Tel Aviv’s sizzling start-up scene, raved-about restaurants and gay-positive nightlife have made it one of the Mediterranean’s liveliest destinations. The only thing missing? An equally buzzworthy hotel. With the opening of the Norman, Tel Aviv gets a hotel worth kvelling about.
Small in stature, but big in ambition (there is talk of creating a Norman brand), the Norman manages that rare feat of not feeling like a hotel at all. Entering the powder blue Bauhaus manse feels like arriving at a fabulous friend’s home, albeit one overflowing with smartly dressed people and spectacular art. It’s like the Mideast-meets-1930s Berlin, with a dash of film noir movie set. Either way, be glad you’re a world away from Tel Aviv’s scruffy seaside.
This stylish, far-from-the-tanning-crowd retreat is in the “White City” – the name given to this leafy residential district for its concentration of Modern Movement style buildings. The area, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is also home to the Bauhaus Center, worth a visit for its exhibits and expertly guided walks. From the Norman, it’s a short stroll to Tel Aviv’s best walking streets – elegant tree-lined Rothschild Boulevard, raucous Dizengoff Street and lively Shenkin Street, with its boutiques and cafés. The bohemian district of Neve Tzedek and the historic port of Jaffa are short cab rides away: Visit both to get a feel for the youthful energy of this city. When your wandering is done and you’re ready for the beach, it’s a 10-minute walk away, or hop in a hotel car – they’ll send you off with towels and bottles of water.
A true labour of love, the Norman was created by joining two adjacent Bauhaus homes around a balmy courtyard of kumquat and grapefruit trees. The owner and his London-based designer, David d’Almada, spent seven years amassing Anglo-Indian and mid-century Scandinavian furniture to fill the airy, high-ceilinged rooms with pieces true to the era. Inspiration also came from lively original tiles found during renovations; the patterns were repeated on the luxurious embroidered draperies, bed cushions and ceiling treatments in the hotel’s 50 rooms and suites.
The Library Bar’s intricately inlaid hardwood floors, soft leather chairs, historic photographs and faded Palestine Film Co. stock certificates are a nod to the hotel’s namesake, Norman Lourie, a filmmaking pioneer who captured the heady early years of the country. This room, more than any other, conjures up 1930s Tel Aviv as a desperately romantic place where anything must have seemed possible. It’s a wonderful place to soak up the atmosphere and admire the intriguing artwork.
Eat in or eat out?
Dining out is de rigueur in Tel Aviv, but the hotel’s French-Mediterranean brasserie has an expertise in seafood, enlivening classic dishes with little surprises – such as a plume of fresh sage filled with anchovy crème, battered and fried, and tucked into a fritto misto. At breakfast, the same room bustles with business types who come for that rarest of things in Israel – an à la carte menu – a welcome change from the ubiquitous breakfast buffet.
The hotel’s rooftop restaurant, Dinings, is an outpost of the owner’s favourite Japanese eatery in London, and comes with a stunning view of Rothschild Boulevard’s shimmering high rises. Executive chef Masaki Sugisaki faithfully reproduces his popular izakaya-meets-tapas menu, which has been an instant hit with locals.
Tel Aviv’s epic beach scene isn’t far away, but once you’ve been to the sparkling rooftop pool (surprisingly rare in this city) you just might want to stay put.
The Norman, 23-25 Nachmani st., Tel Aviv, thenorman.com. 50 rooms starting at $415 (U.S.)
The writer was a guest of the hotel.