Blue Suede Jews
Set a bit off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, near the Kibbutz Neveh Ilan Guest House, is the shrine of shlock, the ultra in kitsch: the Elvis Inn gas station, restaurant, bar and grill and tourist trap, run by owners and brothers Amnon and Uri, along with Uri’s son, Amir, and several staffers.
While it’s certainly not Graceland, the neo-50s and 60s décor does get you in the mood, with a 16-foot-high golden statue of Elvis in the parking lot alongside the entrance, and a second even larger one nearby, with one arm raised, seemingly waving towards Jerusalem.
There are more than 1,000 pictures, posters, and postcards covering nearly every flat surface, sent by fans and like-minded Elvis lovers worldwide. There are also four life-sized Elvis statues scattered around the premises in various poses, sitting at a table, strumming a guitar, and, in general watching over the place.
The Elvis Inn has been operating for more than thirty years, and each year its owners hold a ceremony on the dates of Elvis’s birth and death.
The Inn has kept on through war and peace, tourists and terrorism, and innumerable impersonators ever since. The place has slowly grown, along with the ebb and flow of the tourist buses unloading wide-eyed visitors for a photo-op and snack.
But when they hold the memorial service, it’s not a staid affair. “Film crews from around the world show up,” according to Yoeli, with reporters from “China, Japan, the U.S. and Europe ... and [Israel Radio’s] Reshet Gimmel Network provides a live feed throughout the day.”
The inn has had some interesting guests so far:
“We were in communication with Priscilla [Presley], who was supposed to come for the ceremony, but cancelled out, apparently due to the intifada,” Yoeli surmises. Other guests were Elvis’s performance costume seamstress, as well as the man whose claim to fame was announcing, “Elvis has left the building” as concerts concluded.
Another group the intifada doesn’t faze, and arrives regularly, is a contingent of U.S. Marines. Yoeli says the restaurant has an informal agreement with the American authorities that whenever one of the Navy destroyers docks at Haifa, the crew visits the Inn. “When they arrive, it’s one big party. They see Elvis, feel at home, and we turn up the volume—some get up and dance,” Yoeli says.
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