The Jerusalem bar scene (part 1)-Machne Yehuda

A while back, I promised a post on the Jerusalem bar scene. This has proven to be a hard post to write, because as those of you who know me know, I’m a pretty boring person, who needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into having any semblance of a social life. That hasn’t changed much here: my typical Thursday night here (the equivalent of Friday night in the States) involves falling asleep at 11 pm. So I’m perhaps not the most qualified person to write on this topic. That said, over my four and a half months here, I’ve had the chance to at least get a taste of what people do for fun here. Here are my impressions. This will ideally be the first in a series.

When I end up going out, I often end up at the bars in the Machne Yehuda market. This market, which has been the primary shopping area of Jewish Jerusalem for over a century, has gentrified in recent years, with upscale cheesemongers and artisan bread shops replacing some of the vegetable stalls and pita-slinging bakeries of yore. The gentrification has also brought dozens of bars into the market. At night, when the food stalls close, the bars open. Seating is limited within the bars, because they’re located in what used to be tiny food stalls, so patrons spill into seating areas in the walkways. As a result, the lines between the different bars sort of blur, and the vibe is that of one big party, as opposed to a series of separate bars located on a single street. This effect is especially pronounced when there’s live music at one of the bars, which there often is.

Another cool element of the Machne Yehuda area is that the metal gates used to cover the closed food stalls have become a canvas for street artists. Given the location, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the art tends to be a mixture of Jewish religious imagery and conventional graffiti tropes.


The problem with Machne Yehuda is that I’m not sure that anyone who actually lives in Jerusalem hangs out there. The clientele seems to be a mix of tourists, diaspora Jewish teenagers and twenty-somethings on various study programs (which, I suppose, is what I am), and what New Yorkers would call the bridge-and-tunnel crowd. Only, in Jerusalem, the bridge-and-tunnel crowd could be more accurately described as the checkpoint-and-bulletproof-bus crowd. Yeah, this is where the young people of the settlement blocs you hear about on the news come to get drunk and try to score (or at least I think that’s what they’re trying to do-I unfortunately know very little about religious Zionist sexual politics). This makes me uncomfortable for a variety of reasons, the most notable of which is that once I have a few drinks in me, the crudeness and offensiveness of my jokes about the political situation (which already is pretty high when I’m sober) and the volume of my voice simultaneously reach new heights, and I sometimes fear that a pack of hot-blooded settler youth will overhear me use the phrase “ethnic cleansing of 1948” as a punchline and beat me to a pulp. Or maybe my friends will.

Up next: a hipster Klezmer bar! Only in the Jewish state.