Tel Aviv is on so many lists of having one of the best night life’s in the world, that it’s a welcome sight when a new bar or restaurant adds to that reputation. Moonshine at 43 Lilienblum, Tel Aviv has become in under two months one of those welcome additions.
In a short span of time, its already become a popular drinking hole (so much so that even on a Monday night when I visited for the first time there was rarely an empty seat after 930PM) and has relied so far mostly on the marketing technique of Prohibition Era speakeasies in the United States: word of mouth by satisfied patrons.
Nestled inside the well regarded Mitbach Lyla restaurant, “the Night Kitchen” near the corner of Allenby and Lilienblum, there’s no signs or windows to see Moonshine from the street and even inside the popular Night Kitchen, the unmarked steel door (on the right as you walk in) gives no clue that there is an inner sanctum within.
As you enter, the confines are intimate with only 28 seats with standing room for maybe another dozen and with one bartender and waitress on at any given time it’s the kind of place that you’d easily get to know and be known by the staff after a visit or two. With no windows, the lighting comes strictly from table top candles which keeps the room on the sultry and subdued side and the walls are adorned with photos from the Prohibition Era with one big mural of an American Flag (hmmnn I should have counted to see if it was a 48 star flag which would have been era appropriate to the intended setting since the last two stars/states weren’t added until 1959).
Sampling the food and drinks I found them both satiating. The edible treats are takes on American comfort food with ten choices that are not only good company to their custom cocktails but also quite affordable ranging in price from 12 to 34 NIS.
Cracker jacks or Moonshine pickles are the cheapest bar fare with Buffalo Wings (33 NIS), a Sloppy Joe (34 NIS) and Baked Macaroni & Cheese (24 NIS) being my favorite more substantial fare. Obviously, with both meat and dairy on the menu (and bacon on their stuffed potato) the food isn’t kosher and I wonder how many will sneak into this windowless respite to partake of those “Prohibitions.” Not that most Tel Avivians are generally shy about dining out at most Tel Aviv’s non-kosher eateries and bars but it does seem a bit more sultry to broach any taboo behind closed doors.
Of course, I would be most remiss to not mention the drinks from which Moonshine gets their name.
Although they have an extensive list of Whiskys, Bourbons, Tequilas, Rums, Cognacs Gins, Vodkas and other spirits to take shots or shooters of or serve as components of traditional cocktails, their 9 house custom cocktails are the stars.
Crafted with infused spirits that often fuse flavors together over months in a jar, different cocktails feature their own particular infused base blend including an Orange Moonshine in their “Bitter Jasmine” cocktail, a Grape Moonshine in their “Big Band” as well as a Beet Moonshine in their “Woodstock.”
I did try my best to try as many of the nine as I could (some nights my ability to imbibe and endure are more legendary than others), my favorites on this visit (as I do plan to return) were their Uncle Sam, Speedy Gonzalez and Tennessee B.
The Uncle Sam featured Kiwi Moonshine, Vodka, Midori, Mint and Sour Mix. It was smooth and refreshing and left me wanting more but I would want to try it with rum instead of vodka to see it would make an interesting take on a Mojito.
The Speedy Gonzalez features Spiced Tequila Moonshine, Orange Liquor, Ginger, Cranberry and Lime which has a bit of zing and spice which give it memorable character. Having lived 20 miles away from Mexico for 16 years (in San Diego) it reminded me of my adventurous excursions South of the Border and made me hanker for a fish taco or an overstuffed Carne Asada burrito.
The Tennessee B features Corn Moonshine, Honey Jack Daniels, Black Raspberry and Maple Syrup served with a slice of corn on the cob as a garnish. This drink of all the nine seemed to scream loudest Americana and all the drinks come in either mason jars or custom cups that underscore the casual informal atmosphere of Moonshine.
Unmarked bottles of wine or beer are also available and the no label on the table policy lends itself to the days when illegal hootch was being made in bootleg stills and unmarked bottles were called shiners (still used in the US spirits industry)..
My evening ended with a portion of their S’Mores which were Rice Crispy wafers filled with chocolate, peanut butter and marshmallow. They were served chilled but were still sticky and sweet and if I hadn’t tasted so many cocktails earlier, I would have drawn on my bartender training to choose a dessert like portent like a B-52 (if they had the ingredients) to pair with it.
Moonshine won’t be confused with more ostentatious cocktail bars like 223 or the bar at Imperial Hotel but then again they aren’t trying to. It’s a relaxing den of escapism without any windows or clocks, time goes by without measure or outside distractions like in a Las Vegas casino. The old school jukebox jazz and blues reinforces the kickback mood and being open from 830PM each night until “the last customer,” Moonshine seems destined to become an unseen beacon to Tel Aviv’s regular and irregular revelers in search of a hangout that’s both uniquely special yet comfortably familiar.
David Rhodes regularly writes about Israeli food, wine and spirits and can be reached at Israeliwineguy@gmail.com