Florentin is a small neighborhood on the fringes of Tel Aviv proper, lying between Yafo Road on the north, Elifelet Street on the west, Salame Road (which has several alternate spellings) on the south, and Hertzel Street on the east.
Once a solely working-class area, Florentin has not completely abandoned its roots; warehouses, workshops, supply stores, repair shops, and 24-hour kiosks still abound. However, the neighborhood is evolving into a trendy place to dine, drink, and live, as evidenced by the chic bars, modern home design stores, and new apartment buildings.
Often compared to New York City’s SoHo, Florentin has two distinct faces: the work-and-sweat daytime and the ultra-cool nighttime.
At first glance, Florentin is uninspiring in the sunlight. It has a Bohemian reputation, but it’s difficult to see that during the day. Instead, you immediately notice that the neighborhood is or at least recently has been primarily working-class. While not quite ramshackle, most apartment buildings and storefronts are in various states of disrepair, and there is not one green space in the whole neighborhood.
If you wander away from the main streets, you’ll come across back alleys brimming with woodworking and furniture workshops, tapestries warehouses, and other similar industrial-era structures. From the old men sitting in corner stores to the young workers in tiny factories, you can find a cross-section of the city’s poor, though Florentin is remarkably devoid of Africans.
The term “concrete jungle” readily comes to mind.
That said, Florentin has an intangible mystique; not only is the area currently vibrant, but you also feel as if it is going places and doing big things. Maybe it’s the lively atmosphere, the chatter permeating the streets. Maybe it’s the buzz coming from the modern cafes in the neighborhood’s center. Maybe it’s the politically conscious, socially aware, artistically daring graffiti, even more prevalent here than rest of Tel Aviv.
Maybe it’s the balconies and windows bedecked with potted plants, clothes hanging to dry, Israeli flags, decorative curtains, and assorted ornaments, which manage to give the buildings a level of cuteness and personality despite insufficient maintenance.
Maybe it’s the few blatantly new apartments and the construction that foretells more to come.
Whatever it is, Florentin is clearly making strides, which is oh-so apparent when the sun sets. The neighborhood is really a place for the nighttime, when the young and chic flock to the intersection of Florentin and Vital to play.
Florentin pulses with energy and flows with alcohol well into the wee hours, as the streets, bars, and all-night restaurants teem endlessly with partygoers.
Florentin has few sightseeing attractions of note, but the area is definitely worth a visit to experience a different side of Tel Aviv.
Levinsky Market – Less prominent than the other markets in the city, the Levinsky Market is a bit of a hidden gem. It specializes in Mediterranean spices and deli items, with some of the best selections in Tel Aviv. The market stretches along Levinsky Street between Hertsel and HaAliya.
Florentin’s collection of eateries is expanding virtually by the minute, so there are many possibilities for those of empty stomach. Basilicum fires up tasty pizza, Casbah offers excellently priced Moroccon home cooking paired with comfortable, Middle Eastern décor, Bugsy is a well-respected yummy bistro cafe, and Mezcal does a serviceable job for Mexican food. Then there’s Hummus Beit Lechem, where rumor has it the upstairs neighbors lower baskets on strings to get filled with food.
A prime spot for bar hopping, Florentin boasts myriad fashionable places all clustered together. The neighborhood specializes in the micro-bar, where attractive doormen and women tend to enforce max occupancy signs hovering around 20 persons. You really can’t go wrong, but among the options are the following: Perla, a hip joint with great eclectic music; Florentin 10, which lies at the key corner of Vital/Florentin and offers outdoor seating for epic people watching; Lenny’s, a coffee shop that morphs into a cool bar; Metushlach, an extensively stocked wine bar; and Satchmo Whiskey Bar, a genuine Scottish whiskey bar. Furthermore, many of Florentin’s bars are restaurants during the day and continue to serve food after dark.
Due to its character, Florentin lacks a good selection of accommodations. Perhaps the only spots to stay within the neighborhood are the Florentine Backpackers Hostel on Elifelet Street and the Indian guesthouse Sub Kuch Milega.
Florentin’s Odyssey began in the 1920s, when David Florentin and the Salonika-Palestine Investment Company, which promoted and facilitated Aliyah for Greek Jews, bought this land in the budding Jewish city.
Close to the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway, a critical travel route, the area began to develop in a supposedly strategic location. Unfortunately, Florentin could not overcome financial and social difficulties; what was intended to be a nice, residential neighborhood turned into a derelict, industrial one.
Florentin became a home for cheap, often illegal labor, and it wallowed in working-class neglect for the majority of the 20th century.
However, the last two decades have seen Florentin start to move and shake; the neighborhood has actually now become one of the more dynamic districts in Tel Aviv. In the 1990s, Bohemian artist-types saw the potential in Florentin and transformed its cheap loft spaces into dual live/work places.
Eytan Fox’s TV Series titled ‘Florentin,’ which debuted in 1997, sealed the deal for the neighborhood, making it quite popular and desirable among young Tel Avivians.
While remnants of Florentin’s past remain, it is undergoing a constant facelift, much to the chagrin of its older residents. Buildings are continually being replaced and/or refurbished to suit new clientele, and property prices have skyrocketed. In several decades, the original Florentin might disappear forever.
Public Transportation: A lot gets you close, but nothing really takes you into the heart of Florentin. Try the 1, 2, 3, 18, 19, 25, or 129.
Parking: Sizable parking lot at the western end of Florentin, but limited street parking in the heart of the neighborhood.
Popularity for tourists: Off the beaten track, Florentin is not a tourist destination.
Popularity for residents: The average Tel Avivian is not a Florentin-goer, but there is a small, strong fan base.
Aesthetics: Objectively ugly, with a hint of impalpable charm.
Architecture: Functional and industrial.
People: Poor workmen and/or young hipsters.