An interview with bartender Jasper Soffer about Tel Aviv’s newest pop up cocktail bar
Usually the words “three-step program” don’t invoke the most positive associations; however, for Jasper Soffer, founder of the Mulberry Project, this is not the case. His three-step program comes in the form of a create-your-own-cocktail menu that invokes nostalgia, individuality, creativity, and comfort.
While the bespoke menu is broken down into three instructions – Step 1: Choose your spirit, Step 2: Choose your ingredients, Step 3: Choose your flavor profile – there is so much more to it than that.
“I don't give my staff some sort of rhetoric or spiel. I want them to tap into their creativity and own personal experiences as well, as they share those moments with the customer,” says Soffer.
“You can pick an ingredient or spirit and we’ll make a drink based off that, or you can simply tell us how your day was and we’ll go from there, I’ve even been asked to make wild things like ‘an aphrodisiac’ or ‘cocaine in a glass’,” Soffer chuckles. If you tell him you’re having Daddy issues, Soffer will have just the cocktail cure.
After traveling to over 75 countries, four of which have already seen Mulberry come and go, if there is one thing Soffer wants those who stumble into his newest pop up – temporarily nestled inside Dizengoff’s ever-so-popular Jasper Johns – to come away with, it’s the experience.
“How would I sum up Mulberry?” Soffer asks. “Experience in a glass,” he responds with ease, as if the answer is second nature.
“I want to be able to make someone a drink with coconut and spices that will transport them from this crazy urban Tel Aviv setting to a beach on Tulum sipping that special cocktail they had on their honeymoon.”
One of the ways the mixology mastermind invokes this culturally relevant nostalgia is by tapping into the local ingredients of the city he is currently in.
In Cartagena, it was aguardiente. In Tulum, exclusively mescal, tequila, and rum. And in Tel Aviv, it’s the anise-flavored alcohol staple you love to hate, yet hate to love: Arak.
Soffer shares a touching story of a Bulgarian man who told him he wanted to rub Mulberry’s Arak-infused mascarpone cream all over his body…it was all that his family had when they came over to Israel from Bulgaria.
It’s moments like these – being able to take people on “a journey through memory lane” – that Soffer lives for.
Arak isn’t the only Tel Avivian addition to the menu either. Upon arrival in the White City, the team visited the Carmel Market for a “full investigation,” coming back with new fruits & nuts, like dates, figs, pistachios and almonds, as well as some teas, date syrup, honey, and even classic Middle Eastern spices like turmeric and za’atar.
Simply using local flavors is only half the battle though. Soffer explains, “In the beginning, we had to alter some of our drink recipes to tailor to the Israeli taste. They’d ask us for flavor profiles like ‘sweet & sour,’ which can be quite tricky to capture.”
“I can honestly say,” Soffer continues, “that we’ve won over all the guests who have come in so far.”
One can’t help but wonder then, why Tel Aviv?
Tel Aviv seemed to be a common theme in Soffer’s earlier destinations. At his pop up in Cartagena, he came across a Tel Avivian woman who begged him to set up shop in her nonstop city. “That’s when the light bulb went off,” Soffer adds.
Then, at a music festival in Tulum, he met a whole group of Israelis encouraging the same notion.
“I am well-traveled, giving me an inside look into the pulse of the up-and-coming, aka what’s going to be a thing soon. Tel Aviv was already a thing so it was a no brainer. I knew that it would work. And as soon as I arrived here and saw the culture, the drink scene, the people, the fact that everyone is out all the time, I knew I had made the right choice.”
Not only was Tel Aviv the ‘right choice,’ but the bar he chose within Tel Aviv was as well. “There is this wonderful unity between the Jasper and the Johns. The Johns is the perfect place to start the evening, then head into the Jasper for a more wild and late night,” Soffer explains.
Perhaps this is why Mulberry's 1+1 Happy Hour from 18:00-21:00 is proving to be such a success.
Whether it is a little slice of home you are seeking as an expat or a portal into the New York scene as a local, for the next few months, the Mulberry Project Pop Up is the place to be.
“For somewhere like Tel Aviv, with such a great cocktail community that is geographically so far away from the rest of the world, as a seven-foot-tall Israeli bartender named ‘Tiny’ whips up a bright yellow concoction beside the Toronto-born Mulberry veteran, Ali, and as North Americans and Israelis sit side-by-side at the bar, there’s a real chance of bringing the world closer together, one cocktail at a time.”
The Mulberry Project Pop Up is open every night inside Jasper Johns, 190 Dizengoff Street, until September 30th. Become a part of the bespoke experience.
Written by Jennifer Greenberg, whose memories of her first ever L.A. jazz club experience with her father were captured in a refreshing bourbon & beet cocktail.