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An Evening Of Un-Attractions

Tel Aviv isn’t one of those classic tourist attraction cities like Jerusalem or Rome. That’s great actually – there’s no to do list so you can finally relax and have a blast. There are, however, some quirky un-attractions scattered around town. Here’s a suggested walk perfect for exploring the city on a cool evening in a strange mood.

Start off at Rabin Square in the heart of town. Tel Aviv doesn’t have much open space, so appreciate it while you can. We’re here for the Tel Aviv City Hall though. Big and communist looking, it was built in 1966 in Brutalist style. Yes, that’s correct, stare at it and feel its concrete totalitarian brutality!

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Head to small & sleazy Masarik Square right around the corner to check out the duck statue. It was unveiled in 2009 in honor of satirical author and cartoonist Dudu Geva. The duck was his staple character, a symbol for optimism and silliness (it says “always an optimist” at the bottom of the statue). He, and I mean the duck, was made an honorary citizen of Tel Aviv in 2008 with another duck sitting on top of City Hall to commemorate the event. Grab a coffee or beer in one of the nearby cafes or just relax on a bench next to the ugly fountain with locals and their pups.

Walking on along King George st., take a right on Zamenhof right to Dizingof Square. On your right you’ll see Cinema Hotel Tel Aviv, a cinema converted to a hotel as the name suggests, but the main event is Yakov Agam’s Water & Fire kinetic fountain. It was built in 1986, neglected for years, and finally renovated a year ago.

This fountain may appear in your guide book, but it is a definite un-attraction. It puts on a “show” with orchestrated water squirting to the sound of classical music and…fire. Fire! Fire! The flame thrown from this colorful neo-kitschy fountain comes as a big surprise . Watch it and have a laugh with the punks and hobos who frequent the square. Showtimes are daily at 11:00, 13:00, 19:00, and 21:00.

Venture on through Pinsker and take a left on Trumpeldor right through Meir Garden. It may look fishy in the dark, but it’s totally safe. Take a right on King George and stop after several blocks when you see the mighty obelisks at Simta Plonit.

This alley, and the one parallel next to it, were built by millionaire businessman Shapira Getzel back in 1922. Walk to the end of the alley where you’ll see the palace Shapira built for his love, Sonya, including a lion-in-Zion statue at the front to protect the property. It used to have red glowing eyes back in the day, wish they would restore that! If you’re hungry and lazy, try Sonia Getzel on the parrallel Simta Almonit, an awesome cafe with a huge secret backdoor garden.

Go up to Allenby and take a left. Take another left on Balfour street and enjoy a detour of attractive architecture. Go right on Melchet up to the small King Albert Square where you will see the Pagoda House. Take a seat on a bench and enjoy this weirdly awesome structure. It was built back in 1924, a time of aesthetics long before the Israeli concrete box was invented. Look closely and notice the eclectic styles – Doric columns meeting Islamic arches topped with a crazy Asian pagoda.

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These days the Pagoda House is owned by Robert Weil, a Swedish Jewish billionaire, though I’ve never seen him or anyone inside the house. He has replaced the Synagogue that used to be on the first floor with a swimming pool + sauna combo. Typical. This is one of the most expensive properties in Tel Aviv and Israel.

Ending our tour with a surprise, walk on Montifiore, take a right on Nahalat Binyamin, and left on Gruzenberg right to Gruzenberg Parking Lot. Stroll right in and head up to the top floor for an urban view of the city. It’s open 24/7, so you should always be able to get in and out, worst case through the car entrance. If you fancy a drink to take it all in, try one of the bars back on Nahalat Binyamin. Take some random turns and find your own un-attractions. The city is full of them.

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Street Life

Tel Aviv wouldn’t be a city that never sleeps without coffee, a lot of coffee. It’s dotted with cafes to chill and recharge your (mobile) battery. You actually have to choose where to get your fix. Life in Tel Aviv is hard.

Try The Streets on the corner of King George & HaNevim. It’s one of the city’s buzziest cafes where lovely waitresses serve a mix of locals from high schoolers to moms with trolleys. Outside smokers puff away their troubles while upstairs students are Facebooking on their laptops.

What makes The Streets different than the rest of them is a paradoxical combination between high quality & keeping it real. Set in a busy corner in the heart of Tel Aviv, its feng shui is energetic and a-happening. You know they take their coffee seriously though since espressos arrive with a shot of sparkling water on the side.

Food is a little pricier than your average neighborhood cafe, but also tastier. Even the fries are excellent and you can get a beer when you’ve had enough of the black liquid. There’s a vegan menu plus lunch and nighttime specials.

The Streets is open 24/7, a great place to relax with WIFI before a late hour flight. There are 2 other branches at 20 Ashtori Hafarhi near Bazel street and 114 Ibn Gvirol Street.

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Burekas Galore

Got the munchies at a funny hour? No problem. Tel Aviv is a champion of 24/7 eateries.

Take Mama’s Burekas. It’s a warm joint down on King George, not far from the Allenby intersection, where you can stop by any time, any day, and satisfy your cravings with a Mediterranean specialty – hot scrumptious burekas (börek).

Forget about your generic supermarket burekas. Mama’s serves huge freshly baked burekas served with tahini, crushed tomatoes, pickles, skhug, and the optional boiled egg on the side.

Choose your favorite filling from cheese, pizza, potatoes & mushrooms, or grab one that just came out of the oven. You can also try yemenite pastries such as malawach, jachnun, and ziva. Vegan options available.

Mama’s Burekas has a laid back diner kind of atmosphere. People from all walks of life sit at the bar and munch away at their luscious delights. The staff is chatty and the TV’s always on. It’s the perfect place to wind down after a crazy night. You can even have a nightcap.

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HaKosem: Magical Falafel

When I moved to Tel Aviv 5 years ago, I had no idea that I was going to live a minute away from HaKosem (The Magician) Falafel, the best falafel in town. I’m not the only one who thinks so—the long lunch queues and countless newspaper articles agree. Sometimes I even crave it while I’m abroad.

HaKosem is not your average Joe-Shlomo falafel stand. It’s super clean, colorful, and fun while still being authentic, Tel Aviv style. There’s always bright music on and an energetic flow of people coming in for tasty treats.

The staff here—consisting mostly of Arab Israelis—is fantastic. Everyone who walks in is greeted with a complimentary falafel “chill pill” that often comes with a “be careful, it’s tasty!” warning. The magician himself—Arik Rosenthal—is usually around helping in the kitchen or talking to customers. If you’ll get to meet him you’ll understand why his business is doing so well.

As for the falafel itself: the pitas are soft thanks to a specially developed oven and the salads are fresh. The handmade falafel balls are perfect: crunchy on the outside and tasteful on the inside with a good balance of flavors. Surprisingly, they don’t serve French fries, but they do fry delicious and soft eggplants—let the other falafel stands keep their soggy fries.

Other staple Israeli dishes are also available: shawarma, hummus, shakshuka, sabich, salad, schnitzel, and veggie omelette. To quench your thirst, try the pomegranate-lemonade, the tamarhindi juice, or go for the alcoholic Arakomplet (Arak + cold juice).

HaKosem lies at the corner of King George and Shlomo Hamelech—just look for the long queue during lunch time. It’s also a nice place for dinner when the temperature goes down and the colorful light bulbs spark up. Go for a coffee or buy some records right around the corner.