For those who are ‘not all there’ (dance bar review)

Jerusalem Post, Billboard; November 30, 2007

Mental has made a name for itself as the hottest dance bar in Tel Aviv, but it didn’t look like it when we arrived at 11 p.m. on Thursday, the prime clubbing hour of the week. There was no line at the door, and a lot of empty bar stools. But like all Tel Aviv hotspots, Mental did get more ‘happening’ closer to 1 a.m. In this it resembles the Breakfast Club and Dada – underground dance bars that emphasize cutting-edge electronic music and after-hours nightlife.

Mental, already eight months old, is appropriately named because people are inclined to go crazy there, what with the alcohol and electronic music. Just before rush hour, however, the impression isn’t particularly spectacular. Mental is not about overblown glam, but dark, minimalist style.

I anticipated a righteous coolness; sometimes the vibe of underground dance bars can be snobby. So when a very good-looking guy in a sweaty T-shirt cheerfully greeted us from behind the bar and introduced himself as the owner, I expressed surprise at his friendliness. Owners of such digs are often stuck-up.

‘Not us,’ he said.

My New York friend and I asked for a menu from the bartender, who looked like a skinhead, complete with a mean demeanor and tattoos all over his arms, including one of a cross. The skinhead supported my original thesis. To our menu request, he grunted: ‘Not here.’

Okay, no menus. We asked him to recommend a cocktail. He looked at us as if we were aliens. Fortunately, a different bartender – friendly, down-to-earth and with curly blond hair – took over.

‘Don’t you recommend drinks here?’ I asked.

‘Not here. People who come here generally know what they want,’ he said simply, without making us feel like dummies. At Mental, people want the hard, simple mixes; girly cocktails like apple martinis and cosmos are not their specialties. Tonic water, however, is. The sweet bartender accidentally knocked a bottle in our direction, spilling some on my friend’s pants. He apologized.

Hoping that the music would compensate for the wet pants, my friend committed the faux pas of asking if the DJ would spin pop music.

‘Not here.’

Of course.

On weekends, Mental is clearly the place for electronic music fans, although Tuesday night is dedicated to other genres, including pop and Israeli music.

As the classic rock warm-up turned into Mental’s signature electro music, we forgot about the spilt drink and our pop dreams. The powerful, balanced sound system did justice to the creative yet fun-loving beats that got us onto the floor to dance and flirt. Unfortunately, some of the other dancers seemed somewhat high on themselves (and probably on other substances as well).

Before leaving, we thought it was time to test the owner’s sincerity. We told him about the spilt drink, explaining that it called for more than just a sweet apology.
‘Not here,’ he replied.

Actually, it didn’t seem like he was all there, either. And neither were we. He reluctantly offered us vodka chasers as compensation, and after finishing them off, we went to finish off the night at Griffin – the mega- bar a few blocks down which offers menus, cocktails, pop music, and a little more approachability.

Party line-up: Sunday is for the Tel Aviv working man; Monday sees live bands; Tuesday brings pop and electronic freestyle; Wednesday features special guest DJs; on weekends, expect electronic freestyle.
Mental; 7 Shadal St.; tel. (054) 542-9989.