I have always been on the lookout for good bars wherever I travel. Whether it’s NYC, Toronto, LA, London or Israel - I am always searching for something memorable, something truly great.
Oddly enough, one of the best bars I have ever had the pleasure of visiting (and I admit I have probably been to a few too many) is located in Jerusalem, a city known for its holiness, not it’s nightlife. The bar I am talking about is a roaring 20s “speakeasy” themed cocktail bar call The Gatsby Cocktail Room. It’s located on Rechov Hillel 18, but chances are you won’t be able to find it…that’s because it’s entrance is hidden in a hard to find nook of the building behind frosted doors with no sign. You just have to know where to find it. (I have taken a picture of the door to help you spot it)
Having entered the front doors you still will not see the bar---that’s because, true to its 1920s prohibition area design, this bar is totally hidden behind a bookshelf!
The Gatsby is very popular and usually full, you can walk in and hope for the best, but more than likely you’re going to need a reservation. You make a reservation by texting them - (English is ok) to this number: 972-54-814-7143. In my experience, you can usually get in within 2 hours of the time you contact the bar. It might be tight, especially on a Thursday night (the most hopping night of the week in Israel).
The Gatsby gets really packed at around 11pm, but that’s when the bartenders start to put on a show. So make sure to reserve a seat at the bar. That’s where you will get to watch all the theatrical cocktail making performances that set this bar apart from any other cocktail bar you may have encountered.
I can’t really underestimate how cool it is to watch the bartenders whip up cocktails. You sit and witness your cocktail take shape in great style. There is a lot of blowtorching, shaker shaking, syrup pouring, and ice chopping magic going on. The bartenders work exceptionally hard on crafting fabulous cocktails and you will definitely be rewarded for their efforts in end as you sip your drink. One drink required the lighting of a set of glasses on fire with absinth liquer. See below.
The atmosphere at Gatsby is as it should be. The staff working in the bar dress the part in 20s attire. The music is usually either really good 20-30s swing or jazz music or electroswing. Sometimes you might catch a live performance from an old time band. The bar has a separate smoking room with very cool hanging vines and comfy 1930s lounge chairs. Design detail is to the T - they even have tin roofing tiles.
You don’t have to take my word for how awesome this place is. It has the number one rating for bars and nightlife in Jerusalem with a 5/5 rating on tripadvisor and over 120 reviews. This place rocks.
While writing this blog I got to chatting with Kfir Bahar, the Bar Manager/Mad Drink Designer of the 40 plus specialty cocktail menu. Kfir started developing and inventing these cocktails in his home as a hobby. His methods are quite something as are the ingredients – homemade fig jelly, juniper berry essences to name a few. The ice cubes are hand chiseled and very large, the glasses are vintage. He said his goal with the bar was to create a “cocktail culture” in Jerusalem. I have to say he’s definitely succeeded and got me hooked.
One thing you should know – a major downside in my opinion for a bar in Jerusalem - is that it is a restaurant bar with food that isn’t Kosher. You need to be careful with the drinks as some of the alcohols are not kosher. From my experience, the staff really can not be counted on to know if a drink you are asking about is kosher or not. However, the ingredients are all listed in a very cool drink menu that you get as a flipbook in a wooden box when you arrive. So you can do what I did and do some digging to figure out which of the cocktails you can drink.
My two favorite drinks at Gatsby are “Penicillin” (where you get to inject whiskey into your cocktail yourself with an old-time syringe) and “Crossroads” – which to prepare requires the blowtorching of real rosemary leaves under your glass in infuse the drink with rosemary aromatic essence. This drink is unforgettable.
The Gatsby bar is slightly pricey for Jerusalem drinking standards, 48-60NIS a drink. In my opinion the quality of the drinks far outweighs the extra shekels. You’re paying for the atmosphere, the vibe and the experience. Here are some examples of the drinks:
This winning combination of great atmosphere, great energy and wildly inventive drinks has made the Gatsby the most popular secret in Jerusalem. If you’re visiting Jerusalem or even if you are a local who has yet to hear, you should definitely try to check out the Gatsby Cocktail room.