Ann Tuennerman (front row, fourth from right), CEO of Tales of the Cocktail, with some friends she met and traveled with during her tour of Tel Aviv's cocktail scene. Ann Tuennerman (front row, fourth from right), CEO of Tales of the Cocktail, with some friends she met and traveled with during her tour of Tel Aviv's cocktail scene. Ann Tuennerman (front row, fourth from right), CEO of Tales of the Cocktail, with some friends she met and traveled with during her tour of Tel Aviv's cocktail scene. (Photo: Paul Tuennerman)

A trip through one country’s skyrocketing cocktail culture

A pioneer in the spirits community, Tales of the Cocktail founder Ann Tuennerman shares her eye-opening cocktail tour of Israel.

At 6,800 miles away from her hometown of New Orleans, Ann Tuennerman couldn't have felt more at home.

It was a bar called French 57, a relatively new spot in downtown Tel Aviv that pays homage to the Big Easy with French- and Cajun-influenced fare and a vibrant cocktail menu. Tuennerman and her husband, Paul, used the bar as home base for their sprawling tour of Israel's cocktail culture, complete with whiskey tastings, open-air market strolls and lively bar crawls.

Cheesecake beignets from French 57 in Tel Aviv. Beignets are a traditional French pastry commonly served in New Orleans.Cheesecake beignets from French 57 in Tel Aviv. Beignets are a traditional French pastry commonly served in New Orleans. (Photo: Paul Tuennerman)

Tuennerman is founder and CEO of Tales of the Cocktail, a pioneering cocktail festival held annually in New Orleans. She also runs the Spirited Awards, which is the cocktail equivalent of the Oscars. Travel is, of course, a big part of her career, and she's been at it for many years, having launched satellite festivals in such locales as Vancouver, Buenos Aires and Mexico City. But she'd never been to Israel. So when Oron Lerner, owner of French 57, extended her and her husband, Paul, an invitation, she enthusiastically accepted.

So what does the CEO of a global cocktail powerhouse do while she's traveling? Drink, of course – but it certainly didn't end there. Israel offered Tuennerman more than her share of craft cocktail culture: the energy of a bustling bar, the creativity and color of an impeccably mixed drink, the endless experiments in mixology that continuously yield new and intriguing flavors.

Paul and Ann Tuennerman toured Milk & Honey Distillery, Israel's first whisky distillery.Paul and Ann Tuennerman toured Milk & Honey Distillery, Israel's first whisky distillery. (Photo: Paul Tuennerman)

And as with every travel experience, you can't help but pluck out a few favorites. For Tuennerman, it all goes back to French 57. "Oron has built a place that’s the perfect mix of food, atmosphere and, of course, delicious cocktails," she told From The Grapevine. "It’s the first place I’d send people that are visiting Tel Aviv and looking for a good drink."

Madame 57 is a champagne cocktail served at French 57, a bar in Tel Aviv.Madame 57 is a champagne cocktail served at French 57, a bar in Tel Aviv. (Photo: Courtesy of Oron Lerner)

And no bar tour would be complete without hitting the 17th best bar in the world as named by Drinks International Magazine. Imperial, a standout in the craft cocktail scene, is located inside Tel Aviv's Imperial Hotel but is much more than a hotel bar. Its proprietors pride themselves on providing "something for everyone," with a seemingly endless drink menu that almost guarantees that you will have a great drink there. And Tuennerman did.

Imperial Craft BarImperial Craft Bar in Tel Aviv. (Photo: Ben Yuster)

When they weren't wetting their whistles, the Tuennermans whetted their appetites with a tour of Carmel Market, an open-air bazaar replete with spices, baked goods and beautiful fresh produce. "What an experience," Tuennerman recalled. "It was all so fragrant and enticing. I wanted to try it all."

Carmel Market offers endless stalls of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and grains and hard-to-find products.Carmel Market offers endless stalls of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and grains and hard-to-find products. (Photo: Paul Tuennerman)

But it wasn't all about taste and smell. After all, you can't go to Israel without immersing yourself in its history and architecture.

"Cities in the United States go back maybe 400 years. In Israel it’s thousands and thousands of years," Tuennerman said. "It’s hard to wrap your head around how old some of these structures are and the events that took place on the ground we were standing on. I learned about these things in school but to be there in person is almost indescribable. It was one of the more powerful and moving experiences of my life."

The Tuennermans got a panoramic view of this cliffside dwelling in Israel near the Jordan River.The Tuennermans got a panoramic view of this cliffside dwelling in Israel near the Jordan River. (Photo: Paul Tuennerman)

Having known a bit about Tel Aviv's spirits community before arriving, Tuennerman can't say she was entirely surprised by what they’ve built there. But was she impressed? Oh yes. "It was inspiring to see the energy and enthusiasm for the craft from so many young bartenders," she said. "Tel Aviv is a cocktail city on the rise. I know we’ll be hearing more and more from them in the years to come."

French 57 is a New Orleans-themed bar in Tel Aviv, known for its vibrant cocktail selection.French 57 is a New Orleans-themed bar in Tel Aviv, known for its vibrant cocktail selection. (Photo: Paul Tuennerman)

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