Tel Aviv’s Kalisher Street is just a few houses long. Gray and rundown, it appears to have seen better days. It connects Herzl Street, the city’s first road, with Nahalat Benjamin Street, another of the main thoroughfares of the pioneering Ahuzat Bayit neighborhood, which was founded just over a century ago and developed into Tel Aviv. The street is just off the Carmel Market, the city’s main outdoor market for produce and inexpensive house wares and clothing. The area is dotted with aging buildings constructed in the Eclectic Style in the 1930s that seem to be begging to be restored. The Brown TLV Hotel, which sits amidst them at 25 Kalisher Street, does not fit in with its modern, glass façade. It also seems to be located at a spot where no hotel entrepreneur in a city with a beachfront would put a hotel.
Contrary to all appearances, the Brown TLV Hotel actually is smack in the middle of the Tel Aviv scene and deeply connected to it. The trendy restaurants, cafes, and bars of Rothschild Boulevard are just a few short minutes’ walk away. The Neve Tzedek neighborhood with its colorful alleys, quaint jewelry and clothing shops, and the Suzanne Dellal Center, home of the internationally renowned Batsheva Dance Company, is in the vicinity. So are the streets of the heart of Tel Aviv, the complex of International-Style buildings from the 1930s that have put Tel Aviv on the list of World Heritage Sites. As for the beach, it is only a 10-minute stroll from the hotel.
The Brown TLV is owned by Leon Avigad and Nitzan Perry, a married gay couple who have a five-year-old daughter, along with a group of four private investors. Perry has a background in marketing and advertising, while Avigad worked in hotels, from bell boy to management, for 20 years. In 2005, Avigad and two partners opened a consulting firm for hotels that operated for several years, working with clients around the world that depended on the combination of their insider knowledge of the hotel industry and their theoretical knowledge of marketing and business from their MBA studies.
“Opening a hotel was a childhood dream,” Avigad says. “I always wanted to do this. Well, OK, first I wanted to be a Mossad agent and diplomat, but then the idea of hospitality interested me and attracted me. After four years of consulting, Nitzan and I went to Spain and decided to start with this while we were there.”
Avigad continues the story, explaining, “We knew that we wanted to host, we knew that we wanted to be intimate and do it in our style, which is vintage and eclectic and passionate. We wanted to get to know the guests and to welcome them and to have a rooftop bar and all the stuff like business facilities, a big lobby, 24-hour concierge service, and a spa so we could really host people in style.”
Finding investors and getting a mortgage to do all this was not easy.
“At the time, banks did not yet know what a boutique hotel is and did not understand the idea of a hotel in Tel Aviv that is not on the beachfront, but in an area that was not considered a good one then,” Avigad remembers.
They finally cobbled together a group of investors and enough bank loans and set their sights on a building near the corner of King George and Allenby streets.
“Every native of Tel Aviv above a certain age knows that building,” Perry says. “It was the grand Polishuk Building with the round façade. It was built in the 1930s and famous for the Pil [Elephant] children’s shoe shop on the ground floor. If you were a child growing up in Tel Aviv all the way up to the 1960s, you are bound to remember the store that gave every child a balloon after purchasing a pair of shoes.”
The idea turned out to be rather complicated to implement and so after some time, it was decided to sell the building. However, after many years of licensing and construction, the building is slated to open in a few months as a hotel designed by Karim Rashid. Avigad and Perry returned to the initiative as their company, Leopard Hospitality, will serve as the management company that will operate the new hotel.
Meanwhile, about five years ago, the couple set its sights on another location, a building that had previously housed Bank Leumi’s investment department and had stood empty for a long time. It was an unattractive building with a white marble façade. The two changed it completely to make it contemporary and unique, they say.
The Brown TLV opened its doors with 30 guest rooms in October 2010.
“The hotel became popular very quickly, attracting the exact type of sophisticated, in-the-know clientele we were aiming for. It received extensive coverage in the international media, including in Wallpaper, Time magazine, and the New York Times, and that helped spread the word,” Perry says.
One of their advantages, Perry explains, is that, “we ourselves are Tel Aviv residents. We know what is going on in the city and where to send people – to the right places at the right time. That is what we do here. The Brown TLV is the hotel of the scene. This is where DJs, trendsetters, and up-and-coming actors stay when they visit Tel Aviv. This is the place to be. And the word is spread by word of mouth, or to be more exact by Twitter, Facebook, and all the websites where you learn about the best secret parties, cityscapes, and fun trends.”
