Next month, Tel Aviv’s elderly (and a few younger) bohemians will sadly have to say goodbye to their favorite haunt–their official home-away-from-home. After 74 years of catering to poets, painters, writers, artists, journalists and politicians–many of them hanging out at the café every single day–Café Tamar, located at 57 Shenkin Street, will be closing its doors for good.
Over the years, an endless list of major cultural figures became the place’s steady clientele, including poets Nathan Alterman and Nathan Zach, painters Meir Pichhadze and Nachum Gutman, actor Amos Lavi, and Yossi Harel, the supervisor of the Exodus 1947 operation. The staff of the adjacent Davar newspaper, which closed in 1996, frequented the place, and thus it became a popular hang-out for journalists.
Café Tamar originally opened in 1941. In the mid-1950s, Abraham and Sarah Stern, who met in the British army, bought the place. In 1966 Abraham died and his wife, nicknamed “The Sheriff of Shenkin,” took over. She single-handedly manages the place to this very day.
In Abraham’s days Café Tamar was a bit more fancy and European, but once Sarah took over it became as bohemian and informal as can be. Customers sit on white plastic chairs, drink instant coffee and munch on bourekas or bagel-toast (the place doesn’t even have a menu). They can pay with cash, if they have it. (Sarah has never accepted credit cards and she always served regulars even if they are broke and cannot pay.)
In the 1980s, Shenkin St. was the epicenter of Tel Aviv’s artistically-inclined and young bon vivants, but it has since lost much of its countercultural appeal. And even though the street on which the café resides has undergone many changes over the years, Café Tamar has stayed more or less the same. With its unique atmosphere, it has always been a haven for left-wingers. The walls are covered with left-wing political stickers, various newspaper clippings, and drawings and photos of the regular clientele, many of whom have passed away during the years.
“If they could talk, the café’s unique walls would tell the story of the development of Tel Aviv from a city in the sands to the center of Israeli culture,” Stern’s granddaughter, Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, recently told Haaretz.
Nahmias-Verbin, who is a member of the Israeli Knesset, said that in light of her grandmother’s age—Sarah Stern is now 90—the family has decided its best to close the café. She supposes that eventually a building will be built on the corner on which the café stands, but that a tempting real-estate offer is not the reason behind the decision to close. (Sarah Stern declined to comment for this article.)
“The first day that the café doesn’t open will be very hard for our family,” said Nahmias-Verbin, “but it’s the right thing. We’ll miss the café and its regulars very much.”