Florentin is a neighbourhood located in the south of Tel Aviv, close to both the Central Bus Station and the Jaffa borders. Regarded by many locals as the ‘Soho’ of the city, historically it was a very poor, working-class area. Slowly, however, it is gentrifying and whilst still quite mixed in terms of its population make-up, it is particularly popular with students and 20-30 somethings. Whilst it still looks a little shabby and run-down, there’s no doubt that the atmosphere in this neighbourhood is very special.
Florentin stands in sharp contrast to much of the city’s business and financial centre but without a doubt, is one of the areas in Tel Aviv undergoing the most rapid of changes and it seems this trend is set to continue as the neighbourhood's population grows and more and more new builds and high-rises spring up. This, in turn, has led to an economic upturn, more cafes, stores and bars and, of course, an increase in the number of tourists who visit the area each year.
History of Florentin
The neighbourhood is named after a Greek immigrant by the name of David Florentin, both a Jew and fervent Zionist. He came to the area in the 1920s and soon developed a reputation as a community leader. Slowly, he began purchasing land there in the 1920s, confident both that he would be able to welcome an influx of immigrants there and his investment would pay off since its streets were close to the Jerusalem-Jaffa railway line.
However, for whatever reason, the area did not ‘boom’ in the way Dizengoff Street did in the north of the city and Rothschild Boulevard did in the centre. The neighbourhood did begin housing immigrants but poorer people, primarily Sephardic Jews (i.e. Jews who were not from middle Europe). Many of them had been born in Turkey, Greece, Bukhara and North Africa and were disadvantaged, socio-economically.
From then, until the creation of the state in 1948 and following on, the area remained poor and by the 1960s it was on a downward spiral, turning from a working-class area into a slum. Many who were able to leave and the area only began ‘reinventing’ itself in the last few years (e.g. from 2010 onwards). Whilst the area is still poor compared to many others in Tel Aviv, it is fair to say that it is a lot more vibrant and youthful, with an increasing number of cafes, bars, restaurants, boutique stores, tattoo parlours and nightclubs.
The Development of Florentin - A Symbol of South Tel Aviv Today
Without a doubt, life in Florentin is incredibly different to many of Tel Aviv’s other neighbourhoods. It is still far less gentrified than adjacent areas in Neve Tzedek and Noga, and many of its streets are still quite industrial (peppered with garages and wholesale garment stores on Salome Street, where people come from all over Israel to buy stock).
However, as well as the increasing number of cafes, eateries and exotic watering holes (both by day and night) that have appeared in the last few years, another giveaway sign that the area is on the up and up is the increasing number of independent furniture stores on Herzl Street. Many of these offer great bargains for anyone looking to fill an empty apartment, and for those who want to splash the cash, there are also bespoke stores such as Gottlieb, Hadar and Beytill Concept.
Florentin is also home to many vintage stores and is a popular location for ‘pop-up’ clothing events, where locals and tourists can grab a bargain on Fridays (the beginning of the Israeli weekend). Look out for the store ‘Buy Kilo; on Herzl too - based on the trend which hails from Europe, you can buy clothes by weight, with prices ranging from 100-400 NIS per kilo, depending on the item).
From the 1930s onwards, as immigrants settled, many spice stalls and small food stores began opening up, each with their own influences and flavours. Greek, Persian, Bukharan and Turkish vendors sold their wares and today the trend continues, in the form of the very popular Levinsky Market.
Visitors can pick up everything imaginable, ranging from nuts and dried fruits to delicious baked goods, household wares and fabrics. Running from the corner of HaAliya Street along to HaMashbir, it is a wonderful place to stroll, sit and drink coffee or stop off for a cheap lunch (where holes in the wall serve humble plates of food for terrific prices). Look out for:
Baklava Mahrum - originally from Nazareth and founded in 1890, try the almond cake, pistachio baklava and knafeh (just don’t tell your dentist!). Also, look out for their speciality coffee - Naklah - which is made in Shfaram, an Arab village, and is a beautiful red colour.
Shuk California - all kinds of dried fruits and some of the freshest nuts await you at this wonderful store. They also sell local herbs and amazing homemade fruit sodas, made from carbonated water and their own fruit syrups. Not to be missed.
Chaim Raphael - pick up some cured meats, plump olives or a couple of gourmet cheeses here - the store has been run by the same family for generations and doesn’t disappoint.
Cafe Atlas - one of the most well-known cafes in the area, it was founded by a group of immigrants in 1923, who had arrived from Saloniki, Greece. Not only is it a great place to grab a coffee, but they sell all kinds of spices and plants. Fun fact: they even offer the exact coffee that the late Prime Minister Golda Meir used to buy there, back in the 1960s.
Yom Tov Deli - if you’re in the mood for smoked salmon, homemade dried pasta and excellent sandwiches, this is the place for you - it’s run by brothers Eitan and Yomi that took the place over from their grandfather, who opened the deli back in 2000.
