A place to play (bar review)

Jerusalem Post, Billboard; February 8, 2008

‘One of my first memories is of my grandmother bringing me to a toy store for Hanukka,” recalls Elad Varon, co-owner of the new Toy lounge-bar in the center of Jerusalem. Varon, also a DJ, is best remembered by the capital’s partiers as publicist and manager of Haoman 17 (when it was still a nightclub).

Everyone who grew up in Jerusalem about two decades ago wistfully remembers House of Toys, he says – a fantasy land of three stories filled with toys of every kind. Now that Varon’s all grown-up at 30, he and his partners have turned the former toy store into a nightlife playground where beautiful secular adults can make other fantasies come true.

“It was a dump. There was nothing here,” Varon says of his return to the site off Jaffa Road to check it out as a potential venue. But he and his partners, who include Jerusalem nightlife hotshot Adi Talmor (of Colony, Layla Bar and Sushi Rehavia) and interior designer Amir Cohen have turned the “dump” into an elegant, neat, sexy house of liquor. Three stories of bars and lounges playfully decorated with toy motifs provide ample room for Jerusalem locals to drink, flirt and lounge.

The toy theme is subtle so as not to make it too childish: tabletops are multi-colored, the wallpaper is designed in colorful retro patterns, the chandelier looks like big white balls, and the bar is reminiscent of a Lego tower.

Given that the place was built just as the smoking law went into effect, Toy positioned a spacious non-smoking lounge bar downstairs with its own entrance. (Apparently, the law allows for a certain ground area to be dedicated to smoking.)
The large parquet floor could easily serve as a dance floor, but Toy doesn’t bill itself as a dance bar. Patrons, however, are free to get up and groove as the occasion arises.

Sitting at the bar with friends one Saturday night, I found the service friendly and attentive. The bar being full, I settled into a corner seat next to a column that blocked my line of sight (come early to get a good seat). The drink menu is rich, with classic cocktails, Toy specialties and mixes based on cava (Spanish champagne) or vodka. Toy also offers the increasingly popular German wheat beer Paulener on tap. Prices are reasonable. Most cocktails go for NIS 32 (compared to NIS 40 at most other bars.) The menu includes basic finger foods: nachos, kabob, chicken wings, schnitzel and the like.

At its opening party a few weeks ago, the place was packed with a largely secular Jerusalem crowd – journalists, students and professionals anticipating that Toy would become the next local “hot spot.” The atmosphere was loose and playful, but it took me about 20 minutes to get a beer.

Toy is packaged with a strict age limit: 23 and up, so yeshiva kids loitering in nearby Zion Square need not play there. Toy is seeking to become a niche for the glamorous and worldly secular locals who bemoan Jerusalem’s lack of cosmopolitan style.

On weekends Varon takes time off from his managerial duties to spin an eclectic mix for the crowd, but on any other night he can be seen manning the bars and registers, which is no kids’ stuff.

But most everyone can play.

Rehov Yosef Du Nawas 6, (02) 623-6666. Open nightly from 9 p.m.; Friday from 10 p.m.