You wouldn't know it from the news or guidebooks, but Jerusalem is a great bar city, with a cocktail culture that incorporates local flavors and traditions. A universe apart from the normal trek undertaken by tourists—the esplanade of the mosques, the Western Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre—the bar scene remains nearly unknown to most visitors. But after a tour of the historic highlights, nothing beats an evening in an (almost) equally storied bar.
A classic place to start is The Cellar Bar at The American Colony Hotel, where journalists and clutches of diplomats come to unwind. Fadi Nsra, one of the head barmen, presides over this warren of interlocking rooms under the hotel's restaurant. My favorite drink there is a gin and tonic that is chockful of crushed black peppercorns and slices of green chile pepper.
The next stop on the pilgrimage is about a mile away, at the most magical of venues: Rooftop Cheese and Wine Restaurant, a cloistered bar located atop the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Pontifical Institute, the pope's official residence in the Holy City. This is the place to sip a glass of champagne from the bar's extensive collection, or a tumbler of top-notch tequila, on hand for the Mexican Legionaries of Christ, who operate the center—while the Old City glitters below.
A ten-minute walk along Jaffa Road takes you to Barood, where for more than 20 years owner Daniela Lerer has acted as a walking encyclopedia of boutique nativist drinks. For a uniquely local experience, order a shot of krupnik, a powerful yet smooth honey distillate made in the Galilee. Bar food here is based on traditional Sephardic recipes like pastelikos, small meat-stuffed pockets; boyikos, a cheesy pastry; and prasa, leek fritters.
Farther down Jaffa Road, tucked into a courtyard in Jerusalem's central market, Machane Yehuda, is Casino de Paris. Located in a former brothel, it offers irreverently named sui generis cocktails like the Arab Spring, composed of grenadine, cardamom, fresh mint, pomegranate juice, and boukha, a Tunisian fig distillate.
Nearby, within the same sprawling market, is Machneyuda, one of Israel's most talked-about restaurants. The current wait for a dinner reservation is a few weeks, so cross the narrow street instead to its sister property, Yudale, where the food is vibrant—mussels steamed in the anise-flavored spirit arak and local wild herbs; a butcher's selection of Golan beef served au jus over smoked green wheat berries—and the drinks elicit smiles. One tequila-based creation is an homage to the many journalists who tramp through town: the margarita Al Jazeera, infused with rose petals and cumin.
31 Jaffa Road, Feingold Courtyard
Casino de Paris
3 Mahane Yehuda Street
The Cellar Bar
1 Louis Vincent Street
Rooftop Cheese and Wine Restaurant
3 Paratroopers Road
11 Bait Ya'akov Street