Plot Twist: This Insanely Cool Hotel Used to Be a Monastery
You’d never be able to tell.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 7:18 AM
In Jaffa, Tel Aviv’s oldest neighborhood, cranes punctuating the skyline stand in stark contrast to the cobblestoned streets and historic golden-hued stone buildings that have stood there for centuries. The area is ripe for development: The winding streets now filled with art galleries, restaurants, and luxury hotels are a hotbed for the fulcrum of cool in this rapidly modernizing metropolis.
One visionary New York developer sought to marry Jaffa’s namesake mix of old and new worlds with a hotel of the same name. Aby Rosen, founder of RFR Holding in New York, is already the creative mind behind Manhattan landmarks such as 11 Howard, the Gramercy Park Hotel, and the Seagram Building revival. Now, he counts The Jaffa Hotel—opened earlier last year—as one of the latest additions to his impressive hospitality portfolio.
The hotel is housed in a 19th-century complex that once housed the city’s French Hospital and the School of the Sisterhood of St. Joseph—all overlooking the 4,000-year-old Jaffa port and the Mediterranean Sea below. The result is an intoxicating mix of historic charm and modern design all surrounding a luscious courtyard. Stained glass windows, arched ceilings, and ornate plasterwork serve as a backdrop to an impressive collection of modern art and furnishings from iconic names like Pierre Paulin, Damien Hirst, and Hans Wegner.
Enlisting the help of British interior designer John Pawson and local conservationist and architect Rami Gill, Rosen was able to transform this 19th-century neo-Roman landmark into a 120-room hotel with 32 luxury residences, an outdoor pool, a sundeck, multiple bars and restaurants, a spa featuring treatments such as the “Secrets of the Dead Sea,” a fitness center, a boutique store, and even a Shesh Besh lounge—a local game similar to Western backgammon.
In the common areas, outdoor corridors with arched colonnades connect restaurants, bars, and lounges to the guest rooms and a tranquil and lush courtyard and pool, enveloped under a canopy of trees. Throughout, the walls’ patina reveals generations of history. The guest rooms’ balconies are all lined with traditional Middle-Eastern Mashrabiya patterned screens—an ode to the area’s architecture—which reveal beautiful light plays throughout the day.
In true New Yorker fashion, Rosen needed to ensure that the hotel’s dining offerings were unique and irresistible. He called on the help of Major Food Group (of Carbone, Dirty French, and Sadelle’s fame)—who he had previously worked with on the renewal of the Seagram Building’s The Grill—to operate the two restaurants: Don Camillo, a classic Mediterranean Italian restaurant with dishes like Tortellini al Ragu and spicy Pollo Diavolo; and Golda’s Deli, an authentic New York deli serving classics like bagels and lox and tuna melts.
The pièce de résistance of the whole hotel, though, is undoubtedly the Chapel Bar and Lounge (located in what was once the building’s actual chapel). The theatrical space boasts large stained glass windows, dramatic arched ceilings, and jewel-toned hued velvet seating by Cini Boeri. Touted as one of the bustling city’s newest hot spots, the Chapel Bar has just the right essence to foster mingling by old and new and local and visitor and thrust Tel Aviv even further into the international spotlight.
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