One of Tel Aviv’s hippest nightlife spots has evolved in the shadows of the Great Synagogue, mixing divine and delicious in the most Israeli of ways.
In true Tel Avivian style, the city’s Great Synagogue is not only a place of worship but also the nucleus of one of the hippest nightlife areas around. The majestic building, built in 1926 and still in use today, looms over the busy courtyard surrounding it, packed with some of the most fun dining and drinking venues in town.
Here are our top picks for a really great night out.
A favorite of Tel Aviv’s young and chic crowd, Port Sa’id is a vibrant, buzzing restaurant and bar where owner and celebrity chef Eyal Shani serves up seemingly plain but absolutely delicious dishes.
Top picks include a carton of sour cream turned upside down in a bowl of tomato sauce and some charif (spicy condiment) with slices of yummy challah bread; garlicky green beans served in a paper bag; whole roasted sweet potatoes and minute-steak slices. For dessert, try the chocolate mousse or malabi Middle Eastern pudding. As for drinks, go for beer or a lethal gin and tonic.
The place’s effortless vibe might not suit all tastes – seating is mostly communal, traditional tableware is unheard of and the music is loud and thumping. But for those wanting to try something a little different – and very local – this is definitely the spot. Just try and get there early so not to spend the evening waiting in line.
Port Sa’id, 5 Har Sinai St. Open daily 12pm-2am, Friday 12pm-5pm. No reservations.
Thaiat Har Sinai
Considered one of the best Thai restaurants in Tel Aviv, Thai at Har Sinai mixes great food with an even greater atmosphere.
On the menu are salads, soups, curries and grilled and wok dishes. Choose between more familiar dishes like som tam green papaya salad, satay chicken skewers and pad Thai noodles, or opt for more challenging fish and vegetable dishes. Just bear in mind that spice levels here are a bit higher than the average in the city, so make sure you’re prepared for what you order (or have a bowl of plain white rice handy).
For drinks, check out the extensive cocktails list that features plenty of gin, rum, Thai basil, lime and even chili.
Thai at Har Sinai, 1 Har Sinai St. Opening hours: Sunday-Thursday 10am-12am, Friday 11am-4pm, Saturday 2pm-12am.
Also located in the Great Synagogue courtyard, this fun resto-bar prides itself on its Balkan vibes, food and drink.
Take your pick from an extensive menu of Balkan mezze – top options include ikra and chopped liver – served with a delicious whole small challah, and wash it all down with a cold beer. Other options are fried calamari, Mediterranean-style kebabs and the ultimate Israeli favorite – whole grilled cauliflower.
The place is particularly packed on Friday lunchtimes, with dozens of people of all ages enjoying the DJ music, great food and possibly the city’s most generously sized cocktail offerings. Now that’s the way to start your weekend Tel-Aviv style.
Shishko, 2 Har Sinai St. Opening hours: Sunday-Thursday 5pm-1am, Friday and Saturday 12pm-1am.
The Great Synagogue area’s most upscale dining venue, Santa Katarina is a chef restaurant dishing out modern interpretations of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods.
Try, for example, the ravioli filled with labaneh, a sour Arab cheese, or the “Arab ceviche” combining red tuna with more traditional bulgur and tzatziki. Many dishes also emerge from the restaurant’s huge tabun oven, including a selection of mouthwatering pizzas. For dessert, go for Italian classic panna cotta or try basbousa, a traditional Middle Eastern semolina cake.
The intimate feel of the restaurant makes it perfect for a special date night or a celebratory girls’ night out, and is a fabulous place to go to with seriously foodie friends.
Santa Katarina, 2 Har Sinai St. Opening hours: Sunday-Thursday 12:30pm-4pm, 6pm-12am; Friday 12:30pm-5pm, 7pm-12am; Saturday 7pm-12am.
Located just across the road from the Great Synagogue, the Tailor Made cocktail bar is a haven of elegance and style off busy Allenby Street. Situated around a quaint courtyard, this secret-garden venue is host to a wide array of events – live shows, lectures, exhibitions and even boutique weddings.
It’s also great on a regular night – the extensive cocktail menu is delicious and original (think boozy sachlav, fresh spices and persimmon) and the wine list features excellent Israeli wines alongside international offerings.
Drinks are accompanied by tapas-style dishes, from mozzarella skewers and risotto balls to grilled artichokes and Caesar salad. Heftier options include pizzas, burgers and also steak for those after a more meaty bite.
Sit back in the beautifully lit courtyard with a delicious drink in hand and indulge in some people watching, for this crowd is as Tel Avivian as it can get.
Tailor Made, 99 Allenby St. Open daily from 8pm until the last customer.
The Great Synagogue
Since you’re already here, why not pop into the Great Synagogue itself? The huge building might look a little daunting and shabby on the outside, but inside it’s one of the most beautiful synagogues in the country.
The building, which covers almost a half-acre, can seat around 1,000 people. It is ornately and extensively decorated with magnificent stained glass windows, and boasts numerous historical Torah scrolls.
Designed in 1922, and completed in 1926, the synagogue used to host Israel’s prominent political and religious leaders as well as many shul-goers from the area. As the downtown Tel Aviv landscape changed, however, with Allenby Street becoming more commercial and many residents moving northward to newer parts of the city, the synagogue’s membership dwindled.
In recent years there’s been an effort by the synagogue’s leaders to bring new life to it. Hoping to attract the growing numbers of French and other immigrant residents in the area, the synagogue now offers a range of lectures, concerts and activities aimed at a wide audience. And despite being a strictly Orthodox place of worship, people from all walks of life are welcome to attend services.
The Great Synagogue, 110 Allenby St. Prayer times vary according to season.
About the Author:
Naama Barak is a writer at ISRAEL21c. A PhD student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, she loves all things history and politics. Food and fashion come a close second. Prior to joining ISRAEL21c, Naama worked for Israel’s leading English-language dailies and cutting-edge startups.