Tel Aviv's Drisco Hotel is among the best examples of the painstaking restoration put into many of the White City's crumbling historical buildings.
It took 12 years to transform what had been the region's first luxury hotel when it first opened in the late 1800s -- and has since been, in turn, a military headquarters, an Israel ministry building and, for half a century, abandoned and dilapidated. The Drisco's owners turned it back into an upscale, meticulously designed, 42-room property with a destination restaurant and attentive service.
Guests will have a higher appreciation for the property by taking one of the free tours it offers of both the hotel and neighborhood. They will learn that Mark Twain was a former guest (a basement lounge now bears his name) and see century-old photos showing just how meticulous the restoration and preservation of the original Ottoman architecture was, including the arched doorways, marble columns and lattice ironwork.
I stayed at the Drisco in late December, when it was too chilly to enjoy one of its best features, the beautiful and sizable terraces off the rooms with both city and ocean views. But it was perfect weather to feel cozy in the hotel's inviting restaurant and bar, the George & John.
Photo Credit: R48 Hotel and Garden Hotel
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Named for the Drisco brothers who opened the hotel in 1866, it features modern Israeli cuisine with broader Mediterranean influences. The fun cocktail list includes the Drisco Spritz, made with the fresh pomegranate juice that visitors to Tel Aviv will find fresh squeezed on every corner, and Levinsky Punch, a nod to one of the city's food markets that's famous for its spices.
Those spices are sprinkled throughout the menu, as are cooking styles that range from pickled to smoked to burnt. Chef Tomer Tal's Jewish-Moroccan heritage shines through on items like roasted lamb chops cooked in charcoal with spicy zhug sauce, and fresh seafood from the nearby Jaffa Port is served in myriad ways. Each dish is beautifully presented, and the space was lively and fun on a Sunday night.
A one-bedroom suite at the Drisco. Photo Credit: Johanna Jainchill
The one bedroom suite I stayed in quickly became one to which I'd like to return. The long terrace has entrances from both the bedroom and the spacious living room, which has a full-size leather sofa and a not-so-mini minibar with complimentary cognac, tequila and bourbon as well as a Nespresso machine and soft drinks. The marble bathrooms have double sinks, walk-in showers and Molton Brown amenities.
I loved the room design's nods to the region and building's history such as the wooden French doors to the terrace, carved wooden headboards and the tiled bathroom wall.
As is the case with many boutique, historical hotels, the Drisco's gym is quite small, and while it has a good amount of equipment for its space, it felt crowded even with just two other people working out. Luckily, the hotel is a quick walk to Tel Aviv's long beachfront with opportunities for running, swimming, playing beach volleyball or exercising at one of several workout areas along the promenade -- a great way to see the city and get in a sweat.