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66, Hayarkon Street, Tel Aviv 63255
STANDING ON A NONDESCRIPT STREET CORNER UNDER THE RED NEON GLOW of the generically named Imperial hotel, you could be just about anywhere in the world. But you are in Tel Aviv, and the post-war block before you is the HQ of Israeli bar culture. More specifically, the Best Bar in Africa and The Middle East for the second year running.
You wouldn’t know it to pass through the motel-esque foyer, complete with overweight, yawning male receptionist. But tucked into one side of the expanse is a room within a room, completely at odds with its surroundings. This is Imperial Craft.
The first few seconds are the most important of any bar visit. At Imperial Craft, it comes in the form of an opened door and an even wider smile. The hostess leads you to your seats, either the high tables that wrap around the floor or the stools that dot the L-shaped bar. Wherever you are, it’s an intimate affair.
Owners Bar Shira, Dror Alterovich and Gilad Livnat need never work again – as bartenders anyway. Their crew work the room as if they’ve been at it for years – at least for longer than the two and a half it has been open.
When the doors first opened, there was more reverence to the classics but as the customer base has developed (it’s busy every night from 6pm until late) so have tastes. The offering now is taking Tel Aviv into uncharted cocktail waters. And word of this colonially-steeped outpost of discerning drinking is spreading. Globally.
Two years ago, Tel Aviv wasn’t on the bar map, but it is now one of the most exciting breeding grounds of cocktail culture in the world. Academy members Stan Vadrna, Jeff Bell, Charles Joly, Sullivan Doh, Alex Kratena and Monica Berg have all delivered masterclasses at Imperial Craft. Other bars and local spirits operators have reacted, bringing the likes of Marian Beke, Steve Schneider, Sean Muldoon, Jack McGarry, Shingo Gokan, Zdenek Kastanek, David Cordoba, Daniele Dalla Polla and Iain Griffiths to the city.
It has become easier to list Academy members who haven’t visited than those who have. Let this be an example to bartenders in other lesser-travelled cities – that if you create a great bar, and the scene around you develops, the global community will come. Then, it’s down to the bar. In Imperial Craft’s case, expectations will be exceeded.