Thursday Night Madness in Mahane Yehuda Vibrant Middle Eastern market by day and party central by night
Throngs of locals and tourists are drawn during the day to witness the authentic atmosphere and workings of the market, and of course do some shopping, and once the food vendors close up, revelers — foreign and local alike — descend on the market to drink and make marry in the bars, restaurants and alleyways.
The shuk never really takes a day off during the week, but if you’re looking for a truly electrifying night out, then Thursday is your target. For locals, it’s the only night can go out without having to worry about getting up for work the next day, and it shows, as the bars and restaurants stay open late, throw parties that spill out into the streets and host special events.
My “date” and I arrived at 7:20 pm, when many of the vendors were still open, and the aisles were crowded with shoppers looking for weekend bargains.
However, as the vendors closed, the shoppers quickly dissipated making room for the party people.
Although, it seems like yesterday that the shuk was just a place where you shopped and maybe grabbed a bite to eat from a local, working class eatery, over the past 5 years or so, the number of hip bars and restaurants has skyrocketed to the point that you can hardly keep track of everything between new ones popping every day and secret spots hidden away in corners only the locals know about.
“When you see the throngs of partiers at the shuk on a Thursday night, it is easy to forget that just a few short years ago you wouldn’t find a soul here at night,” said local tour guide Joel Haber. “But the truth is, this is not just the next logical step in Machane Yehuda’s constant historical development, but also the most vibrant new contribution to the city’s nightlife scene. The shuk has always been the crossroads where all Jerusalemites mix. Now the young and the less so, secular and religious, all sit side by side drinking beers and drinking in the shuk’s special character.”
Check out some of the establishments that have more or less attained all-star status and always promise a good time.
WINE, DINE AND DANCE
CASINO DE PARIS
Tucked away in the depths of the Georgian shuk between the covered and uncovered market streets, Casino de Paris has a colorful history. The building it’s housed in has served as a casino, hotel, British officer’s club and a brothel over the years, but now it’s one of the classier joints in the shuk. The crowd skews a little bit older, attracting mostly professionals in their 30′s and 40′s, but Thursday nights still have an air of fun and youth as the bar stays open until 2 or 3 am serving well-made, original house cocktails inspired by the shuk, craft beers, some decent wines and an eclectic dairy menu also inspired by the ingredients and culture of the shuk.
CINCO DE MAYO
If you’re looking for a legitimate party atmosphere, Cinco De Mayo isn’t a bad place to start. The bar frequently hosts DJ’s playing a range of different styles and you’ll find people drinking, eating and maybe even dancing until around 2 am on Thursday nights. The revelers really begin to pack the place around 10:30 pm, so don’t be surprised if you have trouble finding a seat after that, but you can always make like the locals and grab a drink from inside and hang out in the alley.
Despite the name, Cinco de Mayo actually has nothing to do with Mexico or the 5th of May. The group of friends who started the bar took the name from their time living on a commune outside of Jerusalem, where nobody worked on May 5.
Despite its location off the main drag and relatively small stature, Shuka Bar on Egoz Street is one of the most popular places in the shuk. It’s a relatively meat and potatoes types of place, serving only Israeli beers, choice liquors and small snacks, but on Thursday nights it tends to turn from hole-in-the-wall hangout to a big party.
Meanwhile next door, Que Pasa is the valiant effort by owner Yaniv Kovenshtein to recreate the tapas culture he loved so much in Spain.
Co-owner and chef Avi Betito Golansky brings the vision to life with a menu full of dairy and fish tapas-sized dishes, including tasty Bruschetta Cuca (sardines, onion, hot pepper olive oil on delicious crunchy bread) and Porcini Bruschetta (porcini sauteed in butter with garlic, almond oil and parsley), shaved artichoke with truffles, filleted sardines stuffed with Saint Moor cheese and fried with sage butter atop a lush tomato salad, mullet rings fried with roasted peppers, and more. If you’ve got the appetite they also have larger portions, such as gnocchi, sea ass fillet or red mullet.
While the bar’s motto is “a beer in the afternoon solves all problems,” it also pays to go for one Thursday night at Que Pasa, which also hosts local musicians on a regular basis.
Located on Eshkol Street, a street off the open shuk, Shem Tov truly captures the shuk vibe with a rich Middle Eastern menu, a pretty expansive selection of Israeli beer, wine and liquor and the coup de gras, music from all over the world that keeps the happy vibes going until 2 or 3 a.m.
It’s also a prime place to grab a glass of cold sahleb, a shuk staple usually served hot, made from the flour of ground tubers of orchids with rose water, milk, and cinnamon). Hmm.Delicious!
LATE NIGHT EATS
If you’ve been out drinking, you’re probably in the mood for some munchies by around midnight, and lucky for you, there’s still plenty of eateries catering to your (probably) not-so-specific needs.
If all that drinking’s given you a sweet tooth, then head to Soramelo at the Aggripas entrance of the covered shuk for some shuk-inspired waffles.
Named for a neighborhood legend known for having a story about everything, Soramelo has no doubt produced a few stories of its own.
Soramelo stays steadily busy throughout the night with people stopping in for a microbrew, coffee of a sweet bite to eat, but it really gets busy later when people move on from drinking to late-night snacking. If you’re one of them, you have until 3 am on Thursdays to get a waffle in you to soak up all the beer and arak. Try the one with chocolate and tehina — you won’t be disappointed!
Michi’s is a simple, yet delicious concept that makes for the perfect late-night eatery — high-quality hamburgers and meat sandwiches at a shockingly good price. You can get a simple 100-gram burger on a fresh bun with some serious fixings for just 17 NIS. If you’re really hungry, you can also get larger portions of meat, roast beef and chicken sandwiches and much more. Michi’s is open until 12 am.
This may be the best place to get the famous Jerusalem mixed grill, made of various meats and organs stuffed into a pita with fries and salad on the side. In addition to the traditional recipe, they also serve a mixed grill with fish. The portions are downright massive and perfect for those who have really worked up an appetite. Just make sure to get there before midnight.
By far one of the most popular joints in the shuk, Pasta Basta is the place to go for fresh, homemade pasta dishes that won’t break the bank. All you have to do is choose a type of pasta and sauce and then you’ve got your food. The prices go according to the type of sauce and range from 19-26 NIS. Gnocchi, ravioli and additional toppigngs cost extra.
Pasta Basta is open until midnight, and don’t be surprised when you see a line out the door.