Some weeks ago as we passed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, my taxi driver,
a recent émigré to Israel from the Soviet Union, remarked, "This hotel
is not for everyone; this is a place for special people." I smiled. He was half
right and half wrong. Like the Ritz in Paris, the Carlyle in New York, Claridge's
in London and a handful of others throughout the world, Jerusalem's King David Hotel
occupies the pinnacle of hoteldom. It has been host to royalty: King Abdullah of
Transjordan, King Alfonso VIII of Spain, Emperor Haile Selassi of Ethiopia and heads
of state: Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Francois Mitterand, Margaret Thatcher and
Anwar Sadat. To international business tycoons like Cyril Stein, former CEO of Hilton
Hotels, whom I noticed seated in a corner of the living room-like lobby; and movie
stars like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, whose photograph hangs in the manager's
office. To generals named Wavell and Dayan and diplomats named Kissinger and Christopher.
But always -- and this is where the cabbie was mistaken--to "real" people.
The reason for its renown lies in the fact that all its guests are treated with exquisite
care and thoughtfulness.
"We want our visitors to feel that this is a second home," explained
the former, long-time manager, Avraham Weiner. For Mr. Weiner, now a senior consultant
to the hotel, home is where one feels most comfortable, totally at ease, secure and
likely to be surrounded by people who know both your preferences as well as your
idiosyncracies and handle all with considerable aplomb. Home is where nothing is
too much. My own introduction to King David service took place many years ago. I'd
arrived from Italy and a day-long ride on the Amalfi Drive. For all the dramatic
beauty of the bends and hairpin curves there was a price to pay— my back went out.
Room service brought my dinner— white damask napery, silver-domed plates, a flower
in a bud vase. That I was flat on the floor mattered not a whit. The tray was placed
at my side and served as punctiliously as if I had been seated at a banquet table.
Nothing has changed and everything has changed since the hotel first opened in
1931. Built by the Mosseri family, a clan of Egyptian Jews whose holdings included
Egyptian Hotels Ltd. (the legendary Shepheard's in Cairo and Mena House in Giza),
it became the first modern hotel in what was then called Palestine. In addition to
the Mosseri family, shares in the new Palestine Hotels were held by Baron Edmond
de Rothschild's Palestine Jewish Colonization Association and the Palestine Economic
Corporation, established in the United States by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis,
financier Felix Warburg and others. For $150,000 they purchased four and one-half
acres of land from the Greek Orthodox Church and proceeded to build the rectangular,
four-story building. Its Swiss decorator was instructed to "evoke by reminiscence
the ancient Semitic style and the ambiance of the glorious period of King David."
Thus the spacious lobby, restored in 1948 after the bombing by Irgun, the Jewish
underground in the post W.W. II years, bears the original Assyrian, Hittite, Phoenician,
Egyptian and Greek-Syrian motifs on its pillars and on moldings around the ceilings.
In fact, every subsequent renovation and improvement undertaken by the Federmann
family, owners of The Dans of Israel Hotels and Resorts, who purchased the hotel
in 1956, has maintained the integrity of that decor. Here the intense colors of the
Middle East–azure and brick red -- as well as the creamy beige of Jerusalem illuminated
by a combination of discrete gilt edging and soft yellow light aglow in Art Deco
lamps, create an environment at once elegant and alive. Marble floors in the lobby,
parquet in the reading room, tapestries on the walls and bowls of flowers arranged
by the resident floral designer, Rafi, all combine harmoniously into a perfect backdrop
for the intrigue, the tough negotiations and the lively parties that are part of
King David's mystique.
Without ever leaving the premises, the hotel's guests could discover paths to
stroll and niches in which to chat quietly—the terraced gardens at the rear of the
hotel were in full color. The athletes among them could either swim -- there is a large
pool ideally situated within the park-like grounds -- or play tennis. There is a fitness
center in which to exercise and enjoy a massage, a sauna in which to relax and a
shopping arcade that invites browsing and inspires buying. From the terrace (or from
their rooms if they were fortunate enough to have one overlooking the Old City),
they could experience one of the most memorable views in the world: the walls and
homes of the ancient city punctuated by minarets and golden domes and beyond it the
Mount of Olives, Mount Scopus and the Judean Hills. Even for visitors from the great
cities of the world -- from the seven hills of Rome and from Paris, the City of Light,
"Jerusalem the Golden" inspires awe. Its light is sublime. What the hotel
has brilliantly achieved is a synthesis of the best of past and present, sacrificing
none of the elements that made its reputation. A new Israeli-trained executive chef,
"thirtysomething" Jossi Haddad, has introduced a lighter, international
cuisine to the several restaurants within the hotel.
