Minority-owned businesses have been hit hard over the past year, so this Black History Month, Alumni is going to highlight local Black-owned businesses that you should support if you can.
During the month of February, Alumni is also donating half of the proceeds from our in-house collection of apparel and accessories to Building Black Bed Stuy. The other half of the proceeds will be donated to Welcome to Chinatown's Longevity Fund in observation of Lunar New Year and to alleviate some the tremendous stress Chinese businesses have endured.
Owned by sisters Marva and Myriam Babel, Ode to Babel is more than a refined cocktail bar. In normal times, it’s the living room you wish you had. Great drinks, welcoming and knowledgeable staff, beautiful decor, wonderful (sometime live) music. A home for aspiring and inspiring artists, the decor is at once warm, comforting and compelling. We were able to talk to Marva and Myriam about their love of hospitality, locality, and craft.
You have talked about Ode to Babel as an extension of someone's home. Why is that so important?
We were born and raised in Brooklyn, and our childhood was a time when neighbors, friends, and family convened together in real life, whether at someone's home, backyard, roof, or stoop. Wherever you were at, that moment felt "warm" and like home.
That extension of home is exactly what we know we wanted to capture within the experience of Ode to Babel. It's important to us because it’s the most authentic portrayal of the community we are from.
Could you tell us about your in house gin? How is it made, and what should people expect in its flavor profile?
Our house GIN blend is citrus forward with notes of makrut limes, ylang ylang, jasmine; a wonderful melange of botanicals ending with a touch of juniper (an essential botanical). It’s a refreshing gin that mixes well - for you - at HOME! It's a much "younger" style gin, so you won't get that traditional "juniper/perfumy" note that is sometimes attributed to gin. Instead, it's light and full of citrus - making it more effervescent. It pairs well with a tonic or seltzer (easy to mix and enjoy at home) and is perfect for batching cocktails for your pod.
Ode to Babel is known for providing a venue for local artists to showcase and share their work with a larger community. Was that your intention from the beginning? Why is that so important for you?
Yes, that has always been our intent since we opened Ode to Babel. That was the dominant concept. It started more as a multi-use space to showcase the arts, creatives, and then the bar element. That was very important and still remains important for us because New York has always been the hub for fostering creativity, especially in underground grassroots venues that offer a "safe space" for experimentation and artistic exploration. These creative endeavors can be in the form of music, multimedia arts, journalist, entrepreneurial launches, etc. It's crucial to keep creative spaces alive and thriving in our communities.
“Support Black Businesses” has become a popular slogan. What does it mean to you beyond a saying or hashtag?
Support Black Businesses means something very natural and authentic for folks to do. It goes without saying.
It's patronizing a space or brand because you know it’s great! It means aggressively sharing the resources you may have or can share that can amplify a Black-owned brand/business.
Being active to the "bottom line" of a Black-owned business supports businesses that historically are less likely to receive funding, investor dollars, and/or traditional loans. Therefore, aggressive support is very impactful. Spread the word 365 for a lifetime - not when it’s trending.
What would you say to someone who wanted to start a bar/lounge/community space of their own?
I would say have a great accountant and bookkeeper as the first hire. Be ready to do the hands-on work. If you want the space to be an authentic representation of who you are and what your vision is, your fingerprints have to be in the walls. Be open to shifting gears and pivoting if necessary (the pandemic was a huge indicator of that). But in general, I think it helps to be nimble.