Off the beaten path, luxurious hipster minimalism

Jacob Ellenhorn, Arts & Entertainment Editor

If you are lucky enough to visit Jerusalem, let me suggest that you stay at the Mamilla Hotel.  Straddling the neighborhood between the Old City and the bustling downtown center of Jerusalem, the Mamilla Hotel can only be described as luxurious hipster minimalism.

If you prefer the more dreadfully generic decor of, let’s say, a Sheraton, then the Mamilla isn’t for you. I was traveling with a 10-person family entourage for my cousin’s bar mitzvah.  Predictably some in our group were mesmerized by the Mamilla while others longed for a McHyatt.

After a grueling 20-hour journey from Los Angeles, the Mamilla’s austere lobby was a soothing relief.  Somehow modern and traditional elements were harmoniously blended to create minimalist elegance. Chairs with clean lines upholstered in modern shades of plum mohair combined beautifully with traditional kilim rugs. The decor invited guests to linger over drinks.

Others in our group saw the inviting atmosphere of the lobby as noisy and claustrophobic, and its decor as confusing and dissonant.  Perhaps one man’s ambiance is another man’s (or woman’s) cloying annoyance, but it’s hard to understand how Jerusalem stone, timeless and eternal, does not work with modern furnishings.

The Mamilla Hotel is not a modern stack-box; with only five floors, the inn is an intimate one.  Elevators that led up to the rooms were not impressive.  They were rather dark and stark, with no visual interest, and the same goes for the hallways.  But once I stepped into our room, I was in awe.  Its sophisticated design was enough to have me second-guessing whether I was in the Middle East.

The bathrooms were the height of Japanese zen. The bathroom suite was enclosed with glass walls, but for privacy, the transparent glass turned opaque with the flip of a switch. Honed stone, waterfall faucets and a shower head mounted in the ceiling all presented themselves so my roommate (my Grandmother Syma) and I could achieve inner tranquility.  To be truthful, my grandmother was not keen on a bathroom that required a user’s manual, but it’s a clue that there is something very different about this hotel.

Unfortunately, the spell of loveliness was broken when my grandmother took a look at the beds: I just knew she was thinking they were way too low toward the floor.  She completely missed the fact that the Japanese-style tatami beds, about 15 inches off the floor, were just perfect, made up with crisp white sheets that seemed to beckon me to lie down. But slumber was not a privilege that would be granted until after dinner.  We looked around in the room for a clock and to our amazement, there wasn’t one in the room.  Was this some kind of conspiracy to turn uptight Americans into locals who were always “in the moment?”

We decided to leave our room and settle into one of the lobby’s seating areas to wait for the rest of our mishpacha.  The hotel’s guests were an interesting cornucopia.  There were the nouveau Russian riche who were dressed in all white for their Kabbalah retreat, the French Moroccan crew who were distinctively chic, and then the tourists like me and Grandma who just wanted to crash.

Dinner was good but not great.  The dining hall was just as beautifully decorated as the  rest of the hotel.  The buffet for Shabbat dinner was staggering in quantity but not in quality.  The issue I had with the menu was that some chef decided to muck up traditional Jewish comfort food with a culinary philosophy.  If the hotel is dedicated to minimalism, why couldn’t they have left the matzoh balls alone?  There was no need for an infused lemon and rosemary chicken soup or adding smoked chipotle peppers to the babaganoush.

At dinner, my aunt commented that while the hotel was certainly elegant, its design was completely oblivious to the needs of a woman.  With barely any counter space in the bathroom there nowhere to lay out her make-up.  I guess she’s right. So the hotel had three negatives: no counter space, no clocks, and the food is pretentious.

Regardless, I am still in love with the Mamilla and would stay there again if my parents paid for it.  With its hefty rate $400 a night, I don’t think I’ll be able to afford myself it just yet.