Drugs are everywhere in Tel Aviv, though curiously, drug-related crime and violence are not. “Hashish, coke, marijuanaeverything happens in the Bubble,” chortles Danny Reichental, a 38-year-old musician. “It’s like eighties America here,” he adds. “We’re still living in Boogie Nights.”
Never mind the Jewish fundamentalists in nearby Jerusalem, raging with increasing fervor against secular Israelis like those at Cantina. Or the homemade Palestinian missiles landing a mere 25 miles away, or the violent clashes with Hezbollah, or the looming possibility of a nuclear conflict between Israel and its neighbors. (“That problem with Iran,” one Cantina regular muses, “what is it again?”) Even during last summer’s war with Lebanonwhich killed 43 Israeli civilians and displaced 300,000, just a few dozen miles north of townBubble haunts like Riff Raff and the Notorious G.A.Y. never blinked. “We were turning people away at the door,” says Adam Horowitz, the Sid Vicious–skinny owner of the Breakfast Club, an after-hours Bubble bar. “People were still downing Red Bulls and vodka at seven in the morning.”
Tel Aviv didn’t invent the Bubble. Look back to Belgrade’s ethnic cleansing in the nineties, or to Bogotá’s narcoterror in the eighties, or to Beirut’s civil war in the seventies: Bubbles exist wherever and whenever militarized politics collides with restless individualism. But only in Israel have such forces been felt so intensely from Day One. For some in this fragile nation, born of war and surrounded by hostile neighbors, Tel Aviv has emerged as a refuge. “You come to understand that you can’t rescue the nation,” says 34-year-old Dotan Halbreich, whose restaurant empire is giving the Bubble a much-needed epicurean upgrade. “So you create a world where those problems are left outsidea place where you can just have a good time.”
Naturally, many in Tel Aviv enjoy the Bubble horizontally. “Maybe because we really could die tomorrow,” says Uchovsky, “there’s this attitude of ‘Fuck itlet’s fuck.’” Gay, straight, bi, stilettos-and-whipssex is just another exercise in escapism, a consequence-free contact sport. Add in the endless summer climate, and you begin to see the Bubble as one huge, horny steam bath. “Even at straight clubs, the bathroom floors are covered with condoms by 3 a.m.,” says Tomer (not his real name), 32, a gay army major who spent much of last summer commuting between the Lebanese battlefront and Tel Aviv’s homo after-parties. “It’s like a safari, a sex safari,” Reichental says. “You’re going to see actionit’s just a matter of time.”
Time stands still most afternoons at Shine, a café in the heart of central Tel Aviv’s historic Bauhaus district. A short stroll from what was until recently a gay sex cluband from the site of a bus bombing that killed 21 a decade agoShine has emerged as the headquarters of the Bubble’s next generation: a crowd of MySpace girls and YouTube guys, vegans and Vinyasa devotees, perfecting the art of the all-afternoon espresso. Clad in aviator glasses and oversize scarves worthy of the East Village, these café dwellers were tweens when the suicide bombings began ripping through nearby streets in the mid-nineties. Now they’re numb to their nation’s pain. In fact, some even dodged mandatory reserve duty during the war with Lebanon. While Hezbollah rockets were hitting Israel, the Bubble delighted in the escapism of public sex scandals, including a rape accusation against Moshe Katsav, Israel’s president, and a sexual-harassment charge against justice minister Haim Ramon, who allegedly gave a woman an unwanted French kiss.