If you build a (cooperative) bar in a bus, the neighbors will come
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The Brighter Side

If you build a (cooperative) bar in a bus, the neighbors will come

A communal effort in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv raises money to refit a bus as a local hangout

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

A digitized photo of what Barmon, a cooperative bar set up in a refitted bus, will look like if it opens as hoped in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood of Jerusalem in August 2020 (Courtesy Shomi Bar-Cohen)
A digitized photo of what Barmon, a cooperative bar set up in a refitted bus, will look like if it opens as hoped in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood of Jerusalem in August 2020 (Courtesy Shomi Bar-Cohen)

In a country full of cafes, sit-down bakeries and lunch spots, the Jerusalem neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv was until recently unable to boast much more than a falafel joint and a pizza parlor.

But a group of entrepreneurial and socially minded residents is now setting up Barmon (the name is a play on the word “bar” and Ba’Armon, or “in Armon”), a cooperative pub in a refitted Egged bus parked in an unused lot next to the neighborhood community center.

The idea is to create an English-style pub with a family-friendly vibe where locals can hang out over a beer. It may also be used as a work hub during the daytime, and for workshops and other gatherings. If all goes according to plan, it will open in the next month.

“It’s not just a pub; it’s much more. It’s a local, social initiative meant to boost community involvement and local business,” said Asaf Shahar, one of the organizers.

Three of the Barmon cooperative pub organizers: Shlomi Lev-Chaim (right), Asaf Shahar (middle) and Alona Liptz, standing on the community center lot where the refitted bar-bus will be parked, hopefully as soon as August 2020 (Courtesy Shlomi Bar-Chaim)

It was Shahar who came up with the idea of a cooperative pub. Raised in England, he’d always lived within walking distance of the local pub — a homey, friendly place where all the neighbors would hang out and families would stop in for lunch.

He worked as a bartender with his twin brother at an east London pub that had been a synagogue in a much earlier incarnation, and met his Israeli wife on his first shift as a bartender in Jerusalem.

He studied animation at Bezalel and then art therapy, and worked in social initiatives. When he and his family moved to Armon Hanatziv, he felt the itch to get involved and bring something new to the neighborhood.

“You work all day, come home to a neighborhood that isn’t the most expensive but isn’t the cheapest, with a crummy supermarket, no cafe, a falafel joint and a post office and that’s about it,” said Shahar. “The closest place to go out is literally a 25-minute walk down the road, and that’s frustrating.”

Armon Hanatziv, also known as East Talpiot, was set up as one of Jerusalem’s so-called ring neighborhoods after the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel won control of the greater Jerusalem area.

It sits just beyond the areas of Talpiot and Arnona, just past the popular Sherover-Haas-Goldman Promenade, aka the Tayelet. It’s always been a magnet neighborhood for young families and immigrants, and has a growing number of schools, an active community center and a new pool and gym complex, but it has never developed far beyond its bedroom community status.

One of the first Barmon activities in Armon Hanatziv, a screening of a soccer game in the neighborhood’s shopping center (Courtesy of Shlomi Bar-Cohen)

“They sent people here, gave them the most basic things they needed, and that was it,” said Shahar. “There’s no actual space for stores and rents are high, as is property tax. It’s not viable to run a successful business here, and there’s very little public transport. So everyone just gets in their cars and goes into town.”

Three years ago, Shahar took an entrepreneurship course at the community center, where he presented his plan for a community pub and began organizing meetings in order to find like-minded people. Cooperative pubs have worked in other Jerusalem neighborhoods, such as the Hamiflezet Pub, a community bar named for the famed “monster” slide in Kiryat Hayovel, where neighbors gather and drink together.

Shahar met neighbor Shlomi Lev-Chaim, and along with several others they began holding events in the neighborhood’s open-air shopping center, watching soccer matches (with beer provided by the local falafel shop), hearing Jerusalem mayoral candidates, even organizing a backgammon night.

The first Barmon meeting of volunteers in Armon Hanatziv, where the cooperative bar is being set up to open in August 2020 (Courtesy of Shlomi Bar-Cohen)

“We saw this project as something really pertinent,” said Yoav Rothschild, who runs the neighborhood’s local authority. “Armon Hanatziv has no place to sit and have a drink, nowhere to hang out — and this answers that need.”

Barmon fits in well with the other social entrepreneurial and placemaking projects supported by the local authority, said Rothschild, such as an “urban nature” spot, where purple lupines grow in the spring and where locals are organizing weekly activities; and the outdoor lending library on the neighborhood’s main street, just outside the community center and across from the shopping center.

A staff member from the local authority worked with Shahar and Lev-Chaim to identify the side of a courtyard at the community center where a structure could be placed, as long as it was not permanent. (The middle of the courtyard was off-limits as its tiled design is landmarked.)

They came to the idea of refitting a bus through a news story about another bus-bar, and it was the local authority staffer who had the idea to buy a used Egged vehicle, as one of her family members works for the bus company.

In June, when COVID-19 seemed to be under control in Israel, Lev-Chaim set up a Headstart crowdfunding campaign that raised NIS 26,000 in four weeks. Hundreds of neighbors bought shares in the non-money-making project to cover the cost of purchasing and refitting the bus.

“I want Barmon to be something that can be used throughout the day,” said Lev-Chaim, who, with his wife, bought an apartment in the neighborhood and had a baby, their first, this year. “Barmon could help encourage other businesses to come to the area.”

He waxes enthusiastic about the neighborhood’s green spaces and trees, and the fact that so many young families live there. He also has a personal connection to the area, as an officer and member of the IDF’s Jerusalem (reserve) Brigade, the historic unit that won the 1967 battle that took the area from Jordanian control.

“I’m really proud of our community and hoping to grow the number of people involved in this,” he said.

There are still questions over the logistics of Barmon, such as whether it will be open on Shabbat. Shahar, who is secular, wants it to be open on Friday nights. He hopes to work with religious members of the cooperative to come up with constructive ideas that will allow them to keep the bar open without being off-putting to Sabbath observers.

“When it comes down to it, doing these kinds of communal activities connects you to people and offers a sense of accomplishment,” said Shahar. “That’s what I love about this.”

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