Florentine is Neve Tsedek’s younger, hippier, scruffier and poorer half-sister. Eilat Street is the dividing line between the two neighborhoods, but it feels as though they’re situated in two different cities. A walk south of Salame Street will get you to an even poorer and scruffier neighborhood, Shapira.
Florentin is a concrete jungle, a once industrial district of small workshops now turned into the Tel Aviv version New York’s SoHo. It abounds with art galleries, superb and varied night life, some of Tel Aviv’s most happening street parties, an independent art scene, and an overall underground atmosphere. Having said that, it could do with a little more cleanliness.
Most of the workshops are long gone now, and young families or children are a rare sight, as the 20-to-35s now dominate the Florentin industrial plain. It seems as though nobody wants to take out the stroller for a bumpy ride on a rundown sidewalk with nothing but grey and no green around.
But if you’re into bars/pubs, cafés and art – you’re in the right place. The residents of Florentin don’t really mind that it’s grimy and unkempt, what interests them is having their favorite local bar or coffee shop right beneath their windows, or their neighborhood improvised concerts and shows, and the burgeoning designer outfits across the street.
Florentin is currently one of the last frontiers whicht corporations, chains and the local wealthy crowd haven’t been able to cross. Shenkin and Rothschild have already been lost, or are getting there. The rise in Florentin’s popularity (the population has nearly doubled, from 4000 to 7000, over the last decade) has, however, resulted in steep hikes in property prices, by as much as 65 percent according to some. Still, you’ll be hard pressed to find buildings that are more than four stories high, so apart from five-story homes being planned around it, it’s been nearing full capacity.
The neighborhood’s name comes from its main street, named after David Florentin, a Greek Jew who purchased land here at the start of the 20th century. He bought this land with a clear purpose: helping Greek Jews to immigrate to Tel Aviv.
The watershed moment in the quick rise of Florentin was probably the popular TV series that aired in the late 1990s and was called Florentin. The first to come were the artists who were looking to stay in Tel Aviv without having to pay hefty sums each month for rent, but now the masses have followed, and Florentin has become an extremely popular place to live, eat and drink.
The Greek Diaspora that settled in Florentin built the neighborhood as an almost exact replica of the Salonika Jewish quarter, with the shops and workshops on the ground floors and the owners’ homes right above it. Now that most artisans have closed up shop and moved to other parts of town or to nearby suburbs, the carpentry and welding workshops have been replaced by restaurants, cafés, bars, galleries and real estate agencies.
The end result is that all these businesses pour into the street, and passers-by intermingle with the ones sitting in the bars, cafés and restaurants, as all the action virtually takes place on the street.
Even though much of the action takes place on Florentin Street, you’ll miss out quite a lot if you confine yourself to this street rather than wander around to the close-by back alleys which make up the neighborhood.