Date Me! A Review of the Jaffa Hotel in Tel Aviv, Israel

Feb 3, 2019

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To The Point

A stunning addition to Tel Aviv’s hottest neighborhood for hotel stays, the Jaffa Hotel is a must-go for visitors to Israel, even if only to gawk at The Chapel bar. Pros: gorgeous renovation of a historic space, fun neighborhood, friendly staff. Cons: not the greatest view from my room, mixed-up room-service beverage order, not enough dates.

A former monastery and hospital, the Jaffa Hotel opened its doors in late August as part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection brand, joining the Setai Tel Aviv and the Drisco in turning the 4,000-year-old port city of Jaffa into arguably the hottest neighborhood in the city. And when I went on a trip there earlier this winter, I found that its much-buzzed-about restoration and renovation of a 19th-century Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance architecture did not disappoint.

Booking

The Jaffa was a Category 6 property in the Marriott award chart at the time of this review, but the hotel has since moved to Category 7. Award nights were available for the dates I needed, so I booked a two-night stay for 50,000 points per night — a pretty solid value considering rooms were going for around $600 in cash.

My booking got me a deluxe king room with a balcony and a city view in the hotel’s contemporary wing. If I could do it all over again, I’d aim for a room in the historic wing, with its lofty ceilings, arched windows and pool views, though.

Contemporary wing.

Location

The hotel is nestled on a hilltop in the heart of Tel Aviv’s ancient Jaffa neighborhood, overlooking the port and the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a five-minute walk to the beach, the Jaffa Flea Market, the famous Abouelafia Bakery and a plethora of incredible shwarma restaurants.

From Ben Gurion Airport (TLV), the hotel was a 30-minute taxi ride in moderate traffic for around 150 shekels ($40). (Make sure you tell them to turn on the meter so they don’t charge a random amount.) The hotel didn’t have an airport shuttle, and the nearest bus and train stations were about two-and-a-half miles away.

Check-in

As soon as I walked down the long corridor to the lobby, I was in awe of this remarkable renovation and the impeccable design by renowned British architect John Pawson, in collaboration with local architect and conservationist Ramy Gill. The lobby, in the new building, combined remnants of a 13th-century Crusaders’ bastion wall, together with furniture by Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata and Damien Hirst paintings.

Part of a 13th-century Crusader’s bastion wall runs through the lobby.
Beautiful furniture by Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata and Damien Hirst artwork line the lobby.

I was met with a pomegranate mocktail and bottle of water as I checked in. There was an issue with my booking, as they were having difficulty finding my reservation, but despite that and the fact that I was rather tired and irritable from the long flight, the staff was charming and everyone did their best to clear it up in a speedy manner.

Complimentary pomegranate mocktail on arrival.

I took the opportunity to enjoy the bespoke backgammon tables in the lobby.

Room

My deluxe king room was in the modern part of the building rather than the historic wing, and my attentive bellman bravely led me through the dark corridors to the room, giving me an informative (maybe too informative) explanation of all the lighting and air-conditioning fixtures.

As soon as we entered my room and my eyes fell on the plate of complimentary dates, I lost my ability to hear anymore about the TVs built into the mirrors. (Though later I did play around with them and was quietly impressed with the design.)

The mirror doubles as a TV.
The all-important complimentary dried fruit plate.
The all-important complimentary dried-fruit plate.

The room was lovely, airy and light-filled, thanks to an inviting balcony and many mirrors. It was not the largest room I’d been in, but felt more spacious than a New York hotel room.

Some of the other rooms in the contemporary wing faced the inner courtyard of the hotel, but my room stared at a neighboring wall. Still, it got warm afternoon light, and the balcony was pleasant to munch dates on.

The room was stocked with plenty of water, local wine, fresh fruit, coffee machines, a minibar with Pepsi and pomegranate juice (never a shortage of that in Israel) and well-curated spirit bottles, ready to decant. Oh, and did I mention the dates? Sadly, the dates were not replenished every day.

