Today I’m in Florentin, a historic neighbourhood in South Tel Aviv that’s fast becoming gentrified. And whilst it’s changed dramatically in the decade I’ve been in Israel, it’s still got a reputation for it’s dirty streets, cheap eats and ‘local’ feel to it. It’s a far cry from the Old North, where I live (which is cleaner, quieter and certainly more affluent) but for a stroll around the streets or a night out drinking, I have to admit that Florentin has a charm all of its own.
The neighbourhood takes its name from David Florentin, born in Greece, who bought the land in the 1920s. Up until the late 80’s, it was incredibly neglected but then young Israelis, fleeing the high prices in the north of the city, moved in and the vibe began to change. Taking advantage of its industrial feel (with cheap lofts) artists set up studios, which accounts for the fact that Florentin now hosts the best art scene in Israel. And whilst the neighbourhood has stayed true to its working-class, immigrant roots, it’s very diverse - not just packed with students and hipsters (who are predominantly secular) but older, religious, people, some of who still attend synagogue every day.
For sure, Florentin is ramshackle and somewhat neglected, but it’s also full of coffee shops and cheap bars, which cater both to those with big wallets and students on a budget.
Other things that really resonate with me are the old craft shops (metalworkers, electricians etc) and the way the streets are named after places and institutions that existed long before the State of Israel came into being.
With its maze of one-way streets, public transport is scare, which makes Florentin a great place to explore on foot. Don’t miss the fabulous Levinsky Market (selling spices, nuts, grains, olives etc, Anita - a legendary ice cream shop (all made from natural ingredients), or bespoke furnitures stores. Lose yourself in the back streets, which are filled with tiny restaurants, whisky and tequila bars, old spice stores and the 'Ink Donkey' tattoo parlour.
Admittedly, Florentin is still a bit dirty but perhaps the grunge is what makes it so secretly appealing? There’s nothing you can’t find here - trendy design stores, an old toy store, vintage clothing, modern lighting…and look up too because may of the apartments have beautiful old facades. Rumour also has it than is this ‘Hipster’ neighbourrhood, the latest trend is to sport a ‘Herzl’ beard (Theodor Herzl being the brains behind the Zionist dream).
So wander the streets of Florentin by day, grab a coffee, admire the street graffiti (more of that in my next post) then wait for the sun to go down, and watch the neighbourhood take on a whole new personality. From noisy bars that serve swish cocktails to to quiet haunts with cheap beer; from live music in abandoned warehouses to poetry nights in cafes located in tiny alleyways, there’s a venue for everyone here. No wonder it's the number one spot in Tel Aviv for the artsy, hipster and downright curious. Visit it soon because it’s quickly disappearing.