I danced with Yael; I danced with Sara; I danced with Noa and Noga and Ren. I danced with Tamar; I danced with Jo; I danced with Itar and Noam and Ben. I danced with Lilah, Miyah, Dina and Meir and Yoha and Ziva were hot. Rina and Efi were mystical movers; Binky and Zak made Ibiza into rumba. Ballet, tip-toes, tight tops, a pirouette; the dancefloor smoky with dry ice and Camels. Kobi and Len spun the discs as Ronen and Bar mixed the drinks and we danced until we were dizzy. I danced with Sunny and Ora and Shuli and they all confirmed what I felt: Tel Aviv is a good place to go dancing.
Go out any old night and you’ll find people at it but the best go out on the best nights and those are the weekend, which begins as the afternoon ends and the sun kisses the horizon on Thursday. What’s the drill? You wave goodbye to your work friends and make arrangements with your old friends and the plans are loose but definite. As in, you will go to the ball – but which? Nights, either longstanding and part of the moonlit fabric of the city or those flyered on paper or in person, are “parties”, as if they’re a bash your friend is throwing and he’s gone a bit overboard with the invitations. But they’re the regular, old-fashioned paying, queuing, we’d-better-know-someone-or-charm-the-doorman nights at clubs, DJed by professionals and administered by businesses. Only better.
“But isn’t this what you thought?” says Noga. “Most parties in Tel Aviv are real parties because everyone knows someone, so everything public seems private and everything private seems public.” Noga Erez is a 27-year-old Israeli pop star with a keen ear for globally admired electronic music (her own and others) and a keen eye on the state of her nation and our funny old world. But tonight she is taking our hand and leading us through a busy, friendly, here-there-and-everywhere Thursday night out in her hometown. And, of course, she’s a good dancer. Later she’ll revise her opinion on everyone knowing someone. “Just look, everyone knows everyone,” she says. And they do; and you could too. It just depends how late you stay out.
In Tel Aviv you can dance anywhere without being laughed out of town. It’s not as if people are getting down and funky while they queue for their morning coffee but they will while queuing for their morning-after coffee. People dance on Jerusalem Beach, people dance in the bars of Lilienblum and Florentin and Rothschild and people nod along to buskers on the boardwalk by the Cassis restaurant near old Jaffa. And then these little parties happen. An old geezer in a battered hat will be strumming an acoustic guitar and a couple promenading in that setting sun will recognise the tune and join in until it swells like a hymn or a football chant or a wake gone fun. On Fridays couples swing dance near the beaches and there are unofficial classes with a bit of jazz; a keyboard, a double bass, half a drum kit and people dressed like Floridians but with real-life teeth and all that rhythm. There’s a lot of living life outside in Tel Aviv and it requires a certain sort of conviction and a certain kind of climate and here they have both. There’s something of Rio de Janeiro about it; in the way that people are proud of, and confident in, their ability to move.
At Otto at 20.00, it’s 27c, the beer’s local and there’s a light start-of-the-weekend tattoo being drummed by feet tapping bar stools. At Café Europa at 21.30 we order fish and white wine and the music’s good enough to dance to – so people are, just a little, while they await their table. We pay and they pounce, so the rhythm’s good for pretending that you’re patient. At Kuli Alma at 23.00 the party’s starting: the DJs play hip-hop, rock, swing and Sinatra and the crowd smile with the easiness of knowing they’re at the beginning of something good that will only get better. Moshe Hason is one of the owners and he’s full of the joys of spring, ebullient that he’s one of the backers of a place that everyone we asked told us to visit. “Look at my family,” he says with a wave of an arm. “We’ve created a family here!”
By midnight the crowd have forgotten that they’re a family and are getting frisky: stolen glances become eyes locked across a crowded room, kisses are stolen, sweat runs and the dancing gets dirtier. It looks gorgeous but by 01.00 it’s time to go to The Block, which is the coolest club in the city, or the best, or the other one that everyone tells you to visit. And they’re right and it’s worth it and we dance and it’s dark and the sound system’s as clear as a bell, and when you run outside to revel in the warm, fresh air of Tel Aviv’s late night you feel as if you’re in the beating heart of the city; the belly of the beast. But we hadn’t been to the Breakfast Club by then.
Before all this, of course, the trick is to go home and take a nap, have a little supper, drink a beer on your balcony and get ready. You’ll have been to the beach to get warm and sun-kissed and sleepy and you’ll be looking forward to the night. In other cities jagged with sophistication – Paris, Buenos Aires say – it’s the done thing to pretend that one thing is not going to lead to another but in Tel Aviv people talk about going to Alphabet and The Block and Beit Maariv’ and Anna Loulou before they take a dip, let alone a nap. They love it.
Back in the night, another night, we’re in the old port of Jaffa and it’s beautiful and sane and a little like New York’s Meatpacking District before it kicked out the bloody aprons to make way for the bloody dresses and shoes and galleries and PR firms. It’s busy with the industry of a city and thick with places to eat that know where the food came from and how to cook it (and bars and places to dance, of course). At Pundak Deluxe, a barbecue- and-cocktail joint run by a lean team of toothsome humanity, the playlist is too good not to have a shimmy and the drinks list too tempting to forego a boogie. Who cares? There’s applause as Almog spins Sapir around the bar. He’s a cool cat with a dark beard and she’s as lithe as a cheetah before dinner and they wish us well at Anna Loulou. It’s their local which, as locals say, is “mixed” and likes Jews and Arabs to spin each other around the little dancefloor until the sun rises over the nearby mosque.
So we go and dance and see that the “mix” works beautifully, that the music really is the best collision of culture we’ve heard and that Hebrew in neon is worth trying to steal and smuggle home.
So: the Breakfast Club. We went there twice. Twice in one night, possibly. Could we have done? It was that point where you can’t quite find anyone you’re with and you don’t quite mind and the next minute you’re holding hands through a dark nightclub so you don’t get lost again. Noga and her friends owned the dancefloor; there were strobes and massive beats, and steam rising from tanned skin. It’s a different sort of dancing and a different sort of crowd to the octogenarians and mums and floral shorts doing swing and ballroom down on the boardwalk at sunset; at the Breakfast Club you’re meant to be there until it’s time to eat the first meal of tomorrow. So it’s different from Nanuchka, the Georgian restaurant on Lilienblum where couples in their sixties get up and dance on the tables after their khinkalis and cha-cha. But it’s also the same because it sits in this city in which people love a good time.
Tel Aviv is cool but not too cool for school. Tel Aviv knows the benefit of cheesiness; the liturgy and practice of a good night out. Tel Aviv doesn’t pout and get in a taxi and go home because it’s bored. It rings up some other friends and joins them instead. In Tel Aviv they are looking forward to getting hot and looking hot and exchanging glances across another weekend’s crowded room, of being part of the great sea of the night. I danced with Yael and Sara and Shuli and Sunny. And Tel Aviv? Tel Aviv is a good place to go dancing.
Tel Aviv’s best venues:
Kuli Alma: The friendliest place to get your party started; arrive by 22.30 to hear every kind of groove.
10 Mikveh Israel Street
Anna Loulou: Jaffa’s good mixer; Arabs and Jews dance to the best mix of music in town (the same multicultural concoction).
2 Hapninim Street
The Block: Cool, dark and the best sound system in the city. Call in advance to avoid the queue.
157 Shalma Road
Breakfast Club: The great, late, late breakfast show.
6 Rothschild Boulevard
Radio EPGB: A dance bar to start the evening off with a swing.
7 Shadal Street
Teder: Dinner, drinks, dancing and larks at this old converted market.
9 Derech Jaffa