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Meet the bartender behind New York’s new Hanukkah-themed cocktail bar

(New York Jewish Week) — During the so-called “winter holiday season,” Christmas cheer takes center stage, while Hanukkah gets relegated to hobbled-together end caps at grocery stores (if that).

This is something that’s long irked Naomi Levy, a 36-year-old Jewish bartender who lives in Boston. There, as in New York, Christmas-themed pop-up bars appear all over the city — leaving Levy feeling like a “tourist,” she said, in her hometown. 

But instead of bah-humbugging the situation, Levy took action: In 2018, she opened the Maccabee Bar, a Hanukkah-themed pop-up in Boston. Now in its fifth year, the cocktail bar, open only in December, serves drinks like the Latke Sour (apple brandy, potato, lemon, egg white, bitters) and an Everything Bagel Martini (“everything” spiced gin, tomato water, dill, vermouth), as well Jewish- and Hanukkah-adjacent small bites, such as latkes, sufganiyot and Bamba.

And now, for the first time, the Maccabee Bar is expanding to New York, where it will be hosted by Ollie, a bar in the West Village, from Dec. 13 through 31. 

Levy had hoped to bring the Maccabee Bar to New York in 2020 but that was delayed. “I honestly cannot believe that nobody has done this before me in New York,” Levy told the New York Jewish Week.

To become the Maccabee Bar, Ollie will be covered in blue and white Hanukkah lights and decor. “It’s going to be crazy,” Levy said. “I’ve mentally prepared. I definitely encourage reservations.” 

Ahead of the Manhattan Maccabee Bar opening, the New York Jewish Week caught up with Levy to talk about what inspired her, how she expanded and what, exactly, creating a Hanukkah-themed cocktail entails. 

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Levy was named “Best Bartender” by Boston Magazine in 2019. (Ezra Pollard)

New York Jewish Week: What was the inspiration behind starting a Hanukkah-themed bar?

Naomi Levy: I really love the holiday season and for many, many years I ran a bar called Eastern Standard in Boston. We were open all the time, so I worked every Christmas. I always really loved the holiday spirit and started seeing a lot more of these Christmas-themed bars popping up. But as much as I love all of the festivities this time of year, I also feel very much like a tourist because I don’t celebrate Christmas. I wondered what would happen if I created a pop-up bar that was completely dedicated to Hanukkah. Luckily, I had just opened at a new bar and the ownership was amenable to trying stuff out. We gave it a go and it was absolutely incredible. The turnout was amazing. People were so excited — I’ve never been called a “mensch” for making a cocktail before. I realized, “Oh my gosh, it’s not just me that had that feeling this time this year.” There’s a group of people that are underrepresented and would love to really feel like they get to get into this festive time of year just as much as everyone else. It’s been really exciting to watch it grow and just to be able to bring my culture and bring something fun to the community.

After four years in Boston, what was the process of opening a pop-up in New York and how did you make the leap?

 I had reached out to a couple friends in New York. What was really exciting to me about Ollie is that I have a former staff member from Boston who moved to New York, and he works at Ollie now. He has worked at a couple of the Maccabee Bars in Boston. It’s good to have someone who works there who’s been through it and understands what they’re getting into and things like that. He connected me with the owner and they were really excited about it. It’s just that much more helpful that I have someone there that knows what’s about to happen.

What are you most excited about in bringing the energy of Maccabee Bar to New York?

I just really hope to provide a place where people get to celebrate and not in the same way that they already have access to.

We’re starting with one location in New York, but in Boston we have two locations because the demand has just been that high. We now have Maccabee regulars [in Boston]. Last year, I had a customer who said, “My mom told me to come to this!” I just thought, how cool is it that we’re a bar that your mom’s telling you to go to?

Tell me a little bit about the cocktails and how you make them Hanukkah-themed.

My cocktail style in general tends to be pretty culinary. I tend to get inspiration from food and food flavors, which is perfect for a Hanukkah menu since there are so many delicious foods that we eat. The Latke Sour is obviously inspired by latkes. Then we have the Hebrew Hammer, which is inspired by sufganiyot. We make a leavened sugar, which is basically a yeasted simple syrup, to give you that kind of yeasty sensation of a doughnut, but it’s actually a really nice dry, sour cocktail.

To me, it’s also really important to showcase flavors from different aspects of the Jewish diaspora as well. I am Ashkenazi, but it’s really important to me to also showcase Sephardic flavors. So we have a drink that is called Ocho Candelika, which is actually the name of a song in Ladino that is all about the celebration of oil. So we do an olive oil-infused gin with a little honey, almond, apricot and lemon for some of those more classic Spanish and Sephardic flavors.There’s a drink this year that’s inspired by Ethiopian Sanbat Wat [a spicy chicken stew typically made on Shabbat] with berbere spice in it. 

Then there will be all sorts of fun things, ranging from a hot drink that has a syrup in it that is kind of tzimmes-inspired and a flip that’s rugelach-inspired. So it will be both very, very Hanukkah-associated things but also just some wider Jewish flavors.

The Maccabee Bar will be at Ollie, 64 Downing Street, beginning Tuesday Dec. 13 through Saturday, Dec. 31. Find details and reservations on Maccabee Bar’s website.


The post Meet the bartender behind New York’s new Hanukkah-themed cocktail bar appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Obituaries

Dr. NATHAN WISEMAN

Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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