Last night was the first time that I'd been in the centre of Jerusalem on a Saturday night for a while and I was pleasantly surprised to see just how busy things were. Coming down past the pubs of the Russian Compound we stopped off at the brand newSugar Hill, where Mrs G knows one of the owners. An intimate spot with an interior literally taken from the pages of Rolling Stone, it was quiet as we passed at 9:45 but heaving by midnight - the sort of place that you'd come back to every night to see a regular crowd in friendly surroundings.
Heading on down Heleni Hamalka, we reached Yafo, flanked by 2 coffee shops; the veteran Cafe Hillel and the NKOTB, The Coffee Bean. Both were doing brisk business with tables packed both inside and out, whilst more clientele waited to be seated. Across the road we went, down past "Crack Square", filled with Yeshiva students trying desperately to be black and unimpressed Sem girls.
We were headed towards the square at the bottom where we reached the Bell Wood Bar which we'd first encountered in its mobile version at the beer festival this summer. We were there for Rob's birthday and the table which he'd ordered was already packed. I grabbed a seat opposite the huge flat TV and contentedly checked out AC Milan beating Lazio. This will certainly be a hit come next summer when the nations of the world flock to Germany. Decked out with plenty of dark wood and close to a dozen beers on tap, the place tries really hard to be a British pub but doesn't quite make it despite the picture of Piccadily Circus complete with double decker buses on the wall. Perhaps Salt and Vinegar Crisps and an old man with his dog in the corner might be in order? In general however, this is a place for someone who appreciates draught beer and / or is able to afford to sample the serious collection of Scotch behind the bar. Service was slow but otherwise highly recommended. Apparently it's "kosher with no certificate coz it's open on Shabbat" - you can order a White Russian to go with your burger so draw your own conclusions.
Peckish after the beer we headed to another new attraction - Joy Express - the younger, faster offshoot of the Emek Refaim favourite, which has set up shop next to the aforementioned Coffee Bean. An imaginative menu of burgers, meat sandwiches, wraps, grill specials and enough types of wings to keep even Clare Rayner happy, means that this is a post-pub destination to rival Burgers Bar. Designed with a tunnel-like shape and tiled-wall look, with a little too much avocado green for my liking, it is reminiscent of a 1960s era London Underground station, to which the speed of service unfortunately also seemed to be paying homage, but better to wait a little longer for something delicious than the immediate tastelessness of the likes of Burger King.
A revealing Saturday night - town is looking in better shape than any time since the summer of 2000, new places keep opening and Jerusalem is a fun place to be again.