Shaanan Streett, the 40-year-old frontman of hip-hop band Hadag Nachash, likes bars. He always has.
But when he reached his mid-thirties, he found that most bars — at least in Israel, and particularly in Jerusalem — weren’t particularly inviting to the over-30 crowd.
“Bars have been my friend since I’m 15,” Streett said. “But we needed a place to go for when you’re over 30.”
Having already been in the bar business several times previously, he partnered with Eli Mizrachi, chairman of the Mahaneh Yehuda market’s board of directors and the man considered responsible for renovating the famous market in the last decade. Mizrachi, whose family has long owned a dried goods stall in the shuk, was the first to open a cafe and then a restaurant there, starting a trend that has helped rejuvenate the site once known solely for its tomatoes and cucumbers.
The two were considering several locations — “nothing that was near a cemetery or a mosque” — when they were told about a corner space in the Georgian section within the shuk, where a British brothel, called the Casino de Paris, had once stood.
“This was a real chance to make history,” said Streett, chuckling to think of British officers using this space for other purposes.
The building had been used as a bazaar of sorts for the last decade and required some construction. They stripped the walls down to their bare exteriors, offering rough, exposed cement and a wall of original bricks juxtaposed with smooth wooden tables and stools. Minimally framed windows and doors toward the front and back offer a look into the busy shuk, creating an “glass bowl” feeling for those seated inside the new Casino de Paris.
“We created a glimpse of the past with the walls,” Streett said, noting that the contractor wasn’t thrilled with the idea. “The windows and doors are a frame for looking at the aquarium of humans out there.”
On this particular Tuesday afternoon, the outer courtyard visible from the front door shows a Muslim man prostrating himself on the ground for afternoon prayers while a bakery worker noisily pushes a cart full of fresh bread past him. The bar notably lacks any kind of visible sign, but if you see a well-stocked bar inside, you’ve reached Casino de ‘Pariz’, as locals say, pronouncing the final ‘s’ as a ‘z’.
The bar carries a full selection of Israeli microbrews — including Shapiro, Jerusalem’s first microbrew (which filmed one of its quirky commercials in the bar) — and local wines.
Streett himself is a beer drinker, but he appreciates the concept of a good cocktail. He took a page from bars around the globe and created Casino cocktails, based on local ingredients and named for quintessentially Jerusalem people and places.
So far, the most popular of the half-dozen or so Casino cocktails is the Shuk Hagruzini, or Georgian Market, which includes Chacha (a traditional Georgian vodka made of grape residue left after making wine), lemon, sugar water and mint leaves.
The other selections include:
- Hamelech Agrippas (The King of Agrippas), Agrippas being the name of the main thoroughfare of the shuk: Cava, a touch of arak, sugar and walnuts.
- Ha’agas 1 (The Pear), referring to a street in the shuk and the name of a Hadag Nachash song: Monin pear syrup, white rum, mint leaves and pear peel.
- Yitzhak Rabin (it was his favorite drink): Scotch whisky, soda and an olive branch.
- The German Colony (named for the nearby neighborhood founded by German Templars, and in memory of Streett’s days of drinking half a pint of Goldstar with a tequila chaser): Weihenstephan beer with a Jagermeister chaser and a serving of sauerkraut alongside.
- Mimouna (named for the Moroccan festival that follows Passover): Cava, tomato juice and hot pepper.
- The Arab Spring: Boha (a Tunisian fig liqueur to mark last spring’s protests that began in Tunis), grenadine, cardamom, mint and pomegranates.
For those who need a little bite of something while quaffing a drink, there is fresh bread with a selection of spreads, cured meat sandwiches, sausages and smoked fish.
“We’re kosher,” said Streett, although there is no official rabbinic certification. “There’s no cappuccino or Irish cream around here.”
A Jerusalem hangout
Beyond historical locations, authentic walls and skilled bartenders, the idea behind Casino de Paris is to be a bar for the locals. Street laughingly calls it “affirmative action.”
“We don’t take reservations,” he said, referring to frequent phone calls from Tel Avivians who want to be sure they’ll get a table at Jerusalem’s latest hot spot. “I tell people to come early, and honestly, we want everyone to feel welcome, but in a sense, I prefer that the bar be filled with Jerusalemites.”
And they’ve been coming. An average night may host a few tables of twenty-somethings, as well as Israel Museum director James Snyder, a couple of Knesset members at the bar, a well-known concert promoter, some policemen and a scattering of the aforementioned 30-somethings.
“We’re not here to be cool,” added Streett. “I’ve just been waiting to have a good Jerusalem bar.”
Casino de Paris, Georgian market (first left off the open part of the market, when coming from Jaffa Street), open most days from 12 pm.