February 26, 2023

This hotel in Tel Aviv brings the old and the new together

By Barbara Sofer

‘Tel Aviv” comes from the name of Theodore Herzl’s Altneuland, literally “old-new land.” The Assemblage Boutique Hotel in the heart of Tel Aviv resonates inside and out with that city’s theme.

The hotel stands inconspicuously at 48 Allenby Street, one of the city’s oldest and main arteries that runs two and a half km. Numbers begin from the waterfront Jerusalem Beach, so 48 is a short walk to the water.

The 20-room hotel was scheduled to open in 2020, around the time the COVID-19 pandemic began. Because of the closure of tourism, it opened in 2022 and is completing its first year of serving Israeli and foreign tourists. A concept hotel, Assemblage offers guests a quick entry into Tel Aviv life with its art and music, as well as the chance to mingle with locals. The hotel café, open to all, and its back-yard with strong internet and pretty garden tables, is a hangout for local writers and students. The boutique hotel has also become a venue for exhibits and chamber music concerts.

The rooms are both gorgeous and intriguing. “Assemblage” is art that is made by assembling disparate elements – often everyday objects – scavenged by the artist or bought specially. In a guest room, you’ll find a lamp shaped like an oversized light bulb, and a metal chest that might have come from a sultan’s palace.

While Bauhaus is the White City’s most distinctive architectural style, the Assemblage hails from the Eclectic period, popular in the Tel Aviv of the 1920s. The best guess at the hotel building’s birth year is 1925, when it housed the local offices of Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael, pre-state Israel’s land acquisition and tree-planting arm. Although the Ottoman Empire’s hold on the region ended five years earlier, the building’s exterior has an Ottoman feel with arched windows (not all of them – it’s eclectic!).

The Ottoman styling and the large size of the property attracted the interest of developer Doron Benbenishty who renovated the building with modern luxurious touches mixed with an appreciation of history. Preserving as many of the original floor tiles as he could – the type of oriental floor designs you see more often in Jerusalem – Benbenishty had new tiles crafted to complete the designs.

My husband and I took a mini-vacation in a one-room apartment with a long balcony overlooking tree-lined Allenby Street. There was even an all-weather wooden rocking chair on the balcony, perfect for people watching or reading. Extremely courteous hotel manager Yoav Levy hurried to carry our shared suitcase up the stairs – city ordinances didn’t allow for an elevator in the renovation – assuring us that everyone gets assistance with luggage.

Since guests do have to walk the stairs, the staircase has been turned into an art gallery. When we were there, the curator was busy putting up photographs (some not so appropriate for children) for an exhibit called Politically Correct. Energy-saving electric eyes turn on the hall lights only when people are present.

All the details of our spacious, second-floor suite showed elaborate consideration and taste. Like Tel Aviv itself – it’s mix of modern – including two 55-inch (140 cm.) smart TVs and touch-panel electrical controls. Energy-saving ceiling fans supplement the air conditioning and heating. Cleverly tucked away in a metal china cabinet is a stainless steel sink, coffee maker, microwave oven and refrigerator. Even the large assortment of glassware (for wine, tea, espresso) looks as if it was hand-picked in an art gift shop.

I always hope a hotel’s bathroom will be fancier than mine at home, and this one easily met that test. The décor echoed the historic theme with floral wall and floor tiles, some purposely faded to look vintage, but the sanitary fixtures are modern and stylish. In keeping with the theme, the high-end shampoos, soaps and creams (jasmine, orange, vanilla) come from Zielinski and Rozen, a Tel Aviv perfumery – with roots back to 1905 – even older than the hotel!

Allenby Street

This area of Allenby Street is itself also eclectic – a mix of old-fashioned jewelry stores, bakeries, funky cafés and music shops. Within the half-block-long property, Benbenishty allowed the veteran Ginsburg Musical Instruments music shop and one of those ubiquitous hat and knickknack shops to remain. Theaters, museums, galleries, the Kerem Hateimanim (The Yemenite Vineyard) or Yemenite Quarter’s restaurants, the Bezalel Market, are all nearby.

The hotel doesn’t provide parking spaces. There are paid parking garages a short distance away, or, if you are lucky as we were, legal parking on a nearby cross street. Nonetheless, on future short excursions like this, we’ll take the train from Jerusalem.

We were there mid-week on a winter day when Tel Aviv was warmer and sunnier than Jerusalem, so we took advantage of the weather and indulged in the delight of walking in Tel Aviv, admiring the beautiful buildings and hip shops. A few minutes from the hotel is Nachalat Binyamin Street, home to street arts, crafts fairs and fabric emporia.

We ate an early dinner at the (certified kosher ) Goshen restaurant. (Like many cafés in Tel Aviv, Assemblage dairy café is open on Shabbat and not certified kosher.) We arrived at Goshen before 5:00 p.m. and could take advantage of the excellent business lunch.

We strolled back to the hotel through the colorful Carmel Market, not even trying to resist the scent and beauty of oversized strawberries and grapes. The Assemblage Boutique has a rooftop garden open to guests, so we sat there, admiring the city lights, as we washed down our purchases with a glass of fruit of the vine for a perfect Tel Aviv midweek etnachta (pause).

Our executive one-bedroom suite with a balcony would have cost around a thousand shekels in the winter, more if you’ve brought the kids. A standard room for two costs around 600 NIS. There are packages that include massages (yes, I had one), and during the warmer seasons, gratis roof-top wine and cheese hours for guests.