The Switching Hour: How Jerusalem’s Nightlife Thrives in an Ancient Market After Sunset
Nightlife is never the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Jerusalem, but a thriving after-hours scene at the city’s famous Mahane Yehuda market just might change that.
If you think Jerusalem’s nightlife is overshadowed by its more obviously cool neighbor, Tel Aviv, then you probably haven’t visited in the past few years. Downtown Jerusalem remains lively enough, but the hub of the city’s nightlife has shifted to an unlikely venue: Mahane Yehuda, known as “the Shuk.” Locals have been buying their meat and produce at this open-air food market since the late 19th century, but these days, as the sun sets, Mahane Yehuda enters what Jerusalemites call the “switching hour.” Daytime market stands transform into nighttime watering holes. A fish shop owner might put away the salmon and tuna and pull out the bar stools. Butchers shout their end-of-day sales while DJs start warming up.
“More and more Jerusalem neighborhoods have become Orthodox or mixed,” says Ariel Snapiri, 44, who has lived in Jerusalem all his life. “So the young secular crowd has gravitated to the Shuk. One thing that’s cool about it is that it’s not a neighborhood, like other parts of the city. So once the daytime stalls close, there’s no one left to complain about the noise.”
More and more, that freedom creates a festive party atmosphere. “The Shuk is the busiest it’s ever been,” Snapiri says, “and now it’s even busier at night than it is during the day. New places are opening on a weekly basis, and there’s enough variety for anyone to find a niche.” Here are a few of the can’t-miss experiences:
Belly up to the Beer Bazaar
At the Jerusalem outpost of this Tel Aviv concept, you can taste a wide variety of craft beers from the 30 or so microbreweries in the country. The craft beer scene in Israel may only be about a decade old, but the creation of beer can be traced to the Middle East: An ancient ode to the Sumerian goddess of beer, Ninkasi, finally translated in the 1800s, was revealed to be little more than a beer recipe. And Egyptian texts from 1600 B.C.E. contain 100 medical prescriptions that include beer. Most Israeli beers aren’t exported, so Beer Bazaar might be your best chance to try some.
Indulge in Dekel 3
If Beer Bazaar represents a laid-back, casual, kosher side of Shuk nightlife, Dekel 3 represents its ritzy opposite. “You might order one oyster that costs more than the beer and pastrami sandwich you just had at Beer Bazaar,” says Noga Tarnopolsky, who leads culinary tours in Jerusalem. Owned by the prestigious Machneyuda Group, which has four restaurants in Jerusalem, Dekel 3 is a pricey club that you can’t enter without a membership card. (Pro tip: Find a friend with a membership card—or just call the not-so-secret number, 052-663-6136, and ask for one.) From the hard-to-spot entryway, you’ll step into a chic speakeasy-style cocktail bar. The only way to see it is to go; you won’t find pictures of Dekel 3 on social media—taking and posting photos are prohibited.
Bet on Casino de Paris
Once a working casino, Casino de Paris is now a gastropub that serves Jerusalem-themed cocktails. (Try the Yitzhak Rabin—the whiskey soda garnished with a small olive branch is named after the late Prime Minister who pushed for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.) The building is over 100 years old and used to be a brothel. “There’s something special about going to Casino de Paris and knowing that 100 years ago during the British mandate, British officers were sitting here having a beer,” Snapiri says. On a nice night, sit outside in the courtyard and enjoy a vegan pizza and a bottle of red from one of the country’s wineries. (There are nearly 200 wineries in Israel, and wine tasting in the Judean Hills—one of the five wine regions—makes for a fun day trip from Jerusalem.)
Study art at Beit Alliance
The former all-girls’ school Beit Alliance, which is just around the corner from the Shuk, was deserted for 10 years before it was given new life in 2016 by New Spirit, a nonprofit organization that filled the space with artist collectives. “The organization started in 2003,” says Shayna Driscoll, New Spirit’s director of Resource Development and Communications, “in hopes of preventing more young people from leaving Jerusalem.” Now Jerusalem artists share space in the building all day, and there is live music several nights a week on the open-air patio. The schedule is irregular, so check the website in advance. On a good night, the 19th-century building is packed.
Feel like family at Azura
The family-run Middle Eastern home-style restaurant Azura (+972 2-623-5204) doesn’t have a website, which is perfectly in keeping with its old-school appeal. Azura started in the Shuk not long after Israel became a state and, after changing locations a few times, is once again at home in the Shuk. Long before Mahane Yehuda was a nightlife destination, Azura was a haven for tired shoppers stopping for a bite to eat. “It caters to everyone,” Tarnopolsky says. “It attracts the hipsters and the gastronomic crowd, just as much as it attracts the old grandpas who come to the market during the day looking for a good lunch. The food is superb,” she adds. “They never miss.” Azura is often packed, but it’s worth braving the crowds. Be sure to try the stuffed eggplant.