Where: 66 HaYarkon Street, Tel Aviv, Israel
Crowd: Older, sophisticated cocktail lovers
Vibe: Blend of speakeasy secrecy and mainstream excitement
Standout drink: Bullet to the Head
I am freshening up at home before leaving the house. I have 12 minutes to get to Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar. Located in Tel Aviv, it was recently voted as one of the best bars in the world (again). Fancy my surprise when I discover I live an 8-minute walk away.
As a recent immigrant to Israel (Olim), I’ve been exploring the various attractions that fill the busy streets of one of the most vibrant cities in the world. Everywhere I look, there are bars serving a myriad of liquors and restaurants offering delicious cuisines – both local and international. I've already passed six establishments on my short walk.
I arrive at Imperial Craft ready to meet my reservation. Six of us will be gathering around one of the booths. A tight squeeze as the whole venue offers perhaps 30 seats. Behind a modest door within a hotel, I walk in.
Israeli culture is so laid back that it is both a blessing and a curse. This time, I am told my table is not ready and I must wait for the previous group to depart. Since its mention as the best bar in Israel, their demand has surely risen. I’m not sure if the staff is entirely prepared for it.
I’m still waiting outside. They kindly offer me a cucumber water as I begin to sweat from the heat. Mid-October in Israel still reaches temperatures of high-20s, and I am by no means used to it. I become increasingly impatient while the desire to relax rises. Perhaps this is a sly tactic. Now I am desperate for an iced beverage.
We are called almost 20 minutes late to our seats, and I am extremely happy in the knowledge that this evening can finally begin. Imperial offers 140 cocktails at any given time but keep the menu at 14. These are carefully selected depending on the season, trend, and (I assume) sponsorship. I order a ‘Bullet To The Head’ – a whiskey cocktail described as spicy and exotic – and await my first experience.
The first round of drinks swiftly arrives and no one is disappointed. With a strawberry gun pattern on the top, my cocktail boasts a variety of flavors which all compliment my taste palate. It is both spicy and smooth; dry yet refreshing – modest and impressive. I am a little irked that the whiskey from which it is based is Woodford Reserve (they missed the opportunity to offer Bulleit), but I forgive them this time. In fact, after waiting 20 minutes for our seats, we all decide to forgive them. There are six different cocktails on our table, but the same six smiles. All is good.
My second drink is called ‘The American Dream’ – deep and bitter with the taste of ‘young talent’ – I decide this drink is surely made for me; the perfect blend of sophistication and pretentiousness that is only welcome at a bar like Imperial. It arrives with a fake $1 bill filled with the face of US President Donald Trump. I imagine this would annoy the man, and that he would demand to be placed on a fictitious $100 bill instead. It is a nice touch and gimmick that caused a laugh around the table.
I am in full swing with my ordering of cocktails. I scarcely knew I was such a fan until tonight, where I am liberally experimenting with all different flavors and liquors. Often prone to hubris, I take one step too far in my order and choose a ‘Gold Fashioned’. A spin on my all-time favorite drink, the Old Fashioned, I figure I must be loyal to my tastes while offering an objective review of a drink with which I am familiar.
The drink, however, was very different. The novelty of this gold liquid does not justify the full power to the pallet. It sharply goes down your throat after uncomfortably resting too long on your lips. The taste is more like paint thinner. I am not entirely sure it is edible. I leave the melted gold in its jar and quickly change my game plan.
“I like whiskey! I like spicy! I hate coconut,” I proclaim. “Make me whatever you want!”
The bartender smiles, grateful for the opportunity to depart from the menu. He brings me my final drink – an entirely bespoke piece of art which compliments all my desires. Perhaps I unfairly compared it to the previous monstrosity, but it was a delightful end to my journey of whiskeys and cocktails. We order the bill and depart in time for the next table to start their adventure.
Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar is rightly awarded its title as Africa and the Middle East’s best cocktail bar. The staff is friendly and professional, the venue is secretive and welcoming. You sink into your booth as the ambiance takes you back in time to the golden age of prohibition and exploration. I will be back to Imperial to impress a future date since its romanticism fills the room with its adventure and intimacy.
Disclaimer: VIVA was a guest of Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar, however opinions and comments made by the writer remain unbiased and independent.