King David Hotel, 23 King David Street, Jerusalem, Israel 94101. danhotels-israel.com/kingdavid
– Elaine B. Steiner
Mooly Brog not only guides but teaches other guides. Israel is justifiably
proud of the rigorous two-year course its guides must complete to earn accreditation.
Mooly, a Sabra, has an encyclopedic trove of information. Art, history, music,
architecture, religion and current affairs figure in his conversation. To boot,
he is blessed with the temperament and skills of a diplomat and a delightful
sense of humor.
Mooly Brog, Licensed Tour Guide, 7 Pinhas Rosen, Ramat-Sharet, Jerusalem
96920. Tel. 02-431442.
Where To Dine
Jerusalem: Down the street from the King David Hotel is Minharet, an
Oriental restaurant serving Lebanese and Middle-Eastern cuisine and featuring
familiar salads of all sorts, falafel, koubeh, shishlik, kababs, fish and sweets.
What is unfamiliar is the combination of flavor and fragrance. Prices are moderate.
The clientele is both Israeli and international.
Tel Aviv: In the heart of Tel Aviv is Forel–a light, bright, refreshingly
uncluttered restaurant where the emphasis, as its name suggests, is on trout
prepared as you prefer, from bleu to grilled to stuffed to broiled. Of course
there is a broader menu—crisp fresh salads, fowl, crusty bread and desserts
like poached pears in wine and biscotti. You might be in Italy or California.
The chef is a young Croatian.
Technically, Babai at the port is not in Tel Aviv, but the port in Jaffa
is close enough and the food exceptional enough to warrant the ride. Fish and
shellfish are the specialties of this restaurant and the first and last courses–as
artfully presented as any in France–must not be missed either. The setting beneath
a canvas canopy out-of-doors offers a view of the marina.
Minharet, 8 King David Street. Tel. 02-234470.
Forel, 10 Frishman Street. Tel. 03-5222664.
Babai at the port, Jaffa Port, Hanger #1. Tel. 03-6818789 or 6813871.
When Yitzhak Rabin's wife needs a gift for her counterparts abroad she calls
Amitai Kav. His jewelry in both gold and silver is an art form and commands
prices ranging from less than a hundred dollars (a silver dove bearing an olive
branch in its beak) to several thousands (a sculpted, wide, heavy gold bracelet
of museum quality).
In Tel Aviv the glass art of two Venetian-Jewish brothers, Loredano and Dino
Rosin, as well as that of several noted Czech glassblowers, is to be seen at
the Arte Vetro Gallery. Like its contents, the shop is jewel-like.
Gideon Oberson is known in the United States solely as a designer of
bathing suits. In Israel, too. But, Israelis have the advantage; they can buy
his made-to-measure clothes. As close to haute couture as it comes, Oberson's
daytime dresses, suits and evening wear can be ready to wear home within four
days to a week's time.
At A Touch of Silver ceramics, fabrics, gold jewelry, paintings and
paper goods of contemporary and traditional design vie with silver objects.
Again, the work of artists and artisans.
Amitai Kav, 113 Malha-Ha-Ayal Street, Jerusalem. Tel. 02-794749.
Arte Vetro Gallery, Hilton Hotel, Independence Park. Tel. 03-5227538.
Gideon Oberson Boutique, 36 Gordon Street, Tel. Aviv. Tel. 03-5243822
A Touch of Silver, 10 Kikar Kedumim, Old Jaffa. Tel. 03-6828889.
And remember the markets: in Jerusalem; Carmel in Nahalat Binyamin, Tel Aviv;
and the museum shops.
–Elaine B. Steiner