I am a sucker for hotel beds, but this “floating” one was particularly comfortable.

The closet held a safe, robe and flip-flops, and a iron and board arrived promptly at my door after I asked reception for them.

The bathroom had a spacious rainfall shower, private water closet, generous number of towels and an array of amenities, including a shoeshine kit and a loofah, which I had forgotten to pack.

Food and Beverage

Having just flown from New York, the last thing I felt like ordering was a bagel with lox and cream cheese, but the Jaffa had a menu influenced by Brooklyn delis. The all-day Golda’s Delicatessen, which substituted as the room-service menu, was packed with tuna melts, avocados toasts, various kinds of eggs and triple-decker sandwiches. I was looking for something more Middle Eastern (there is nothing better than an Israeli breakfast) but instead landed on an omelet with smoked salmon, tea, pomegranate juice and coffee. The pomegranate turned out to be beet juice (easy mistake, but still disappointing), but the coffee was delicious, and the buttery sourdough toast hit the spot. The room-service breakfast was about 100 shekels (around $30).

I went back to Golda’s the next morning for breakfast. It was on the lower level of the 19th-century building and featured original vaulted ceilings. My chilled melon, scrambled eggs, mint tea, and avocado challah toast were pretty great. I didn’t need the side of buttered bagel, but I ate it and loved it, I won’t lie. The avocado toast was 44 shekels ($12).

The other dining option at the hotel was the Italian-American restaurant, Don Camillo, a collaboration between Israeli chef Roi Antebi and a New York restaurant group. Dinner there was primarily an affair of a pasta, fish and meat with a touch of the Mediterranean. This restaurant required a reservation.

What the lobby bar lacked in atmosphere, it made up for in mixology. It was not a place to while a night away, but it was a good for a quick strong drink or two and an espresso — the perfect storm before a night out in Tel Aviv! I had two tequilas and an espresso for about 120 shekels ($35). Don’t judge my weird drink combination.

And speaking of vibe, the pièce de résistance of the Jaffa was the bar and lounge, built into what was once a prayer space and aptly named The Chapel. Without a doubt, this was one of the most stunning bars I’d ever seen, and it was worth a visit for the architecture and furniture design alone. But it was more of a place to gawk at the beauty and have a quick overpriced cocktail on the way to somewhere else. That’s what I did, getting a tequila cocktail for 70 shekels (about $20). It opened at 10:30pm, hence the espresso at the lobby bar! To drink there, you needed a reservation with the concierge.

Amenities

The Jaffa had a 4,500-square-foot L. Raphael beauty spa with an array of traditional spa services, as well as many more expensive ones that promised oxygen, gravity and diamonds. I do love diamonds, but I opted for the free steam and sauna instead. The steam did not seem to be working and had a rather musty odor, so I spent most of my time pouring water over the coals in the furiously hot sauna. Unfortunately, it was not hot enough to sweat out all the pita bread I ate.

The pool was absolutely lovely and quiet, with the perfect ratio of shade and sun. Plus, the water was a great temperature, according to my toe. As it was winter in Tel Aviv, I wouldn’t have hated a hot tub, but pool it was! There were a couple of people laying out and drinking pomegranate juice (or was it beet?), but in general it was quiet.

The gym was well-equipped, spacious and empty, with plenty of machines even if it did get busy. I used the treadmill enough to work off half a date. If indoor gyms were not your bag, the hotel offered complimentary bikes and helmets.

Overall Impression

The Jaffa is a gorgeous renovation in a convenient and fun neighborhood and with friendly and accommodating staff. It felt welcoming and comfortable but still like I was treating myself to a luxe experience. It was quiet but still had a friendly buzz to it. Granted, this was winter in Tel Aviv and only three months after it opened, and it may be a different scene come summer. I would stay there again in a heartbeat, but would opt for a room in the historic wing — and ask for more dates.

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