How a NOLA-Inspired Bar in Tel Aviv Gets It Right
Step inside Oron Lerner’s French 57 and you’ll feel like you’re knee deep in New Orleans culture. The catch? The bar sits in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Despite the 7,000-mile stretch between the two cities, French 57 has managed to cultivate an authentic, non-cheesy representation of NOLA’s charm, history and renowned hospitality. That’s largely in part to Lerner’s dedication to getting it right, his fine cocktail making skills and his overarching passion for bartending.
About Lerner and French 57
The path Lerner took to French 57 was a winding one, but the destination was never too far out of sight.
“Tel Aviv is the biggest, most interesting city in Israel, and it is natural that young adults will find themselves moving to Tel Aviv to try their luck, as I did at the age of 24,” says Lerner.
He began by working in government offices, but his curiosity for bar and liquor culture led him to quitting his day job and picking up work in a busy café in the city.
“There were no cocktail bars in Tel Aviv then, but I was enthusiastic to learn about them nonetheless,” he says. “I started reading a lot of blogs and writings on the issue of cocktails. I then started writing my thoughts in Hebrew online, and that quickly became a popular blog.”
By 2009, Lerner was doing private pop-ups with customized, specialty cocktail menus. Turns out, the city was thirsty for this sort of thing, and Lerner capitalized on it. Throughout the next couple years, these pop-ups picked enough momentum to keep Lerner busy throughout the year, and helped to further build a name and brand for himself. Meanwhile, he led myriad seminars on topics ranging from cocktail ingenuity to the psychological aspects of being a bartender.
At the end of 2012, he was approached by a group of bartenders who were eager to open a full-fledged, brick-and-mortar drinking destination. Together, they opened the first cocktail bar in Tel Aviv, Imperial, which received international attention. He, along with two bartenders from Imperial (Tzvika Furman and Vita Vladimirski) eventually moved on to NOLA-inspired French 57, which was opened in October 2015.
We know what you’re thinking. Why choose a New Orleans theme for a bar situated in the Middle East?
“Everybody who likes cocktails has heard of New Orleans, but in Israel very few get to go there,” Lerner explains. “After visiting myself in 2013, I loved the Crescent City for all its perks and edges. We were looking for some unifying concept for our up-and-coming bar, and my two partners agreed that a New Orleans bar with a drink menu inspired by its classics and food menu combining local fresh ingredients with New Orleans cuisine was an inspiring concept.”
Not only did they choose a theme well, they executed it brilliantly. NOLA natives will tell you it’s as authentic as you can get without being in the actual city itself, and locals are loving it, as well.
“Tel Aviv is dynamic. We're growing and changing, and the local guests will always surprise you with their choices and their readiness to try new things,” says Lerner. “We love new experiences and are willing to live a little carelessly to experience them. It’s an adventurous life here.”
The French 57 way
A lot goes into maintaining a bar, naturally. To help keep things running efficiently – and to keep morale and passion high – Lerner says French 57 subscribes to several primary values.
“The first is that owners work the bar. We’re an active part of the crew and we do all the duties just as any other worker,” he says. “Another is that the bar, the service, the hospitality and the menu reflect ourselves. It reflects what we believe in and what we deem good. We will not serve something if we don’t believe in it, and we will work hard to source the right ingredients and techniques.”
The third, he says, is that they make every effort to support small, local businesses.
“We're in touch with the farmers supplying us the produce,” he says. “Giving back to the community makes a bar much more relevant than just another watering spot.”
Finally, Lerner says that perhaps the most important keys to a great cocktail bar and bartender is having what he calls “empathy.”
“Guests will try to describe what they'd like, but most of them don’t have to words to describe it accurately,” he explains. “You have to be able to listen with your emotions in order to excite them.”
Excitement, passion, dedication and creativity is exactly what you’ll get at French 57. Visit and see for yourself the next time you’re in Israel: Brenner 2, Tel Aviv.