You may remember that Maccabee means “hammer” in Hebrew school, but until recently, New York-area Jews deserved an Instagram for hammering in honor of Judah Maccabee. I didn’t have many options.
Enter Maccabee Bar, which will be in Ollie, West Village from December 13th to 31st.bartender Naomi Levi Founded a Hanukkah pop-up in Boston in 2018 and now serves New Yorkers with cocktails like “Oy, Wat a Night,” “Whiskey Shamash,” and even (vegan!) Manischewitz Jello shots.
In the sea of pop-up Christmas markets, there’s a clear demand for such bars, as evidenced by the fact that the Maccabee Bar is firmly booked up until Christmas Eve. So we arrived at the bar’s second night opening, Wednesday, at 5pm, a not-so-cool hour, hoping to score a walk-in seat.
Ollie’s stark white, generally hipster interior gave Levi a blank slate for Hanukkah decor. manyThe welcome mat says “Happy Challah Days”. Bar guests shoved for space with inflatable dreidels and menorahs. Hanukkah wreaths and wrapping paper line the walls, and you can report to the bathroom.
Wary of catching COVID-19 before going to see our loved ones, we channeled the spirit of the McCabies and huddled in the redoubt. This means the bar’s sidewalk patio, decorated with blue and white lights and paper walls with menorah prints of dinosaurs.
After perusing the menu – which offers surprisingly long pop-ups and mocktails and appetizers along with hard stuff – we realized we never make a dent in McAbee’s offerings. Did. (All in the name of investigative journalism, of course.)
PJ sampled a Zimes Toddy “Hot Bab” made with raisin-infused scotch, Grand Marnier, carrot honey, lemon and cinnamon. It was served in a metal mug and tasted sweet and slightly sour, basically like a drip of Tzimes. If you’re cold and swallow your pride and can say this heartfelt name out loud, I highly recommend it. You can just say that.)
Mila got a “Latke Sour”. This is a whiskey sour with apple brandy and some unknown form of potato. It also boasted a festive dash of blue edible glitter in case you forgot it was Hanukkah. The egg white foam, reminiscent of sour cream, was luscious, and the drink’s apple brandy gave the cocktail a fruity, or dare I say, sauce-like smoothness instead of the usual liqueur burn.
In keeping with her interfaith origins, Irene chose “Jewish Christmas.” Cocktails came with a small filmstrip clipped to the glass in case the movie and Chinese themes weren’t clear enough. A drink of moderate hardness, the Jewish Christmas was tempered with sesame seeds and lacked the medicinal qualities of the Old Fashioned. As a bonus, it inspired lively discussions about our family’s Christmas traditions.
We mostly flowed into personal Ashkenazi, drinks in line with American Jewish roots, but the menu reflected the diversity of Jews around the world. One cocktail featured Berber spices for the Ethiopian brothers, and another for his with chow and tahini. The ‘Ocho Candelica’ we drank celebrated the Ladino heritage with an olive oil-infused gin that imparted flavorful complexity to a sweet and light drink.
Of course, I had to sample the latkes, the true barometer of a Hanukkah eatery’s success, but I honestly didn’t have any notes. It comes with little schmears of applesauce and sour cream, perfectly soft inside, crispy on the edges and fried to a perfect golden brown. When our server asked if they were made from food-processed spuds, she assured me they were made the old fashioned way. training.)
Our curb perch gave us the perfect vantage point to gauge other bar patrons’ first impressions. The name was flooded with couples who made reservations. One woman stopped her friends from passing by and announced to the rest of the (apparently non-Jewish) group, “You need to go here for me!”
Most of Maccabee’s patrons were in their 20s and 30s and wealthy enough to pay $16 for a novelty cocktail. However, there were two elderly gentlemen at the window, one of whom had a suspicious look on his face. white lotus Star F. Murray Abraham infused the bar with the solemn air of Old New York.
By the time we left, we had two plates of latkes and the bar was teeming with people chatting and quevecchi, sipping celebratory drinks and soaking up non-Christmas tunes.
It may have been colder than the Temple Mount, where the miraculous oil once burned, but we warmed up in the holiday spirit – the liquor helped too.