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Dancing in The Bubble Add to ...

It's after 3 a.m. - cool, but not cold. I'm waiting for a cab after leaving a trendy new Tel Aviv nightclub. Across the street, a sharply dressed man is carrying a woman in a white dress in his arms. Her long, dark hair swings from side to side with each step he takes. A taxi stops in front of me, just as he tries to stand her up. I see her head bob forward and her knees buckle as they fight what are probably the effects of another wild night in Tel Aviv. Oh, and it's Tuesday.

On the other side of the city, on a short, narrow street, past two beefy bouncers, through a black door, down a dark stairwell and behind a thick curtain, Yotam Shochat, a co-owner of Mental, one of the hottest dance bars in the city, pours on-the-house shots of whisky for a few of his customers. His club - a dark, L-shaped space - is considered a "hardcore" nightspot, known for its electronic music and the action that takes place in the bathroom stalls, which come equipped with small sinks and provide complete privacy with doors that reach the floor.

Between pours, Shochat tries to explain why Jews - who traditionally eat as a way of socializing - are out drinking in the middle of the night and the middle of the week.

"I just don't understand it and I'm years in this business," the scruffily dressed 30-year-old nightlife prince says, adding simply that for young Israelis "it seems natural" to party on weeknights into the wee hours. "Not the poor economy, not terror, not nothing affects the scene here."

Maybe it's out of the fear that, even after 60 years in the area, Israel remains an unpopular neighbour always at risk of being thrown out. Or possibly it's because Israelis have become accustomed - even addicted - to feeling constantly "on," ready for action.

Of course, while this country may stir up visions of buses blowing up, Israeli soldiers battling Palestinian militants and Kassam rockets streaking overhead, you're not likely to see any of that in Tel Aviv, which Israelis call "The Bubble." The city last saw a suicide bombing in 2006.

Whatever the reason, Tel Aviv has a tremendous nightlife, one that puts many larger metropolises to shame. People in the business estimate the city has hundreds of nightspots, but with few exceptions, the cavernous clubs that can accommodate several thousand are no longer considered cool. Instead, the dance bars that have mushroomed in the past year are now considered the places to be. Tel Avivis in their mid-20s to their early 40s prefer to go to a large bar with great music, where they can not only dance but also sit with their drink and have a conversation. Maybe even eat a salad.

The challenge, however, is getting to these places. To begin with, you need to know what they are called and where to find them. The hottest Israeli dance bars don't advertise. They don't want every Moshe, Itzik and Yossi at their doors, so the owners promote their places among their small circles of friends.

"All the pretty guys and girls know what they're worth," Nisan Larido, a co-owner of Landen, another of the city's hottest dance bars, says as we sit on a comfortable couch in an alcove of the living-room-like space. "If a place begins to lose it, then people stop coming."

Larido is typical of the type of people who run these establishments: good-looking, very friendly and casually dressed. But under that easygoing persona lies a sharp businessman who regularly scans the crowd to assess the ratio of men to women and the "quality" of the people, ruthlessly ignoring the pleas of those deemed unsuitable.

Which brings us to the next obstacle: getting inside.

There are two ways to enter: Either you are on The List or the hostess gives you the okay. Club owners use The List to screen their clientele - which is to say that if someone does not look up to standard, they are told they can't enter because they are not on The List.

Landen is located in a garish commercial building known as London Ministore, on Tel Aviv's bustling Ibn Gvirol Street. On a recent Friday night, just after 11, I arrive at the entrance area, a narrow, low-ceilinged space where metal guardrails and two very muscular bouncers - they're called "selectors" here and are former commandos - are holding back a small group of hopeful revellers. I call out my name, and a handsome selector with bursting biceps - revealed by a very short-sleeved black T-shirt - eyes me, then looks at The List in his hands. He nods when he finds my name and, almost biblically, the hopefuls part, the selectors slide the guardrail aside and I stroll past and enter.

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