Cafe Tamar in Tel Aviv Cafe Tamar in Tel Aviv Café Tamar, a restaurant and coffee shop in downtown Tel Aviv, has been in business since the 1940s. (All photos: Erez Kaganovitz)

Tel Aviv's Café Tamar is the restaurant that stopped time

The shop's 90-year-old owner refuses to change, and her customers love her for it.

Editor's update, 9.11.15: We are sad to report the passing this week of Sara Stern at the age of 90. She was the proprietor of Cafe Tamar for 60 years until it closed earlier this summer. Below is the story we wrote in May 2014 about her amazing cafe.

Shortly after her husband's death, Sara Stern stood behind the cash register of his restaurant, Café Tamar, in the center of Tel Aviv. Today, 73 years after the café opened, Stern is still there. And her shop is a backdrop of her struggles and triumphs over the years.

tamar_sara Sara Stern, owner of Café Tamar, takes in the scenery outside the shop.

Stern moved to Tel Aviv in the forties, raising three children there with her husband. After he died unexpectedly, Stern took over the café. Over time, it came to attract some of Israel's "bigwigs" – actors, musicians, film directors, politicians, artists and everyone in between, all sitting together and enjoying a meal.

tamar_serverDedi, a server at Café Tamar.

tamar_cashregister The original cash register is still in use today.

In modern, high-tech Tel Aviv, Tamar is a rare neighborhood tradition that refuses to change. A bottle of beer at Tamar is still the cheapest in town – Stern won't raise the prices.

Hundreds of photos, newspaper articles and stickers adorn the walls along with paintings by prominent Israeli artists, many of whom dedicated their works to Stern.

tamar-bwphoto Pictures of Stern with customers are everywhere in the café.

Last year, Stern was given an award by the mayor, who travels to the café on his bicycle.

She downplays the achievement, though. "I hate those medals of honor," she said. "My real prize is hearing the stories from all the people that come here."

Every Friday at the café, chess players in the area gather for a tournament.

tamar_chess Chess players duke it out in a Friday tournament.

So what's the secret to Café Tamar's success? How has it grown into a mecca for generations of Tel Avivians?

"My answer is I'm a sorceress and I've managed to witchcraft this place so people will always come back again and again," Stern said jokingly.

tamar_hugging Sara Stern gets some TLC from her daughter, Michi.

So what's the real answer?

"It's a combination of a lot of things, but I can tell you one thing for sure," says Stern's daughter, Michi, who also works at the cafe. "Without such a strong woman [at the helm], this place wouldn't have survived for so long. In an age where you have so many different trends, it's nice to have a place that doesn't give in to them. Same coffee, same furniture and same attitude."

tamar_readingpaper Customers read the paper during their morning visit.

Customers are quick to agree.

Amalia, a regular, said: "This place is a relic from a different age. It's like time stopped here in the 1950s. I don't think I've ever made an appointment with someone to meet in the cafe. All my friends are always there, and that's an amazing thing to me."

tamar_tablechat Amalia (left) enjoys a coffee with friends at her favorite spot.

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