the beverage of the same name that you get when you wear a phosphorescent bracelet at a place close to your home. In the munch department you’ll find the classic selection, which seems not to have changed since the place opened: chopped liver, platters of sausages and cheese, herring, vegetables in olive oil and thickly sliced black bread. Food with drink.

Clientele: Regulars of all ages, though mostly older, people who like to have their first drink early, and avowed fans of original Goldstar.

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