Are you craving a nice night out? Perhaps an unusual holiday tipple to get into the seasonal spirit?
Good news: Hanukkah-themed pop-up Maccabee Bar is back, this time with two locations. The annual Hanukkah cocktail event from bartender extraordinaire Naomi Levy will operate at Union Square’s Backbar and Harvard Square’s newly revamped Noir throughout the month. Levy used to work for Noir, so it’s a homecoming of sorts.
On the cocktail menu: a drinkable latke (really!) called the Latke Sour, made with potato syrup, apple brandy and lemon; and a bourbon-and-fig concoction called the Whiskey Shamash. Both kitchens will serve Jewish-themed snacks, too, which is a bonus: Noir shares a kitchen with The Charles Hotel, while farm-to-table superstars Field & Vine will provide food at Backbar.
“If you’ve come to Maccabee in the past, you know that it can get crazy. We wanted a chance to have as many people enjoy as possible—and if you can’t get into one location, they’re close enough by that you can try to pop over to the other,” Levy says.
Backbar is cozy and better for duos; Noir is larger, with outdoor heated seating, and is a solid pick for a group.
There are also venue-specific treats: At Noir, try the Ocho Kandelikas. “This is named for a Ladino Hanukkah song. Ladino is an old Spanish-based language spoken by Sephardic Jews. It has a touch of apricot, almond, lemon and olive oil gin. It’s a celebration of Hanukkah, with the oil, and some Sephardic flavors, which is fun,” she says.
Backbar also has its own olive-oil drink: a clarified milk punch called The Land of Milk Punch and Honey, made with salted honey. It’s a longtime pop-up favorite. New this year at both spots: A gelt-based after-dinner drink called the Shin Shin Put One In, an after-dinner drink made with dark rum, sherry, amaro and chocolate.
Levy will be on-site for both opening nights, with Backbar and Noir bartenders mixing her cocktails throughout the month.
While there are no shortage of Irish bars in Boston, Jewish drinking culture flies beneath the radar—but Levy says that’s changing.
“There’s a generational shift among Jewish young people as, I think, cocktails have become more of a culinary experience, more of a flavor experience. Jews love food, right? We’re all about flavor and food and gathering together. And I think that, in this world of cocktails that we live in now, it follows the same rule.”
To that end, she’s also running Ski Bar, a pop-up at Bow Market, with a ski lodge theme, as well as a larger cocktail space set to debut later this winter. She’s also working on the cocktail program for Lehrhaus, the hotly anticipated Jewish restaurant-bar-learning space set to launch in Inman Square this winter.
“So much of that whole program is really about expanding people’s horizons in terms of what Jewish cuisine and Jewish flavors can mean. I’ve gotten to play around with some really fun ingredients, stuff that I had never even heard of, like pepitada, a Sephardic break fast beverage made from the seeds of melons and squashes,” she says. “It’s traditionally drunk to break fast on Yom Kippur because it coats your stomach and gets you ready to eat after not eating for a day. I’m having a lot of fun with it and also just learning a lot about different traditions from Jewish people around the world.”
Maccabee Bar runs at Noir from Dec. 5-30, including on Christmas Day; Maccabee Bar is open from Dec. 7-26, though it’s closed Christmas Day. L’chaim!