Discover Tel Aviv’s glorious yesterdays, in today’s rejuvenated Lilienblum Street and its rejuvenated first hotel.

By Motti Verses

Stretching over 14 kilometers along the Mediterranean, Tel Aviv’s sparkling coastline is today world-famous. Popularly referred to  “The City That Never Sleeps,” Tel Aviv boasts beaches that no other major European city will offer to those travelers looking to shed their clothes and their inhibitions for that short sunny seaside sojourn.

With all its diverse attractions, Tel Aviv is not short of a number of catchy nicknames – all tapping into its DNA. You will hear it called “party city”, “Nonstop City”, “startup city”, “gay capital of the world” and “Bauhaus Oasis” for its enriching concentration of Bauhaus architecture that is to Tel Aviv what Art Deco is to Miami or Modernism is to Barcelona.

Up Your Street. You will love it – Lilienblum street, one of the first streets of Ahuzat Bayit. ( photo by Motti Verses)

Many are unaware that while Israel is ancient, its second largest city, Tel Aviv, is very young beginning in 1887 when Neve Tzedek, the first Jewish neighborhood, was built outside the old city of the ancient port of Jaffa. Only in 1909, 60 Jewish families established the Ahuzat Bayit neighborhood – the foundation of Tel Aviv. Over the ensuing years, Neve Tzedek’s rundown properties have been renovated restoring the area to its former glory and is today one of the most fashionable quarters of Tel Aviv.

Riveting Rooftops. A spectacular view of Neve Tzedek, the first Jewish neighborhood built outside Jaffa, seen in far left (photo by Motti Verses).

One of the first streets in Ahuzat Bayit was Lilienblum. While it begins at the border of Neve Tzedek, it features a totally different style of architecture and exudes its own particular vibe. Reflecting the city’s exciting history as well as meshing with the modern, it is well worth exploring it with a guide.

The 100 years old restored Kiosk carries a heartwarming story of

preservation that offers a special angle on Tel Aviv’s history.

Called ‘KIOSK EST 1920’, one can enjoy a coffee and snack with an authentic taste of Tel Avivian history as one reflects on the much earlier patrons doing just the same before entering the city’s fist cinema – the Eden –  which itself awaits future restoration.

Known in Hebrew as “Kolnoa Eden”,  it opened on the 22nd August 1914 with “The Last Days of Pompeii”. However, these were the ‘early days’ of the First World War and the Turkish authorities, fearing the generator might be used  to send messages to enemy submarines off-shore, closed  down the cinema by confiscating  the projector. The Great War proved “the last days” of Turkish rule in Palestine and following the British Mandate, the Eden reopened emerging quickly as a hub of cultural and social activity. It contained an outdoor theater and at a later stage an indoor one as well. Each hall could host 800 seats. Cultural life soured with  the debut performance of ‘La Traviata’ by the then newly formed Palestine Opera on the 28th July 1923 and famed Russian conductor Mordechai Golinkin, set up the Palestine Opera, which today is known as the New Israeli Opera. Its golden era was during the 1950s and 1960s and in the 1970s, when new modern cinemas were opened across the city, the owners closed it down. Today it looks like a neglected antiquity. However, there are plans to restore it to its former glory with one of the options being a boutique hotel combined with a stylish cinema.

Cultural Relic. No entrance tickets for sale in Lilienblum’s Eden cinema! A neglected ‘monument’ to the past as the writer explores (left), it awaits future inspirational development. (photo by Motti Verses)

Preservation of the old alongside the new is what characterizes today this magnificent historical street with its impressive architecture. Many of its more historically significant buildings are marked with illuminating descriptions creating an open air museum for future generations. One such is ‘Tachkemoni’, the first religious school of Tel Aviv, built in the 1920s. Even the British High Commissioner at the time, Sir Herbert Samuel insisted on participating in the school’s cornerstone ceremony. Closed down in the 1970s, today it serves again as a religious school but this time for girls.

Lilienblum Street presents a collection of exquisitely restored buildings – a sheer joy to architecture lovers. But the most impressive eclectic architecture-style building on the street is the Elkonin, the first-ever hotel in Tel Aviv. Its story is no less historical and exciting.

Down Memory Lane. The writer takes a walk down Lilienblum Street’s historic past, capturing the diverse styles of architecture. (photo by Motti Verses).

Restored and reopened only a few months ago, I interviewed the General Manager, Morgan Mondoloni, and asked how this hotel  emerged at the time in what would have been in the middle of nowhere. He revealed a most fascinating story.

Journey of a Gem.  “Everything started in 1912 when Malka and Menachem Elkonin arrived in Eretz Israel with their six children,” says General Manager Morgan Mondoloni.

