King David Hotel
A plaque near the King David’s entry recalls the notorious attack that gave it the dubious distinction of being the only hotel in the world to have been bombed by a future prime minister. In 1946, when the hotel housed offices of the British Mandate rulers, the Irgun resistance movement, led by Menachem Begin, detonated explosives that demolished one wing and killed 91 people in a bid to hasten Britain’s withdrawal. Decades later, as Israel’s leader, Begin met with Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat in a landmark summit at the hotel. U.S. secretaries of state from Henry Kissinger to Hillary Clinton have used the King David as their base, and countless foreign leaders have stayed the night. This can spell periodic inconvenience for less august visitors, as when hundreds of them had their reservations abruptly canceled when President Bush and his entourage took over the premises in 2007 (the hotel, which tried to find alternate lodgings for the uprooted guests, stresses that this is an infrequent occurrence). The King David’s cavernous lobby has been compared to a set for a Cecil B. DeMille–style biblical epic. The majestic pink limestone building, completed in 1931, was meant to recall a palace from ancient times; the owners, who were the same Egyptian-Jewish family that financed the Shepheard Hotel in Cairo and the Mena House hotel at the foot of the Pyramids, wanted the interiors to evoke “ancient Semitic style and the ambience of the glorious period of King David.” An ardent Zionist family purchased the property in 1957 to be the flagship of the Dan Hotels chain. With so much history and diplomatic comings and goings, the King David sets a gold standard in the minds of many Jewish travelers, as well as with the cosmopolitan crowd typically found on the grounds. At the vast swimming pool, surrounded by a manicured lawn, swaying palms, and towering cedars, I watched two women in string bikinis chatting in French while young American Orthodox Jewish mothers swam—fully dressed for modesty and with hair covered by sequined snoods—with their children. To avoid violating religious law, nothing is cooked on the Sabbath. And because the food is kosher, the room service menu asks that guests refrain from ordering dairy and meat together. “Most guests are aware of these laws, and if they aren’t, the room service waiter will tell them,” said Haim Spiegel, Dan Hotels’ director of food and beverage.