When you think of cafe culture in the States, what generally comes to mind is a Starbucks Venti to go, quickly slurped on the subway or at one's cubicle in a high-rise tower. But in Israel, and especially in the country's secular cultural capital, cafe culture is an institution – to the extent that you're sometimes left wondering if people work here at all.
Night and day, on weekdays and weekends, Tel Avivians gather with ritualistic rigor at coffee shops on nearly every block of the city to drink coffee or other beverages, eat a fresh salad or sandwich and, in many cases, to smoke cigarettes – all while chatting with friends, family, first dates or business colleagues.
Tel Avivians of all types – from soldiers to high-tech workers to budding families – take pride in making time for this leisure activity. On Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath, cafes fill up in the early afternoon for breakfast and brunch and stay busy through the evening. (Note: These establishments generally aren’t kosher.)
For some local entrepreneurs, students and freelancers, cafes also serve as provisional offices, offering wireless Internet, electrical outlets and kitchens ready to produce every meal of the day to help avoid brain drain. Most cafes open early and close late – and it's almost unheard of to be asked to pack up and leave, unless it's especially crowded and there's a line of people waiting for a table.
Tel Aviv cafes are also often the best place to see and be seen, as at night some of them take on a relaxed bar-like atmosphere. Nab a stool at the counter to chat with the staff and people watch or snag a table on the sidewalk with some friends. There’s no better way to take the pulse of the city.
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