In 1866, George and John Drisco traveled from Maine to Israel and built a hotel in the burgeoning American colony outside Jaffa. The building has seen various uses over the years but, today, it is once again The Drisco, one of Tel Aviv’s chicest boutique hotels.
The Drisco brothers were part of a group of more than 150 American Christians from Maine and New England who followed their faith across the oceans seeking to build a new life in the Holy Land of Palestine, then part of the Ottoman Empire. They arrived laden with wood and materials to recreate buildings like the ones they were accustomed to from home.
Once permission had been obtained from the Ottomans, they built a new neighborhood not far from Jaffa, characterized by wooden buildings and cobbled streets, that became known as “The American Colony.”
The Holy Land
However, for many, the Holy Land turned out to be not all it was cracked up to be. Within a few years, a significant number of the new arrivals had moved to Europe or returned home to America. Meanwhile, German settlers, from the Templar Movement, which sought to redeem the Holy Land through an industrious lifestyle, purchased much of what they left behind. In 1904, the Templars completed the Immanuel Church and Beit Immanuel Hostel, both of which can still be seen in the neighborhood today.
German Templars move in
So, what became of the Drisco brothers? Sadly, their plans didn’t pan out and, within just a few years, they were broke. They sold the hotel to Ernst Hardegg, a German Templar hotelier who completed the building in 1870, and named it The Jerusalem Hotel. Considered one of the most prestigious hotels in the region, it maintained its original structure, with the addition of luxurious European elements like delicate hand-painted accents on the lobby walls.
In 1940, following the outbreak of World War II, the British seized the property, turning it into a military headquarters. Later, it served as a house for Jewish refugees and the home of the Ministry of Education, before lying abandoned for more than three decades.
The Drisco returns
In 2006, a lengthy reconstruction project began to restore the building to its former glory and breathe new life into the property, whilst preserving its original wall murals and historic features.
Today, The Drisco is one of Tel Aviv’s most exclusive boutique hotels, with its distinctive design and enviable location, and one of the city’s most sought-after gastronomic hotspots. The attic rooms are now luxurious suites, sporting a contemporary design, with Turkish and European details reflecting the building’s illustrious history. The dreamy rooftop terrace is reserved for hotel guests only, while the ground-floor is home to one of Tel Aviv’s top restaurants, George & John. Here, you can admire the restoration work on the wall and ceiling paintings in what was once Hotel Jerusalem’s German-style alehouse, while feasting on Modern Israeli dishes by Chef Tomer Tal.
Tel Aviv’s hippest neighborhoods
As for the American-German Colony, it still goes by this name today, even though many locals are barely aware of the existence of this tiny historic enclave. With its quiet, leafy streets and colonial-style wooden buildings, it is like an oasis of calm just off the busy, somewhat dingy, Eilat Street, and ideally situated on the cusp of four of the city’s hippest neighborhoods: Jaffa, Florentin, Noga and Neve Tzedek.
History buffs might come here to visit the Immanuel Church and Beit Immanuel Hostel, while others simply pass through en route to one of Noga’s popular restaurants, the Jaffa flea market, or the beach. As for visiting and resident food lovers, they make their pilgrimage to pay a visit to George & John—unless, of course, they are among the lucky few already staying at The Drisco.