The Coffee Shops of Tel Aviv

The Coffee Shops of Tel Aviv, 1920-1980 exhibit sheds light on Tel Aviv’s social and cultural life, while focusing on selected cafés – their architectural style, interior decoration, their owners and habitués, the culture of sitting and spending time in them, menus and service, their impact on Tel Aviv as a new, modern city that absorbed aliyah.
The exhibit displays announcements, posters, rare photographs, items that originate in the cafés (original glass holders, cups, tablecloths, etc.), artistic works produced in the cafés (pictures of the habitués, sketches by artists who frequented the coffee shops, and two original murals that hung in Kassit, one by Yosl Bergner and the other by Uri Lifshtiz, original architectural sketches, etc.
Tel Aviv’s coffee shops developed with the economic and cultural development of the city. Some of them are still remembered as mythological sites that left a deep mark on the history of Tel Aviv, to mention only a few: Kassit, Vered, Pinati, Noga, Sheleg Levanon, Snir, Hermon, Casino Galei Aviv, Ararat, Ginati Yam, Ditza, Piltz, Roval, etc., etc.
In the second half of the 20th century, following the third and fourth aliyot, a considerable number of coffee shops opened in the then city center – Herzl Street and its environs – designed for the bourgeoisie, several exclusive coffee shops that were particularly esteemed by the middle and upper classes, and coffee shops that largely served the petite bourgeoisie.  A European influence was obvious in all of them, however they differed a great deal from one another.
From the mid-20th century and mainly in the 1930s many coffee shops sprung up along the seashore, following the establishment of exclusive hotels. These coffee shops were designed for rest and pleasure, and some held cabaret shows and shows by satirical theaters such as Af Al Pi, and Li La Lo, etc.
The 1930s and the early 1940s saw a “café revolution”: numerous cafés sprung up in the new north of Tel Aviv – Allenby, Ben Yehuda and Dizengoff Streets and brought with them a new type of pleasure that was manifested in a well-groomed and stylish appearance, sitting with ones face to the busy street, music and ballroom dance parties, a diverse menu and professional and high-class service.
In the 1930s many cafés were set up to host large dance balls. These aroused the fury of Bialik who became livid at the sight of couples dancing in the Blue Club: “How shallow,” he wrote, “What lack of taste!... shallowness and superficiality.” The balls were accompanied by a jazz band, and some awarded prizes for the best dancers: a camera or a basket with a bottle of Champagne, chocolate and cigarettes.
The café owners took care to maintain an aesthetic façade and enlisted architects and designers to plan the locations, and invested no less an effort in superior quality and diverse menus. The tables were covered with tablecloths, the plates and cutlery were of superior quality. The menu included appetizing cake, cold and hot drinks and spirits, breakfast, lunch and dinner. There offered different brands of coffee: Columbia, Brazil and Costa Rica, Turkish coffee, cocoa, milk shakes, cold coffee, “expresso” coffee, or mocha espresso. Different flavors of high- quality ice cream was an important ingredient on the menu. The notices published by the cafés emphasized that “We guarantee that our cake is homemade, and we use only real butter.” Doubtlessly there was Schlagsahne (whipped cream) that went with the cake.
Some of the coffee shops had their own character, a result of their habitués. Literary crowds, artists, lawyers, public figures, government and municipality officials, businessmen, journalists, emigrants from Germany, etc.
The German immigrants congregated mainly in Atara, in Ginati and Noga – judges, lawyers, architects, journalists, artists, public figures, government and municipality officials, the artist Reuven Rubin, the conductor Michael Taube, Dr. Yosef Pomruk, the writer Menasheh Levin, etc.
Businessmen preferred meeting in Haachim Shor, Carlton, and Sderoth, in the commercials center, where you might also meet Sammy Gronemann (who wrote the comedy, King Solomon and Shalmai the Shoemaker), the writer Max Brod, the poet, Yaakov Fichman, etc.
In the mid-1930s the landowners enjoyed conducting business meetings in the Haachim Cafe, and as the poet Natan Alterman wrote, “There goes the central committee of pimps, agents, loaners, borrowers... a cup of tea costs one piaster, and a cup of juice one and a half, so they come here to do their business, business that is worth over a thousand liras”...
The Bohemian-style coffee shops were established in the 1920s: Sheleg Levanon, Ratski, Kassit, Ararat, and Maor. Later the Bohemian center shifted to Hatskel’s Kassit, Kankan, Frack and Vered. From the 1960s California, and Pinati, Stern and Lev Aviv were the coffee shops frequented Bohemian clientelle, offering a kind of second home for writers, poets, painters and artists.

Curator: Batia Carmiel
Opens November 5, 2006, closes May 26, 2007