By Rory Winston
There is that third Israel – neither the ancient nor the contemporary, neither that which is draped in state-of-the-art technology nor the one festooned to relic; it is an Israel still found in the White City, one that harkens not to antiquity but the time when many of our own European forefathers first dreamt of going there. It is this partially hidden but pervasive tone that makes Tel-Aviv the insouciant city that it is – a witness to those that dreamt of her as a haven, an outpost to those that saw her as a final stronghold of their diminishing colonial empire, and a remote lustrous jewel in the sun where the party-hungry diplomats of the roaring twenties could partake in one last madcap adventure before returning to their more somber lives in the House of Lords. It was this Tel-Aviv that struck me the moment I entered the odd enclave, located on an ascending hill of a street, known as the Hotel Montefiore.
Seating us by a cherry wood toned bar while they readied our room, the receptionist presented us with a complimentary bottle of what turned out to be a surprisingly fine sparkling wine. At the air-conditioned bar, an odd charivari seemed to be underway. Well-dressed hipster guests were toasting an unseen couple in a room of dark woods and leather. I learnt that this was a typical cocktail hour – one wherein the eccentric elite of the city mingled with successful local artists. Located just off the renowned Rothschild Boulevard, the Boutique hotel with only 12 rooms did not stray too far from its origins. What had been a private residence with an imperial past maintained its sense of reserve coupled with eclectic bits of flourish and conceptual nuance.
Entering our room, the sensibility was one of understated opulence. Hardwood floors colluded with high ceilings to give a sense of both contemporary comfort and old world charm. With classics, novels and design related books draping the walls from floor to ceiling, the mood was that of frequenting a private villa as a special guest rather than staying at a hotel. Contemporary art hung from the wall while recherché decorations and furniture caught one’s attention. Perfectly framed white window panes cupped starlight as it poured through the room just enough to dazzle and not enough to subvert the sequestered space. I walked out on my private balcony and took in the stars before heading off to the black marble bathroom to shower while my fiancé decided to take an all-engrossing bath before dinner.
Annam, Tonkin, Cochinchina – these were all parts of a region wherein French colonialism spanned from Vietnam all the way through Cambodia in the Far East. A French Vietnamese fusion kitchen does not only make for a wonderful bedfellow in a tropical country like Israel but makes for an exquisite pairing if one regards the diversity of the local fishes and vegetation. Since neither my fiancé or I eat meat, we refrained from some the house specialties such as ribs and the renowned Tournedos Rossini and opted instead for the Salmon Sashimi with avocado puree, Raw Tuna, and the astonishing Yuzo Seabass filet. Evoking the sundrenched Israeli sea, the meal was a virtual cruise along the country’s shoreline. With Pumpkin Cream, Eggplant kroket, Manchego cheese and tasters of some of the many dazzling deserts, the meal was a virtual journey from the country’s ocean front property to its lush inner gardens. Opening with an unforgettable exotic cocktail (paradoxically, I did manage to forget the name), we went on to an all-encompassing 9 course meal complete with a list of boutique and international wines.
Being in the center of Tel Aviv, we roved the streets from bar to club to your more basic hangout zones until finally making our way back to our king sized bed where we slept the sleep of the innocent after completing a battery of less than innocent acts. Waking to a breakfast of Israeli champions, still slightly full from the night before, we tread lightly among the endless range of delicacies which included everything from sour dough bread to pancakes to smoked salmon to spinach and poached eggs. Though it was easy to understand why big names from Audrey Tautou to Michael Douglas and equally renowned wife Catherine Zeta-Jones stayed at the same hotel, the real feeling one gets is that this could have been the kind of place where any number of different historical figures had stayed. Perhaps, it was a villa where some well-to-do flapper with connections world-over, someone like Dorothy Parker, might have stopped over after reading about Mark Twain’s visit to the Holy Land and deciding to go see it herself; or perhaps, it was where a prestigious friend of Lord Balfour crashed with friends after coming to check what all the ado is about; or maybe it was just some Zionist tourist from France, the UK, or the US who had relatives living in Tel Aviv and decided to spend a summer over. Regardless which, the Montefiore was a place with history – not the history of antiquity, but the one that had inspired many of our own relatives to leave Europe and come settle on a hillside located in what would one day become a Jewish homeland.
