Kartel's exterior Kartel's exterior Kartel's exterior (Photo: Jon Steiner)

From repurposed space to nightlife destination

The club Kartel has brought the 'cool' to downtown Haifa.

Set on the slopes of Mount Carmel that abut the Mediterranean Sea, Haifa is a sublime mix of San Francisco's topography and San Diego's urban grit. 

As the country’s first port city, it is the industrial heart of Israel and has long been celebrated for its music scene. Haifa's legendary venue Second City, often compared to New York’s CBGB’s, met the same fate of its American counterpart, shutting its doors in 2009. Ever since, the city has been waiting for a new venue to fill the void. Kartel may be it.

Launched in the fall of 2014, Kartel is the brainchild of Haifa-based graffiti artists Broken Fingaz, whose work has been featured in galleries across Israel and Europe and even on the shoes of the U.S.-based Vans footwear company, which commissioned the crew several years ago to design one of their shoes.

KartelKartel (Photo: Jon Steiner)

Together with Shai Amsalem, who also goes by Ezra 1, a friend and nightlife impresario in Haifa, they took over an old hangar near the city's shipyards that had been abandoned since the 1970s. Today, in its current incarnation, it benefits from a dual personality: on the one hand it plays host to an underground culture, yet on the other it's inclusive to all. 

“The Kartel is basically a place for us to hang out with our friends," Ezra 1 told From The Grapevine.

The space boasts a gallery for artists, a bar and a shop. On any given night DJs can be found performing in the space, or there may be a film showing in the backyard.

Film screening in Kartel's backyardFilm screening in Kartel's backyard (Photo: Jon Steiner)

Kartel's ambience is very much inspired by Broken Fingaz's influences, American comics and psychedelic culture. The building's exterior sports some of their work; inside, there's a dark and playful environment, much like their aesthetic.

“It was important for us to create a space that combine everything we are into," said Deso, one of the members of Broken Fingaz (whose members prefer to remain anonymous beyond their street monikers). "And [we] also [wanted] a place that could welcome International artists and musicians and a physical place for us to show our art and fashion. It’s basically our HQ for creativity.”

The Kartel shopThe Kartel shop (Photo: Jon Steiner)

Locals have long wished for such an eclectic establishment. Sigal Arie, who moved to Haifa from Tel Aviv about a year ago, told From The Grapevine that Kartel has been a joy and was very much needed in the city. "I love the industrial vibe and the fact that it's really put Haifa on the map in terms of alternative culture."

Gil Bahr, an animator from Tel Aviv, visits often. He admitted to being surprised by how much of a "cool factor" Kartel brought to Haifa.

For fans too far afield to make it to Kartel, Broken Fingaz's output isn't limited to Haifa: the crew are planning their first U.S. exhibition this year, though they remained tight-lipped about it, other than to say that it will be part of a well-known British gallery setting up shop in L.A.

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