Had Your Fill of the Ancient Charms of Jerusalem? Relax in the German Colony.

Caffit serves no meat, but the busy cafe offers other food and drink, plus fine vantage points for people watching.
Caffit serves no meat, but the busy cafe offers other food and drink, plus fine vantage points for people watching. (Photos By Hilary Leila Krieger)
Sunday, November 5, 2006

Jerusalem was originally less than a square mile encased in city walls. Nowadays, that's called the Old City, and it attracts most of the tourists, drawn to some of the holiest sites in Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

But for a destination younger in all senses, head to the German Colony, less than a mile to the southwest and more than a millennium newer.

Established in the middle of the 19th century by devout German Christians, the area still features lanes lined with ivy and fruit trees, Arab-style mansions and limestone cottages. And now it also overflows with eateries, boutiques and nightspots -- plus security guards and iron fences to prevent bomb attacks. (The majority of the sporadic violence in Jerusalem has taken place on buses and in the busy city center, which is a 25-minute stroll or a 10-minute cab ride away, but tourists should always be alert.)

The Colony, in short, is what passes for yuppie in this eternal city: Orthodox 30-something moms strolling with babies, university students flirting with each other, and diplomats and foreign correspondents of all ages scouting the scene.

Start at the landmark Caffit (35 Emek Refaim, 011-972-2-563-5284), a perennially packed cafe perched at the epicenter of the Colony's main drag. The hot spot serves up Continental faves such as gazpacho ($6) and oreganata salad with greens, mint, basil and olive oil ($11.50), but also mixes in Turkish fetoush ($6) and ravioli with the Israeli staple sweet potato ($11). It also offers one of the best vantage points for watching the colorful masses passing before and after Shabbat.

Like most places in Jerusalem, Caffit is closed Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons. It also serves only dairy and vegetarian dishes, since Jewish dietary laws forbid mixing milk with meat.

For a quality meat restaurant, you need only walk across the street. At Olive (36 Emek Refaim, 011-972-2-561-1102), specialties such as moussaka ($9.50) and entrecote graced with arugula, garlic and lemon ($20) are consumed indoors amid inlaid tiles and stained wood or outdoors under stone columns and leafy overhangs.

For dessert that will delight your tongue -- and make your waistband shriek -- head to the aptly named Pituim (5 Rachel Imeinu, 011-972-2-566-2899), which is Hebrew for "temptations." The outdoor cafe's creations, including classic chocolate souffle with vanilla sauce ($6.50) and a more inventive baked cheesecake with marzipan icing ($5.80), are worth every calorie.

Several boutiques will happily help you spend your shekels. For jewelry that ranges from the glitzy to the divine (or at least the angelic), check out the hand-painted rose-shaped earrings ($13.50) and seraph-enameled cameo necklaces ($29) one block north and across the street from Caffit at the shop of national icon Michal Negrin (2 Hamlitz 2, 011-972-2-563-3080).

Farther down the main drag, Olam Katan (52 Emek Refaim, 011-972-2-563-7507), or "small world," allows customers to delve into Israel's literary and religious traditions in an incense-scented setting. The American-born owner sells new and used books in Hebrew and English ("Intro to Kabbala," for instance, is $50), as well as art and tchotchkes to set the mood. (Ceremonial candles are $3.75, while prayer cards go for $42.)

Jerusalem might not seem like the most natural place for rollicking nightlife, and the German Colony doesn't do much to disprove that assumption. A few cafes on Emek Refaim -- including Caffit -- stay open late (most close around midnight) and shut only when the last patrons have concluded their political argument du jour.

Things do occasionally get rockin' around the corner of the northern end of Emek Refaim at Hama'abada (28 Derech Hevron, 011-972-02-629-2001), where a steady stream of quality bands wander through. Across the street, a former caravansary -- an inn surrounding a courtyard for camel-hitching -- houses the Khan experimental theater (2Kikar Remez, 011-972-2-671-9602, http://www.khan.co.il/ ). Be aware that most of its productions are in Hebrew. The complex includes an intimate '60s-sleek bar and the inviting restaurant Limonim, where dishes include pumpkin soup ($6.75) and lamb ribs in vanilla oil ($22).

Fewer berets and less ennui can be found up the road at the Colony (7 Derech Beit Lechem, 011-972-2-672-9955), which gets bonus points for being open on Shabbat. The renovated train station is Jerusalem's newest and hippest (read: most Manhattan-like) nightspot. Singles prowl the illuminated bar (a mojito with fresh anise, basil and strawberries is $8), couples snuggle in the comfy Victorian furniture, and celebs grab a bite at thick wooden tables. Try the roasted eggplant with tahini and pine nuts in vinaigrette ($8).

Another recent debut offers a more laid-back experience. Selina (24 Emek Refaim, 011-972-2-567-2049) provides classy barstools for regulars and leather upholstery for first dates. The hangout, which doubles as a serviceable restaurant, established itself as indisputably cool when one of Israel's prime-time soaps made the spot its favorite watering hole.

On the quiet street between the Colony and Selina lies the German Colony's most collegiate haunt. Smadar (4 Lloyd George, 011-972-2-566-0954), open all weekend, features a cafe that serves ice cream in a dish and a bar that doles out beer in plastic cups. There's also an art house cinema with a heavy rotation of independent and foreign films, most of which have English subtitles.

Whatever the films' origins, the Hebrew-chattering 20-year-olds in the audience won't let you forget that you're in Israel.

-- Hilary Leila Krieger

For general information on travel to Jerusalem, contact the Israel Ministry of Tourism (888-774-7723, http://www.goisrael.com). Good Web sites include http://www.jerusalem.muni.il(the Jerusalem municipality's site) and http://www.gojerusalem.com (a private nonprofit site dedicated to helping tourists).

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