Ariel Leizgold, Israel’s nationally-acclaimed bartender has been at the forefront of the bar scene even before opening his bar, 223, in 2008. As Time Out’s 2016 Best Bartender and the winner of The World Class Bartender of the Year for Israel in 2015, Ariel is known for bringing unfettered creativity, eccentric details and innovative mixology skills to all of his creative endeavors, including the bars 223 and Bellboy. We sat down to talk to him about 223 and his new bar-to-table cocktail menu.
How long have you been in the bar world? How did you get started?
Eighteen years. I always knew that I would be in hospitality, as it was always a part of me and the way I was brought up. At seventeen, I started working for a catering company. It was a summer job that opened my eyes even more to the hospitality industry. A year later, a new bartender came on and he asked me if I wanted to try bartending. I learned to make simple drinks, but it set off a spark within me, and I realized that bartending is what I wanted to do.
What was your inspiration for your bar-to-table cocktail menu?
For me 223 – which opened in 2008 – was a pioneering bar. I was trying to cover unexplored ground and create innovative drinks. It was the first cocktail bar in Tel Aviv. People were skeptical at first, but it created a massive trend. At that point, it was just about tightening the menu and details and getting people hooked on the idea. Eight years down the line, it’s the perfect time to expand, alongside timeless cocktails which showcase local purveyors, putting incredible raw materials at the forefront. The global trend is local, seasonal, and farm-to-table menus.
What are some examples of farm-to-table cocktails on your menu?
The “Persimmon, Hell Yeah” is a cocktail that has persimmon, cardamom, fresh pomelo, mustard seeds, spinach, and white tequila. We also have a variation on the Bloody Mary called “In cold blood” which has winter tomatoes, leek-infused vodka, celery, and onion whipped cream.
Where do you source your ingredients from
Local producers and small farmers with ingredients like Fuji apples, winter tomato, baby spinach, and fresh pumpkin.
How does a bar last more than eight years in this country?
It’s a strange combination of really loving what you do, being a hard worker, and being able to find and foster talent. Minding the small details more than anything is important. Most people would find those details too petty and too small, which means that they might go unnoticed; but for us, attention to these details is what makes 223 special.
What do you love about Israel’s bar scene?
We move faster than other scenes, especially with respect to where we were a mere decade ago. Before 223 opened, people were simply not drinking cocktails in Israel. They were very “square” in their perception, and it was challenging to convince people to even consider new creations. It took awhile to get to where we are today. It’s very different now; people expect new things and an unusual experience - this is what’s unique about the Israeli market.
Where do you go on your days off?
I love Meat Bar both as a restaurant and as a business for its 20-plus years of consistency. It’s always got great food and a good atmosphere. I love spending time at Pub Amiram, the oldest pub in Tel Aviv. Some days I like a beer, other times a glass of wine or just sparkling water - all depending on my mood.
What should people expect with your cocktails?
To enjoy the surprise and delight of exploring fresh, new ingredients.
What drives you?
A true love of the trade and the people. I love my teams, and I want to empower them with knowledge, creativity and experience. I am very proud to see us thrive.
Where do you go to get inspired?
I ask people what inspires them and try to dive right into it. It could be about art or storytelling or general things of beauty.