Everything started in 1912 when Malka and Menachem Elkonin arrived in Eretz Israel with their six children and wanted to build a warm home for the family,” he says. “This is what they did in only one year. They built this beautiful hotel; the first hotel of Tel Aviv. Famous people like Albert Einstein, David Ben Gurion and King Abdulla were some of our first guests.”

Early Days. City pioneer, Menachem Elkonin with Tel Aviv’s first hotel a 100 years ago. (photo: courtesy Elkonin Tel Aviv)

Over the years, as Tel Aviv developed rapidly to the north and the commercial gravitas shifted accordingly, the hotel followed the same fate as other businesses and institutions that either closed down or relocated. That was until 2004 when a visionary saw the enormous potential, both of the street and the structure. Zionist Franco-Israeli entrepreneur, Dominique Romano acquired it with the intention of not only saving the building – a cultural icon –  but of restoring the ‘vanished hotel’ back to miraculous life. Today, due to the inspiration of  talented architects and interior designers, the new Elkonim is ‘back in town’, transformed into a 44-room-and-suite elegant retreat in the center of the city.

We want to offer one of the very best hospitality experiences in the

City,” says General Manager Mondoloni. Under the Mgallery stylish

Accor brand and home to the city’s first Robuchon restaurant, ‘L’Epoque’,  following in the tradition of the late French “Chef of the Century” and restaurateur Jöel Robuchon,  it looks like the Elkonin boss is on the right track.

Our room on the second floor with a balcony facing Lilienblum Street, reminded us of a typical traditional Paris street getaway. The totally new room is not big, but well equipped with a small minibar and a safe and a standing shower. The advanced illumination system was challenging, but Millennials will probably manage it better than we did. Our sleeping experience was the best with no noise heard from the street.

Feeling French. Having experienced his delicious French cuisine, the writer (left) engages with chef Eugène Koval.(photo by Motti Verses)

The Spa contains five treatment rooms. It is located underground with quiet relaxation rooms, a Hammam (Sauna) and a small gym. We experienced classic treatments that was amazing and the Clarins cosmetics are by all accounts divine. The use of this major  European luxury skincare brand is certainly an additional plus at the Elkonin. On the roof, a cozy pool offers a breathtaking view of Jaffa and the Mediterranean with an adjacent bar and is certainly destined to emerge as an iconic meeting point in true Tel Aviv tradition.

Cool from the Pool. The roof’s cozy pool with a breathtaking view of Jaffa and the Mediterranean. (photo by Motti Verses)

The ground floor of the Elkonin is for my money, the best stylish designed boutique hotel in the city. The interiors were designed by Iconique Studio, the Paris-based studio founded by the talented Adriana Schor. The timeless and sophisticated European-style ambiance with custom-designed furnishings and lighting is a masterpiece. She drew inspiration from the early years of Tel Aviv reflected in Lilienblum Street and the ambiance of Paris. This floor hosts its Crown Jewels – the impressive dining room. The state-of- the-art French served breakfast felt like a culinary hop to Paris served in the hotel’s flagship Jöel Robuchon restaurant, L’Époque.

Taste of France. The irresistible La Côte de Bœuf enjoyed by the writer at the L’Époque restaurant. (photo by Motti Verses)

Dinner here presents exceptional gastronomy by reputed chef Eugène Koval. Obviously the restaurant is not Kosher. The food creations are poetry in motion. The menu also contains some of Robuchon’s reputed unforgettable signature dishes like the La Côte de Bœuf – the rib steak with the bone attached. A dish for two, it is a classic not to be missed, unless you are vegetarian.

Joining the MGallery Hotel Collection by Accor renowned for its unique boutique hotels, the Elkonin in Tel Aviv’s historical  Lilienblum Street, fits this concept like a hand in a glove.

Breakfast at L’Époque. A state-of-the-art French served breakfast. (photo by Motti Verses)

One does not have to be a hotel guest to encounter this treasure. You can enjoy a breakfast or celebrate something intimate over dinner, or even experience a treatment in the spa. Do combine it with an hour walk to discover the street’s treasures. Gastronomy, terraces, cafés, aesthetic architecture and a romantic vibe, excuse me if I thought for a moment I was in Paris!

It sure felt like it.

* Feature picture – Almost check-in time for the writer at Elkonin Tel Aviv – MGallery. (photo by Motti Verses)

About the writer:

The writer, Motti Verses, is a Travel Flash Tips publisher. His travel stories are published on THE TIMES OF ISRAEL 

And his hospitality analysis reviews on THE JERUSALEM POST, are available on his Linkedin page LinkedIn Israel › motti-verse…Motti Verses – Publisher and Chief Editor – TRAVEL FLASH TIPS

And his hospitality analysis reviews on THE JERUSALEM POST, are available on his Linkedin page LinkedIn Israel › motti-verse…Motti Verses – Publisher and Chief Editor – TRAVEL FLASH TIPS

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

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