Tel Aviv has a very special vibe and the two try to connect their guests to that vibe. So the first floor of the hotel has one of the city’s trendiest bars. In addition, every Tuesday, the hotel hosts the opening of an art exhibition that attracts tourists and Tel Aviv residents alike. The hotel is a kind of urban hub where things connected to nightlife and art happen.
“We are not only about accommodation,” Avigad says. “We create visitors’ experiences, we connect people, create new friends. We have a small rooftop Jacuzzi that is always full even in the small hours of the night.”
The Brown TLV is not necessarily for young party hoppers.
“We hosted some guests from Finland in their 70s who wandered around Tel Aviv trying to understand what this city is all about and enjoyed every minute of their journey of discovery,” Avigad says.
The Brown TLV is not just a city hotel, it is a hotel for a location inside Tel Aviv: the neighborhood extending from Nahalat Benjamin Street to Rothschild Boulevard.
“When you travel to an unknown place, something new and wild, you want to make sure that you have all the basic amenities. But in places that are known, a modern urban cityscape, you want authenticity and coolness and to be able to connect to the place,” Avigad says. “Today’s travelers are savvy, they have been around, many times, and they want to get to the scene that makes a place tick.”
“I was a concierge at the King David Hotel,” Avigad says. “Here every member of our staff is also a concierge. We train them to do this and we hire people who are connected to Tel Aviv and who search for what they like and want to show off Tel Aviv.
“We have a neighborhood approach, so for breakfasts, our guests can choose to dine at one of a handful of cafes in the neighborhood. The idea is to immerse guests in the city, so we also cooperate with the gym next door, offer free bikes, and also have free entrance passes to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art for guests. Also people from the city come to our events and our spa mainly treats people from the city, not guests.”
The basic idea guiding Avigad and Perry is to create a number of boutique hotels in the cities of Israel.
“Not a chain,” Avigad emphasizes, “but a collection of hotels.”
True to their word, they will soon be opening more hotels in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The Brown Beach House is slated to open in June at 64 Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv with 40 guest rooms and a very 1950s style.
Tourists today have more confidence and want something that has local authenticity, Perry says. In Brown TLV, they sell the center of Tel Aviv. When the beach house opens, they will sell a place with Brigitte Bardot style. In Jerusalem, the hotel will be located in an old villa on Hanevi’im Street.
“We want Hanevi’im to be as ‘sexy’ as it can be, that is, we want it to be itself at its best,” Perry says.
The building on Hanevi’im has an underground cistern, something that all nineteenth-century houses in Jerusalem were equipped with. Instead of covering the huge cistern up, they are making into a bar. The rooftop will have a Jacuzzi and sundeck. The attic, under the slanting roof, will have a spa and guest rooms.
“We play with the old and new. We will have an outdoor fireplace. It will have real character that comes from the place and is unique and genuine,” Perry says.
“For Brown, we bought furnishings in the Jaffa Flea Market,” Avigad notes. “For the Jerusalem hotel, we bought unique stuff from the old neighborhoods of the Old City.”
The Brown, true to the changing hotel scene, gets its reservations from the internet.
At a hotel, usually 15% of guests make reservations via the hotel’s website, another 15% via phone, and the rest come from travel agents and corporate. At the Brown in contrast, 70% of reservations are made directly through its website or by phone. About a quarter of the Brown’s guests hail from the US. Many guests also come from German-speaking countries. Most are traveling on their own, though they sometimes host small groups.
The number of private rooms available for short-term rent in Tel Aviv has grown extensively in the last few years, largely in response to the rise of Airbnb. Some figures place their number in Tel Aviv as high as 7,000 rooms, which is also the number of hotel rooms in Tel Aviv.
“A room or apartment is not a hotel. It does not take care of you, it does not cater to your needs,” Avigad says. “The Dan Hotel’s mode of operation is, ‘We will take care of you – above and beyond your expectations.’ It was ingrained into all the chain’s 3,000 and more employees. Our approach is the same: we will not only take care of you, but also show you our city and introduce you to other people, guests at the hotel and residents of the city. You can not get this at an apartment, as fancy as it may be.
“Here we escort our guests to their rooms, show them all there is to know about the hotel and the city. Everything is on a first-name basis and everything is personal. And for the savvy individual traveler, this seems to be what they are looking for. About 30% of our guests are repeaters, so we must be doing something right.”
Brown TLV Hotel
www.BrownTLV.com | Tel.: (03) 717-0200 | 25 Kalisher Street, Tel Aviv