© 2013 Diana

Dispatch | Gay Tel Aviv

Author: Anthony Grant



That Tel Aviv, not a huge city but a high-octane one, has become the new gay mecca of the Mediterranean is something of an open secret, both in the Middle East and increasingly, outside it, too. Unfailingly sunny and tirelessly tolerant, its energy level is at once intense and beguilingly relaxed. In the run-up to Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride, which fell on June 11 this year, there were not one but two New York-based gay tours to Israel – Steele Travel’s Milk & Honey tour and one promoted by Chelsea’s own gay adult-entertainment impresario Michael Lucas, whose nine-day journey covered Israel from top (the Golan Heights) to bottom (Eilat), and, like Steele’s, allowed time for a foray into Tel Aviv’s full-throttle after-hours gay scene.


Tel Avivian night life comes in one variety: everything. During Pride week, the white-hot Israeli D.J. Offer Nissim worked his electro house beats at TLV, a mega-club in Tel Aviv’s New Port area, during an uncharacteristically early set (Saturday being a school night in Israel). The action at clubs here usually doesn’t get going until between 2 and 3 in the morning. The night before, gay Israelis and travelers from around the globe packed into Haoman 17 (88 Abarbanel Street), a mammoth club on the south side of town, a sort of hangar in a rundown district whose pervasive bleakness recalls the Manhattan’s meatpacking district of a decade ago. The two ambulances parked outside the entrance were a sure sign of the good times to be had inside, where the vibe was loosely that of a post-apocalyptic gay humanoid techno aquarium on steroids. (David Morales, of the famously lush remix of Bjork’s “Hyperballad,” spins at the club on July 7.)


Unlike New York, Tel Aviv has no laundry list of bars and clubs that can be classified as all gay all the time. Regular weekly gay party nights at otherwise straight places are more the rule. One exception is Evita (31 Yavneh Street), the city’s most popular gay bar. On Tuesday, Drag Night, you’ll find Tiona at her campy, lip-synching best — and yes, those substantial lips work it in Hebrew. Wednesday is Hasake, which features Israeli music (good) and cheap Israeli eats (better) like hummus and malawach, a savory Yemenite fried bread. But on any given evening, the real action takes place on the street outside the bar, which, owing to the fact that it’s on an office block, is largely absent of traffic late at night. What ensues is a big, breezy gay block party where cute bartenders ask what you’d like to drink and sometimes even remember to bring it to you. You soon get the feeling that locals come here more to mix it up, with their own and foreigners, too, than to get hammered. (That said, the bar doesn’t close until the last customer leaves.) If you’re looking for something indoors, Ashmoret (10 Rothschild Boulevard) is a sleek spot on a block full of coffee shops that never seem to close. Here, pop tends to prevail (but not on Saturdays: that’s “Ghetto Fab” night).


Around the corner from Ashmoret I almost had a problem: around 2 a.m. on a Monday night, a line was forming outside the small, attractive club Lima Lima for its Notorious G.A.Y. party — was I, a seasoned Gotham-by-night guy — worthy enough to admit? No, but the doorman let me in anyway. Not speaking Hebrew seems to help here. So I ventured inside with my decidedly uncool collared shirt (Tel Aviv is the domain of the chest-hugging printed T-shirt) to find a sea of men, beer bottles in hand, stepping out to remixes of Christina Aguilera and Iyaz — no Lady Gaga on this hip-hop-themed night. Would I be more at home at Big Boys, the Friday party for guys over 28 at the Theatre Club space in old Jaffa (10 Jerusalem Boulevard)? Probably, if only because the charms of its greeter-in-chief, the inexhaustible Gilad Kotler, overrides any whiff of ageism (it’s a young country, after all). It’s a little less hoary (25 and up!) at Tuesday’s new TipTop night at Weiss Bar (2 Hertzl Street). For the mid-20-somethings, there’s the slightly more decadent party Playground late Friday nights at the -1 Club (Nahalat Binyamin 52), along with the steamy, retro-styled Friday night rave at Zizi (7 Karlibach), which advertises itself with an almost X-rated flier.


The only taboos that come to mind in Tel Aviv are overdressing and sleeping. So it’s no wonder that energy drinks are among the most popular drinks on offer at Boyling, a chill Saturday evening party at the terrace restaurant Chich Beach on Gordon Beach (145 Hayarkon Street). It’s just south of Tel Aviv’s gay beach, which is little more than a curl of sand in front of the Hilton Hotel that would be utterly nondescript were it not for the perfectly tanned Israeli hunks packing every square inch. (Before heading there, you might want to fuel up with breakfast or lunch at Carlton on the Beach, the chic open-air lounge of the nearby Carlton Hotel.) Some of those same Adonises are sure to turn up at Colosseum (167 Hayarkon Street), a 1970s nightclub that fell into disuse over the years but has lately been experiencing something of a revival. During Gay Pride, and now every Thursday, the 3Some party serves up acoustic amusement that spills into the Men Zone, Women Zone and Mixed Zone.


A good way to check the latest club listings before taking on the night is to visit Atraf, which is to gay Tel Aviv what El Al is to Israel — about the best introduction you could get short of actually being on the ground. But once you are, expect plenty of pink.


Anthony was three when he made his first trip to Israel, with parents who had lived in Turkey prior. He’s written on travel for many publications including the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The New York Times. He contributed to an early version of The Atlantic’s Website, in Boston’s Back Bay, and co-wrote the prize-winning Rough Guide to Boston. He worked under former Playboy editor Barry Golson at Forbes Traveler in New York and has lived and labored in Moscow, Montreal, Paris, and Manhattan. A native of Southern California, since 2010 he’s been based principally in Tel Aviv.

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