I’ll drink to that!

There’s no denying that Tel Aviv has a nightlife to remember… or forget depending how much you imbibe. And with cocktail bars popping up left and right in the city that never sleeps it was only a matter of time before someone swept in with an idea to bring them all together. That man is bar consultant and former 223 manager Omer Gazit. His latest project: a one-week cocktail festival taking over the White City’s top bars with local and international bartenders, signature cocktails, master classes and even a gin-and-tonic safari.

How did you transition from barista to barman to business consultant?

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I started as a waiter in a coffee shop at 15. Then I found myself waiting tables at a chef restaurant where I soon moved to their bar. The chef and owner took me to competitions and inspired me to create things and discover new combinations.

Then, it all came together when I started working at 223 [cocktail bar] as a bartender – probably the youngest they’ve ever hired. The minimum age there was 25, so it was kind of odd to be this 22-year-old serving drinks. I became a chef manager, then bar manager, general manager and eventually professional manager of the entire group.

What inspired you to found Tel Aviv’s first cocktail week?

I love Tel Aviv. I was born and raised in the city, I worked in the city and I truly believe that we have one of the best nightlife, cocktail and culinary scenes in the world. We’re seeing that now with Israeli chefs – traveling overseas, opening restaurants abroad, spreading talk of Israeli cuisine. I believe that there should be even more talk about the Israeli bar scene. Everybody’s raving about cities like Athens and France – how their scenes are evolving. We need to put our scene on the map. This has been a serious dream of mine for four or five years.

So why now?

Because for the first time I am not employed by any bar or company. I figured somebody neutral had to be in charge. When I left 223 and started my own consultancy business I finally had my chance. I know the people. I know the trade. I knew we could pull it off.
Tell me a little about the event.

The concept relies on two factors. First, we want to show the city and its cocktails off. The second is somewhat unspoken: Cocktails are expensive! For that reason, people tend to stick to one or two bars. We wanted to create a situation where you can explore five, six, 10 bars a night and still have some money in your pocket.

We’re going to have a hub located in Double Standard – a Bombay Sapphire spice garden where you can pick up your wristband [NIS 40-50]. Along with the bracelet you’ll get a bar guide divided by neighborhood. Every neighborhood has two to four bars each serving one NIS 25 signature cocktail.

Usually these cocktail weeks force you to buy individual tickets or chips. We wanted none of that. We wanted to be simple. Basically, we’re encouraging you to try as many cocktails as you like in as many bars as you like. The wristband also grants you free entrance to plenty of events that we will be organizing around the city – from master classes, to parties, drinking safaris and all sorts of exciting adventures.

And where will these events be held?

Some inside bars, others rely on more bizarre locations. For example, we’re transforming the Presidential Suite at the Crowne Plaza into a ‘huppa’ [wedding canopy] for the week. There’s also going to be a pop-up bar inside the Story shop on Dizengoff. And we’re organizing a ‘gin-and-tonic safari’ where a guide will take you on a safari through Tel Aviv to taste gin and tonics. A lot of famous bartenders are coming from abroad to showcase what they do in Israel and check out the Israeli scene, too.

How did you go about choosing these bartenders?

Luckily, I have my partner, Alejandro [Safdie], to consult with. We didn’t choose the bartenders based on talent alone. We made it our duty to match them to particular venues. We have a Canadian bartender [Makina Lynn from Proof YYC in Calgary] coming in so we put her at Voodoo because it’s not as much a crafty cocktail bar as it is a party bar. The Norman will feature a pop-up where an English bartender [from Scarfes Bar inside the Rosewood Hotel in London] will bring his bar crew and ingredients with him for two nights. It made perfect sense to pair The Norman with a British award-winning hotel bar.

Have you established a target audience?

The citizens of the city. We want to give them the opportunity to discover the great drinks and bartenders in their own backyard. Demographically, we’re expecting an age range of 23-45.

Are you lifting any 25-plus barriers?

Actually, no. The reason being that we didn’t want to enforce anything different from the bars’ regular functioning. We want you to experience the bars as they are, in their natural habitat.

I notice you’ve included Zalame in Beersheba on the list.

Great catch! We were eager to give the guys at Zalame a chance because they’ve been winning awards and making waves globally. During the week, they will act like every other bar, just in Beersheba, and they will also take over a Tel Aviv bar for a few nights.

A first-year anything must come with its hurdles. Have you faced any challenges thus far?

This kind of concept hasn’t been done in Israel before. While most bars accepted it very kindly, some were more hesitant. They wanted to check things out and see how they went before committing. The same goes for suppliers. It hasn’t been easy to set this up.

As you mentioned, there’s no denying that cocktails are expensive. Why do you think some bars succeed in this city and others, like French 57 and Botanika, fall by the wayside?

When I consult friends in the industry, I explain that the cocktail menu is maximum 15% of a bar’s success. The rest is ambiance, people, music, light, location, and most importantly, service. No bar has failed because of a bad drink menu. You mentioned Botanika. Maybe the Nordic concept for a Tel Aviv bar was a miss. French 57 had a phenomenal team of bartenders, so there had to be something else going on. Some things are bigger than the cocktails themselves.

The local ingredients really vary with the seasons here. Have you thought about hosting a winter cocktail week?

It all depends on demand. We chose this season because it’s not cold and it’s not hot, so you can walk around the city and still have fun. In the winter, people won’t necessarily be up to eight bars in one night when it’s raining.

Anything else you’d like readers to know?

The most important thing is that Tel Aviv Cocktail Week is a great concept, it’s inexpensive and I’d really like people to give it a shot. The worst thing that could happen is that it costs you NIS 50.

Tel Aviv Cocktail Week will take place May 27-June 2. Visit tlvcw.co.il for tickets and participating bars.