Tel Aviv bar and bomb target slowly getting its groove back

TEL AVIV — Dominique Haas was in a particularly good mood on the evening of April 29.

The young pastry chef had just closed a deal with a new cafe, selling them her entire line of cakes. Best friends with the owner at Mike's Place, a Tel Aviv pub where she once had worked her way up from waitress to manager, Haas volunteered to help out that evening, knowing the bar was short of workers.

"She was dancing around the place all night," recalls Gal Ganzman, Mike's Place's owner. "She was exceptionally happy on that day."

Haas was not the only one who had just hit her stride that afternoon: Ran Baron, a regular at Mike's Place, had just finished recording a song.

The words were still in Baron's pocket when, just after midnight, a suicide bomber tried to enter the bar.

Avi Tabib, the security guard, stopped him, and the bomber blew himself up at the entrance.

Baron was killed instantly. Haas lost her arm and, hours later at the hospital, her life.

Yanai Weiss — a guitarist and, according to Ganzman, "the spiritual father of the Tuesday-night jam program" — also was killed.

Despite the terror, trauma and property damage, Mike's Place was up and running exactly one week later, on Israel's Independence Day.

"They came and blew up in the doorway of our house, in the place where we were at our peak, enjoying life, having a drink, listening to live music," Ganzman says. "They came and killed us. To prove they didn't achieve anything, we opened on Independence Day — to show the world, to show the terrorists, that terror will not achieve anything."

"It will not destroy Israel," he continues. "It won't even destroy Mike's Place."

Today, nearly four months later, Mike's Place is alive and well. Even on a Monday night the bar was nearly full, with clients clapping, singing and dancing to live music.

Memory of the tragedy, however, also is alive and well: Right in front of the entrance is a huge glass jar full of change with a sign that reads, "The Life After Terror Fund."

The fund was created immediately after the attack to support victims of the bombing. Staff and patrons also held memorial ceremonies around the world — in Tel Aviv, London, Toronto, New York and Chicago — some of which were broadcast on the Internet for those who couldn't be there.

A tree was planted in Haas' memory in Tel Aviv's Hayarkon Park.

Ganzman submitted a request to erect a statue in front of Mike's Place in honor of the victims. Approval is still pending from the Tel Aviv municipality.

Organizing the memorials and rebuilding Mike's Place were a kind of "work therapy" for Ganzman.

For a week after the bombing, he says, "the whole staff and all the regulars crashed at my place."

"Everyone was together, trying to get ourselves better, mourning our friends, taking trips to the hospital, helping our injured friends get better, rebuilding the bar, restocking, planning the opening ceremony — all in one week," he says. "It was just insane."

"And I think," he ventures, "that's what actually kept us sane: Being so focused, working 22-hour days right from the day after the explosion, helping each other, crying together, laughing together, having this goal of reopening quickly and having a big impressive ceremony."

For the ceremony, which drew 1,000 patrons and journalists from around the world, the pub printed T-shirts saying "Still Here." The shirts sold out immediately.

The regulars say they're happy the bar is still around.

"This is the best place to play in Israel," says guitarist Koby Bardougo, who has been performing at Mike's Place for a year. "Our music gets loved and appreciated the way we want it to be."

Eli Ben Yosef, who at 77 is perhaps the oldest regular at Mike's Place, calls it "my home away from home."

Ben Yosef was at the bar the night of the explosion.

"My friend Zohar — I dance with her a lot — she was injured in her knee," he recalls. "I stayed and talked with her until the ambulance came."

Patrons emphatically reject the notion that memories of the tragedy have made people afraid of returning.

"I'm not at all afraid coming after the attack," says Clil Ata — who, seated at the pub's entrance, received hugs from numerous patrons going in and out.

"It's even more important to show that nobody can beat us or scare us," Ata says. "We come here, this is our home, this is where we live, we deserve to be here. Nobody will take me away from my friends and family here."

Sar Fouqs agrees.

"I am not afraid to be here," he says. "I fought in Lebanon. This is nothing."

"Half the state already had terrorist attacks," Yonatan Shlomi points out. "If I was afraid after a terrorist attack, I would never go out.

"Aside from which," he adds with a grin, "if you're going to die, best to go out listening to good music."