Bohemian and Hipster
In general, it is fair to say that whilst Florentin is in no uncertain terms bourgeois, it certainly has a Bohemian vibe to it. Some might argue with that and say it’s more ‘hipster’ since it’s definitely outside the cultural mainstream. For sure, the kind of people you’ll meet there are particularly interested in and fascinated by new and unconventional trends and this can be seen in the cafes, cocktail bars and tattoo bars throughout the area. Not to be missed are:
Mezcal - authentic enchiladas, yummy tacos and frozen margaritas from a machine churning the liquid in front of you, this is the place to come when you’re craving a slice of Mexico.
Casbah - it might look ramshackle, but inside this restaurant is actually quite stylish and will serve you both great rice dishes and excellent vegan burgers. A firm breakfast/brunch favourite amongst the locals.
Choco Lulu - this place serves a lunch and dinner menu (including the popular pasta bowls) but really it's their sinful and extravagant dessert menu that should pull you in - including homemade ice cream, waffles and their fantastic sundaes (which few can finish alone).
Hoodna - it’s not just a bar, it’s a state of mind, so they say. This alternative, underground joint offers free live music by Israeli performers and a laid-back atmosphere with comfy sofas to chill out on.
Satchmo - one of the longest-running bars in Florentin, this place has an extensive menu of fine whiskies, which is reason enough to pay it a visit. They also have a nice backyard, which is great to sit out in on long, warm, summer evenings.
Ink Donkey Tattoos - this place has friendly and knowledgeable staff and they also take on youngsters looking to learn their trade, so if you’re in the market for something colourful, bold or even just small and sexy, then head off to Frankel Street.
Kiosko - just up the street from Ink Donkey is Kiosko, which serves stunning coffee, excellent sandwiches, delicious cakes and healthy juices. It has a spacious inside, which makes it great for meeting friends, but they’ll like you just as much if you bring a book and curl up!
Street Art in Florentin
Street art is incredibly popular in Tel Aviv and nowhere more so than in Florentin, where arguably it all began. There’s more street art here than any other area of the city and much of it is edgy and distinctly political. According to those in the know, street art here can take on all different styles, including freehand, stencilling and even knitted pieces. Much of the art is high up on the buildings - not that artists use scaffolding to get up there, rather they gain access to the roof then climb down and begin painting.
Many people take graffiti and street art tours in Tel Aviv but it's also very easy just to wander the area alone and see what you stumble upon. Look out for some amazing murals on Abarbanel, Hanagarim and HaMasor Streets. And don’t miss the 27 Club Graffiti - on the corner of Florentin and Ben Atar you’ll see depictions of a few great rock legends including Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain. RIP, you guys.
Nightlife in Florentin
The White City (as Tel Aviv is known) is a non-stop metropolis with 24/7 action, and that goes for the south of the city especially. As night falls on here, the place livens up and so does the club scene, which often doesn’t get going until 1 am (!) and often runs until the wee small hours. Indeed, one of the latest trends in Tel Aviv is to go to a morning rave, with non-alcoholic beverages served, before going off to work! But if you’re looking for a tasty tipple of the old-fashioned kind and music to dance to until your feet ache and the sun rises, don’t worry, there’s plenty on offer:
Alphabet - just north of Florentin, on Ahad Ha'am Street, this is a magnificent place for late-night partying. The dark dance club floor hosts many local DJs and throws the occasional laser show and there’s also a cosy lounge that serves well-mixed cocktails. Their ‘no phones on the dance floor’ is a popular policy too.
The Block - one of the city’s most serious nightclubs and with a custom-made sound system, this club on Shalma Street has three different areas, each with its own vibe and distinct music. From the main dance hall to the smaller one, and the cosy lounge, if techno is your thing you are in the right place. Just don’t choke on the plumes of smoke rising up - everyone’s lighting up here!
Breakfast - a stone's throw from Florentin, on Rothschild Boulevard, Breakfast is one of Tel Aviv’s most well-known and well-liked nightclubs. Famous for its electronic music scene, it has fabulous decor and even though the drinks are pricey, the atmosphere is buzzing. Start your evening at Milk Bar, next door, before walking through the passage to the Breakfast Club. And don’t dare leave before the sun comes up either.
Kuli Alma - we'd be remiss if we left this one off the list. This buzzy nightspot has live entertainment, plenty of food (even for vegetarians) and art exhibitions. Located on Mikve Yisrael Street, it’s full of hipsters drinking cocktails and is a true must-visit spot on the nightclub scene. There’s more than one dance floor too, and several rooms all playing different kinds of music, which means there’s something for everyone. Super funky hangout and ideal for anyone with ‘alternative’ leanings.
By bus: From the Levinsky Bus Station, take lines 54 or 83 and alight at Florentin Street. From the Dizengoff Centre, take lines 25 or 172 and alight at HaAliya/Florentin.
On foot: From Dizengoff Centre, it’s a 30-minute walk via Melchet and Nahalat Binyamin Streets. From Rothschild Boulevard, walk along Allenby Street (crossing Jaffa Street) turning into HaAliya, then turn right into Florentin.