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A conversation with Moshe Levi, barman

by simone September 28 2008
InterviewThings to do

 Slow Moshe and the quick pour

Moshe Levi, owner and proprietor of Slow Moshe, a Nachalot landmark, went into the bar business because he thought it would get him girls. After serving as an Egged tour bus driver in a previous incarnation, a slipped disk moved Moshe out of the driver's seat and onto the bar stool. Moshe opened his bar close to his home in Jerusalem's Nachalot neighborhood (the easier to stumble back after a night of drinking...) in late 1999. Three years ago, Moshe opened a second branch in Tel Aviv, although the Tel Aviv Slow Moshe is on hiatus until October 1st. Guess the Tel Aviv regulars will just have to drive up to little old Jerusalem to get their drink on... 

Our first question is one you probably get all the time. What makes you deserving of the name Slow Moshe? At first I wanted to call the bar barboor (swan), because I had just got back from the United States and I thought the swan was a beautiful animal. There were a bunch living under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and I liked that association. I also liked the sound of it and the fact that it worked on two levels – as the word swan in Hebrew and as bar-boor, bar and boor, in English. I even started applying to the municipality for a permit for that name, but a friend said to me "In English, there's an expression 'slow motion' and you're slow and you're Moshe, so that would be a great gimmick." So I decided to go with Slow Moshe instead.

There have been a lot of changes in Nachlaot in past few years. How have the development and the gentrification of Nachlaot affected your business? They've been good. I started the gentrification on this street (Nissim Becher), I woke up this street. Jerusalem needs parties, it needs things to do, it doesn’t just need bars. Each year, because of Slow Moshe and our street parties (which we sometimes hold Chilling at Slow Mosheeven without a permit), the street developed and now Nissim Becher is like a midrachov (pedestrian walkway), it's like Sheinken Street in Tel Aviv, but it's Jerusalem style, which means it quiets down on Shabbat. I want this vibe to grow, I want there to be even more midrachov style here.

Your bar is much more of a local pub/community center than other bars in central Jerusalem. In addition to holiday parties and themed nights with reggae DJ sets and the like, you have clothing swaps, art exhibitions, and the bar will soon be putting up a Sukka for the upcoming holiday. There was even a minyan that met there sporadically a couple of years ago. How did the bar end up in this role? I don't know. I love nightlife and I love when people enjoy themselves, and I also want to make money so I'm keep thinking up new ideas. A lot of my clients are students from Bezalel, so we started doing art exhibits here in the bar. I really love art, although I myself am not an artist. I give my walls to the artists and I let those who display their work drink for free while their work is up. They don't have a lot of money, they're struggling artists and I want to be fair. They help me, they lend me their art, so I help them, I give them free beer.

So many Jerusalem bars are cold, anonymous and cookie-cutter. What other bars in the city get it right in your opinion, and why?  I really like pubs that attract a population that comes to enjoy themselves and not to lose themselves in drink. I like to go to pubs that attract a population similar to the one at Slow Moshe. I like Sira, Hataklit and Stardust. And every Sunday in the summer I go to tapas in the shuk [at Café Mizrachi], because each Sunday the music is different and I feel like I'm in Greece when I go there.

What about Slow Moshe makes it specifically Jerusalemite in flavor? How does that translate over at the Tel Aviv branch? I brought some of Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and some of Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Haoman 17 and Ima opened branches in Tel Aviv at that same time that I opened the Tel Aviv Slow Moshe, and a lot of Jerusalemites had recently mSlow Moshe at workoved there too. I opened my bar in Florentine because that was the area that was attracting the former Jerusalemites. My ultimate goal is to open a Slow Moshe in Manhattan and I see Tel Aviv as the first step in that. If the bar is economically successful in Tel Aviv, and so far it hasn't been, then I would like to open one in Manhattan. Manhattan is where I married my wife and had my son, so the place holds a lot of memories for me.

Getting back to spreading the Jerusalem flavor, my clients in Tel Aviv are people from the mercaz (central Israel) who moved to Jerusalem to study. When they graduated, they left Jerusalem and moved back to the mercaz, to Florentine, which is very similar to Nachlaot in vibe. It has a lot of students and student type characters. So we attract a lot of ex-Jerusalemites there, people who knew Slow Moshe in Jerusalem and were happy to see a branch open in Tel Aviv. We also get a lot of native Tel Avivians. Slow Moshe is a neighborhood bar in Jerusalem and it’s a neighborhood bar in Tel Aviv too. It's very similar to the Jerusalem branch in that way.

Photo of Slow Moshe making the quick pour (top), the bar chill and Slow Moshe at work (bottom) by Adina Polen for Jerusalemite.

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