Jerusalem Hotspots May Get Early Cooling Off Order

Capital bars to throw New Year's Eve parties to protest plan forcing them to close early.

Nightlife mavens and business owners in Jerusalem are fighting a new plan by the municipality to restrict hours of operation at the city's places of entertainment the only way they know how - by partying.

The plan, which calls for closing entertainment venues like restaurants and bars in residential areas at 11 P.M., will be met by protest parties on new Year's Eve.

Sources in the municipality said that the new law was not aimed at harming the partying public or business owners since the existing law is much stricter about closing hours late at night. However, they say, the owners of businesses are all aware that currently there is barely any enforcement of closing hours at night, allowing rogue entertainment spots to pop up outside the city's nightlife areas.

This is most prevalent in the gentrified neighborhood of Nahlaot and the nearby Mahane Yehuda market, which have in recent years become home to numerous small neighborhood pubs, coffee shops and restaurants. The neighborhood, originally a Mizrahi stronghold, has become popular with singles and young families, creating friction between neighbors and a growing demand that the authorities restrict their opening hours. Ultra-Orthodox city council members backed up the demands.

Municipal officials have been busy over the past few months drawing up a map defining exactly until what hour a business in a specific road or neighborhood can be open. The main nightlife zones can operate until 2 A.M., and ones in other zones can remain open 24 hours a day.

In addition, the industrial areas of the city are defined where any business (including those that are not places of entertainment ) can operate 24 hours a day. However, most of the city, including Nahlaot, is mapped out as residential areas where businesses are permitted to operate only until 11 P.M.

This means that a popular pub like Slow Moshe, on Nissim Bachar Street in the heart of Nahlaot, will now be forced to close early.

"I can't believe it will happen," says Moshe Levy, who owns the pub. "I believe Jerusalem must be the most hopping place possible so that it will not become ultra-Orthodox and will stay lively. But if it does happen, it will be a catastrophe. I won't be able to survive."

Highly-touted restaurant Mahaneyuda, which also runs a pub at night, is also likely to be affected. However municipal officials say the map has not yet been finalized and there could still be changes.

Three protest parties have been organized by the Dag Maluah group, together with the Bezalel Academy student union, for this coming Friday night, New Year's Eve.

"The aim is to unite the owners of the businesses," says Yisrael Hess, who is producing the bashes, "because at the moment it is 'divide and conquer.' Those who are [unaffected] on the map think that it might be worth their while to stay mum and to make a profit from the closing of the other businesses. If the law is passed, people will go bankrupt, that is without a doubt. Young people won't want to live in this city. It's is absolutely awful."

Solutions, according to Hess, must be found on a case to case basis any time there is a complaint from a neighbor about a specific business, without trying to close down entire roads or neighborhoods. The map is too rough," he says.

Uri Amadi, chairman of the City Center Community Administration, helped draw up the map.

"The young people have the right to take care of their own needs. The city must not be closed to them," he says. "But part of our duty is to protect that section of the population that may be harmed. This is a dilemma that is not simple and it requires creative thinking. In my opinion, we must adopt what is done in cities in Europe - except for defined entertainment areas, all the pubs must be obliged to close at the same hour." Municipality sources say the new law is actually better for business owners, and they will be able to appeal the early closing hours.

"The existing law does not allow activity in the late night hours and the new law does," one said. "Every business in the city can present a request for a special night permit. The committee will look into it, and if the noise is not going to be a nuisance to the environment, it will be able to operate at night."