Peekaboo, Peekabar

by Brian on September 15, 2006

in Just For Fun,Only in Israel

The area around the old train station in Jerusalem has been bustling with activity in the last year or so. New restaurants, bars and clubs have all sprung up, sharing the space that once was the end of the line for the Tel-Aviv Jerusalem train built over 100 years ago by the Turks and finished by the British.

While the train was closed in 1996, to be revamped and reopened only a few years ago, it now ends at a station next to the Malcha Mall. That’s left the old train station – located between German Colony and Baka in some of the city’s most prime real estate – open to new development.

My wife Jody and I find it pleasant to stroll through this rapidly gentrifying district. The other evening, we spotted a new sign for a place called “Negro.” I assume the literary connotation is with the Spanish word rather than any African-American racial stereotypes. Under the main title in the sign were the words “Active Bar.”

That sounded interesting. I imagined one of those high-energy establishments where the bartenders are all flamboyant showmen and women, masters at mixing up a drink while putting on a performance like in the inspiring but mediocre chick flick “Coyote Ugly.”

We decided to check it out. But first we had to meet the bouncer.

Now Jerusalem has always been a laid back kind of place. Its residents have never been particularly concerned about what someone’s wearing; in Israel’s capital city, everyone is equally trendy, trashy and nonchalant at once. Hippies, religious frumsters and even those suffering from delusions that they’re King David or Jesus have traditionally all been welcome in Jerusalem’s mostly casual restaurants and watering holes.

But the area around the old train station represents a “different” Jerusalem. The first restaurant opened on the site of a rusting fuel storage silo that sat astride the train depot, is one of the coolest places in the city. With funky chandeliers inside and a lively bar in the middle of a spacious outdoor sitting area, the Colony restaurant would seem more at home at the Tel Aviv Port (another yuppified entertainment center) than just a stone’s throw away from the Western Wall.

Colony is also totally treife, reveling in cheeseburgers and calamari. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just because it’s not my culinary cup of tea doesn’t mean that non-kosher Jerusalemites should be deprived of a trendy shellfish option. It’s just that it looks so inviting…

Nearby the Colony’s milk and meaty decadence is the Ma’abada (“the Lab”) – a state-of-the-art music club funded by venture capitalist turned civic entrepreneur Eral Margalit. The Ma’abada is now the premiere location for Israeli and overseas acts who want an intimate rather than stadium setting. I saw Matisyahu there last year.

Margalit has plans to open an international animation studio in the same area, attracting top Israeli talent to work for media networks in Israel and beyond. The restaurants and bars, presumably, will serve as social spillover for the hi-tech creative types who will spend their days dreaming up the next Toy Story or Monster’s Inc.

Whenever I’ve walked through the development at the old train station, I’ve been struck by the fashionistim who have discovered that Jerusalem can be cool and not just holy. This is a place to be seen and if Jerusalem has such a thing as paparazzi, this would be where they kick back between dashes at Yael Ben Zohar and Kobi Oz.

Which brings us back to the Negro Bar and its bouncer.

“Can we go in?” Jody innocently asked. The burly bouncer gave us a head to toe scan. I was wearing my typical uniform: jeans and a polo shirt. Jody had on a light flower-patterned dress, perfect for a warm Jerusalem night. The bouncer said he’d have to ask the manager. He disappeared for a few minutes and, when he returned, announced, “We’re not open for business yet.”

At that point, a group of black and leather-clad Tel Aviv trendies descended. Looking like a pack of leopards out for a prowl, sunglasses and cigarettes in hand, the bouncer gave them the same look over and then – remarkably – opened the curtain to let them in.

“Hey!” I said. “What’s that all about?” realizing that this bouncer was also a screener and we’d just been found wanting. After all, this wasn’t Studio 42 and Jerusalem isn’t New York in the 80s.

“You don’t want to come in,” the bouncer said in broken English.

“Why not?” I said, now feeling particularly indignant at this very un-Jerusalem-like treatment.

The bouncer stared back but didn’t answer.

“What kind of place is this anyway? Jody asked.

“It’s a peekabar,” the bouncer said.

“A what?” Jody replied and I thought: this would make a perfect round for one of our favorite kids’ games “This is a pen, a what, a pen, a what? Oh, a pen…”

“Well, peekaboo to you too,” I chimed in. “If that’s the case, can we just have a peek then?”

“I told you. It’s a peek-a-bar,” the bouncer repeated, enunciating the syllables. “And it’s really not for you.”

A few more rounds of this and then suddenly, it dawned on me. “Peekabar” must be the Hebrew transliteration of the English “pick up bar.” I whispered my revelation to Jody and we both giggled nervously.

“OK, then,” I said. “We’ll be going. Good luck with that peekabar now, you hear.”

I suppose it’s not so bad. In modern Jerusalem, there’s undoubtedly demand for even a pick up bar, however lurid the environment may seem to us old “religious” folk.

Just the same, on our next stroll, I’m not so sure we’ll be heading for the old train station area so quickly. I’ve kind of lost my taste for calamari and cheeseburgers.

This article was also published in the Jerusalem Post’s In Jerusalem magazine. Here’s the link.

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