Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar – Cocktail Safari in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is famous for its beach life, laissez-faire und hummus. Sunbathing under the Iron Dome and dreaming of peace! I was very surprised that I found rest and relaxation and always felt safe in this wonderful city somewhere between Asia, Europe and Africa. My favourite way to learn is through taste and travel. The best way of seeing the city is by visiting its bars. Tel Aviv is the second largest city after Jerusalem with about 400,000 inhabitants. Bar Shira and Gilad Livnat are two of its inhabitants that I had the pleasure to meet during my bar adventures.
As always there is a personal story beforehand. I had wanted to visit Israel for a long time but postponed it again and again. The initial spark had passed when I met Bar Shira for a guestshift and tried his delightful concoctions. Thinking about all the delicious herbs and fruits in Israel, the decision to travel soon to Tel Aviv was made. But let’s turn words into action and visit Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar, a sensual journey through a colonial time era.
At Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar a colonial-style bar, serving inventive and creative cocktails, awaits you.
The foyer of the Imperial Hotel is nothing special and I wasn’t sure if I was at the right place. But I was received by a lovely lady giving me a warm welcome. She guided me to a cosy intimate drinking den with exotic wallpaper, an elephant’s head bolted on the wall, and decent lighting. I felt comfortable from the first sight. You can sit around the oval bar counter or find your place at some small tables. I would estimate around 20 seats and due to the size of the place I would recommend a reservation. I was lucky to be seated right at the bar. The guests are a good mix of bartenders and discerning cocktail enthusiasts from all over the world, and I had a nice chat with the couple from San Francisco sitting next to me. They said the place reminds them of Smugglers Cove. There is a recognisable tiki vibe “in the air”. For my part, I felt reminded of my travels through Southeast Asia a long time ago: happy memories.
Attention to detail, carefully selected music, Asian inspired food and craft cocktails utilising the best ingredients available.
Attention to detail is key to creating the right ambience. Besides the nice decoration, the well chosen wallpaper, the Asian influenced wooden blinds and the elegant atmosphere, your ears are treated well to swing and jazz music. The service is impeccable, you get wet towels to clean your hands before enjoying the Asian inspired food. Oh, and the food is so tasty. But as you know, my focus is on the drinks. They have all the spirits you are thinking of, the syrups are homemade and the ingredients are extremely fresh and seasonal. Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar opened in 2014 when the name “craft” was not used in the almost inflationary way it is nowadays. Craft at Imperial stands for: making a drink requires love and attention and also means taking the time to experiment with the local and seasonal ingredients. You will never know how long it took to get the flavour right.
The menu is simple to understand and to make it more accessible to guests, the cocktail list is divided into flavour categories such as fruity, smoked, fresh and exotic. I would recommend letting the bartender take care of you. This is what I did. I was in a classy and herbal mood and what I got was a real jewel, an almost forgotten classic. I didn’t expect a kind of Bijou to be honest but when the bartender told me that he had mixed gin, sweet vermouth and Green Chartreuse I melted away and I knew I was in the right hands. The drink is called Faux Bijou because they add an extra shot of Campari.
On a side note, the original Bijou was mentioned for the first time in the Bartender’s Manual by Harry Johnson from the year 1900. Bijou means jewel, and this is due to the ingredients. Gin is for the diamond, vermouth for the Ruby and the Green Chartreuse for the emerald. A wonderful dry, fresh and herbal libation.
The drinks are perfectly balanced, creatively crafted and served in an unassuming way.
In accordance with the three simple ingredients principle with base, modifier and flavouring agent, I also have my three-drink rule when I am in a new bar. After that, I had to try some drinks from the new menu. It was “Thyme to kill” from the fresh flavour section, that I opted for next. Bombay Sapphire Gin, Ouzo and St. Germain is shaken with mandarin jam, lime and thyme. A complex drink with just the right amount of anise.
My next drink of choice was Bella Donna: a blend of Tangueray Gin, Calvados and Fernet Branca shaken with lemon and orgeat. The drink is dedicated to one of the owner’s dogs. Bar Shira is the eldest of the founding members, Bar’s vision set the Imperial atmosphere, from music to design. Here is the recipe for this great concoction. Shaken, double strained and served in a coupe:
Handful of mint
20 ml gin
20 ml calvados
20 ml fernet branca
30 ml lemon
30 ml homemade orgeat
This bar is exactly what I am always looking for and absofuckinglutely my cup of tea. It feels like you could be anywhere in this world but only five years ago the costs to get quality spirits was incredibly high and sometimes impossible. They started to use the local products, made their own syrups and bitters and started to educate the guests to drink better. Now, Tel Aviv is on the map for drinking destinations and Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar ranks among the World’s 50 Best Bars. I have great respect for the bar scene in Tel Aviv and what they have built up. Thank you for this lovely and remarkable experience.
These pictures were provided by © Ben Yuster