The ocean is a mystery, barely explored and filled with secret wonders. Who knows what lies beneath its surface? Some deep sea divers find pearls, others find sand, but what Gil Koplovitz discovered when he swam up to a barnacle-encrusted porthole and peered inside was just unbelievable.
Gil is a man of the world, and his travels had taken him to distant lands – Europe, Asia, South America. He’d even spent three months holed up in a tiny Antarctic research station. And now he found himself in an obscure stretch of the Red Sea, far off the beaten path.
Perched between desolate desert and white sand beaches, the Israeli resort of Eilat is a notorious port and party town. Yet Gil, a native Israeli and doctor of marine biology, hadn’t gone to Eilat to let his hair down.
The year was 2013, and Gil was studying sea squirts – eerie, tubular organisms that dwell at the bottom of the sea. But diving offshore he found an entirely different phenomenon on the seabed – a large, manmade structure, seemingly abandoned.
The submerged structure had numerous windows. Inside, there was a glimmering entertainment venue festooned with gaudy undersea décor. Glossy mirrors, meanwhile, reflected Gil’s swaying image from the walls. Faced with all of this, the underwater photographer pointed his camera and began to shoot.
There was a dancing pole and, around the stage, empty tables. Gil was gazing upon the abandoned interior of what was surely one of the most unique night spots in the world – a now defunct underwater strip club known as “Nymphas Show Bar.”
Gil – who goes by the online handle of “Distaplia” – posted his images of the club on Reddit and Imgur, stimulating much good-natured banter. “Ariel hit some rough times,” wisecracked one user called ShamrockFury, referencing Disney’s The Little Mermaid. “Check out those guilty looking fish trying to discreetly leave,” wrote Moonkey.
Gil’s photos went viral, appearing in international news outlets and blogs. “The entrance [to the venue] is above water,” he told The Huffington Post. “People just crossed a 230-foot bridge and went down a flight of stairs. No need to get wet.”
But what exactly was the Nymphas Show Bar? And what happened to it? The club’s website – now offline but stored in archives – promised its clients “intimate seating… gourmet meals… stellar performances of girls… the only club of its kind… fish dancing around.”
In fact, the massive underwater structure had served another purpose before becoming an aquatic gentleman’s club. “It used to be an underwater restaurant for several years,” wrote Gil on Reddit. “Then it closed down, and re-opened as a strip club for a while, then shut down altogether about a year ago.”
The underwater restaurant’s name was “The Red Sea Star.” And the idea for it came to architect Ayala Serfaty when she was pregnant and diving in the Red Sea. Turning her vision into a reality, though, demanded ten years of careful planning and some complex logistics.
According to the restaurant’s website, the underwater environment at the site of The Red Sea Star was lifeless and empty. Hence, with the help of marine biologists, Ayala wanted to rehabilitate the local seabed and so established a subaquatic nursery.
She imported fragile, broken and imperiled sections of coral from other Red Sea destinations. What’s more, around 70 percent of them flourished into new reefs, and scores of rare fish arrived to colonize the new ecosystem.
The construction of the restaurant used some 6,000 tons of steel and concrete. A massive 600-ton crane was dispatched from Belgium for the task, and the pressure-resistant windows – which weighed a hefty 12 tons – were imported from Japan.
The finished building was divided into two levels. Approximately 30 feet above the surface of the water was the Metro Bar, modeled after a ship’s deck. This was the place to take in views of Aqaba Bay and the Edom Mountains and to boogie to hits from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
The underwater level – approximately 15 feet below the surface – was shaped like a star to give nearly every diner a view out of at least one of the 62 windows. Elsewhere, the kaleidoscopic coral reef outside was softly illuminated so as not to disturb its ecology.
The restaurant’s interior design featured warm colors to contrast with the somber blue of the ocean outside. Bar stools were fashioned into the shape of octopuses and jellyfish. And the floor was covered in real sand and epoxy resin in order to mimic for patrons the sensation of walking on a wet beach.
The Red Sea Star, which claimed to be the world’s only underwater restaurant, received international attention upon its opening. The New York Times described it as “a whimsical restaurant deep in the Gulf of Eilat, where diners devour fish platters under the scrutiny of fish peering in at them through portholes.”
Indeed, The Red Sea Star should surely have been one of the most popular tourist destinations in Eilat. So why did such a unique venture fail? Writing on Reddit, Gil speculated, “Bad management, I assume. It’s a shame, after they invested so much in building this place.”
Both Nymphas Show Bar and The Red Sea Star may now be gone, but there’s a superb venue in Eilat just waiting for an adventurous entrepreneur. Will the structure be put to use, or will it rust away at the bottom of the sea? Only time will tell.