BEAM ME UP POLI
Fantasies that have burgeoned into reality, visions that have actualized into spaces, daydreams that have grown ceilings, floors and walls around themselves. Most kids have imagined it – those reared on Star Trek or more contemporary variations thereof have pictured it: sitting in a space capsule, eyes closed and, upon opening their eyes, suddenly finding themselves in a different location, in a city halfway across the globe. Transported. Though the term is used to describe an emotional response to an awe-inspiring scene, one that often involves a level of revelation, ‘being transported’ still carries its futuristic overtones, a sort of ‘beam me up’ attitude prevails when employing the phrase. Forget the taxi to and from the airport, forget the varying location, just park your imagined spaceship in the heart of any city and take in the most ancient of sites from the comfort of your state-of-the-art vessel. Either that or take a room at the Poli House, a boutique space shuttle of a hotel inconspicuously housed in a Bauhaus building on Tel Aviv’s historic Magen David Square.
Designed by the flamboyant Egyptian born industrial designer Karim Rachid – renowned for furniture, interior design, luxury goods and, incidentally, responsible for several (HAP) real estate developments right here in New York City – the Poli House is post-modern proscenium that juxtaposes twentieth century futurism (circa 1960’s) with state-of-the-art technology, contemporary transparency, modernist flourish, organic geometries, and a puckish sensibility that makes one recall Woody Allen’s Sleeper.
Like some theme park for the senses, the Poli House is an energizing synthesis of curved ceilings, oval portholes, expansive starship space-deck windows and carbon textured walls whose plasticity of design conveys a feeling of perpetually entering a room that turns out to be bigger than it seemed from the outside. Hovering over the bustling city, each room hangs somewhere in another dimension giving one the panoramic view while ensuring that no one can see you. With chalk white pods for living quarters and turquoise, pink, sea greens and blues for trappings, the interiors are at once a meditation on the clarity of the Red Sea’s coral world and an ephemeral vision of solidified tranquility. As timeless structures go, the Poli House manages – despite its well-honed minimalist resolve and clear lines – to yield a sensuality all its own. Deep space, it seems to say, can damn well be sexy.
Boasting a king sized bed, the circle suite is a room with not one but several views. Overlooking the bustling square, where Allenby, Sheinkin and Nahalat Binyamin street converge, the space manages to maintains an airborne feeling that yields utter tranquility amidst the hubbub. With Egyptian cotton bed linen, plush bathrobes and slippers, a walk-in shower with rainforest showerhead and bathtub, the suite is a temperature controlled world whose soft oxygen rich feel is complemented by a sound system and 40-inch TV screen made to optimize isolation should one choose to escape from the local environment for any number of hours.
Being in the epicenter of Tel Aviv, each room is but a few steps from the countless design oriented stores while also being in walking distance from the best restaurants and clubs that the city has to offer. Located within the Polishuk House, a restored edifice of the 1930’s Bauhaus movement whose façade fits perfectly into its environment, the cosseted interior is nearly unnoticeable until one enters.
Another smart surprise is the panoramic rooftop with its horizon-drawn pool. Going atop the hotel gives one the sensation of going onto the deck of a cruise ship that has somehow managed to sail directly into the center of the city. There is a feeling of motion in the design – one that makes it feel like you are nearing the city’s skyscrapers while sailing past the other buildings. With a heated pool, a cocktail bar, cabanas and deck chairs, one can take in the city from every conceivable angle.
In addition to the pool, the hotel boasts a Spa and Wellness area complete with couple’s massages and relaxation treatments. As a guest of the hotel one is also entitled to a complimentary bicycle, access to a state-of-the-art local gym and even yoga lessons. Working in tandem with its neighbors, Poli House also offers breakfast at the renowned neighborhood favorite, the Loveat Organic Café; with a private backdoor access to the secret garden, one can eat in a sequestered area or join the café regulars on the terrace.
The neighborhood is filled eclectic Bauhaus buildings and it takes no time at all to reach the Boho design area of the city where boutiques display designer clothes and crafted objects. Heading to the soft sands of the Mediterranean Sea, one can take a quick swim before sauntering over to the gastronomical hub of the city known as the Carmel Market. The design museum in Holon and the Tel Aviv museum of Art are a good precursor to the hotel’s own lounge area where Karim Rashid’s original drafts for the hotel line the walls. Sitting in one of his comfortable lounge pods, you can take in Rashid’s nuanced drawings and note the continuity between his idiosyncratic vision and the works of world renowned Israeli designers like Ron Arad.
Like the Poli House, Tel Aviv itself is a city whose very essence transports. Here, energized youths flirt, eat and dream of their future among ruins from antiquity; state-of-the-art technology enhances a Bauhaus setting; music born of exile stirs soldiers to dance; and Middle Eastern foods embellish a continental meal. The juxtaposition of themes and motifs are as harmonious as they are dissonant. History remains an odd bag of mixed desires with volatile outcomes forever in flux. To take it all in means to absorb the contrasts, to love the inconsistencies, to feel at home with the contradictions and to live the paradoxes as passionately as Israel itself.
For further information on the Montefiore Hotel:
For further information on the Poli House:
the Poli House