Better Sorts Social Club, which opened in the Kimpton Nine Zero Hotel in October, has had only two months to be itself. But the downtown bar is already becoming something different, albeit for five nights: from Dec 4 to Dec 8, it will become “Maccabee Bar,” a Hanukkah-themed pop-up.
It’s the brainchild of head bartender Naomi Levy, who believes Maccabee Bar is the first local pop-up to celebrate the Festival of Lights. Levy, a long-time hospitality vet and former bar manager at Eastern Standard, said she conceived the idea before Better Sorts’ opening.
“Exactly how long I honestly don’t remember, but it’s definitely something that I’ve been dreaming of for a while,” says Levy.
It’s not her first foray into holiday pop-ups. The last two years saw Levy and her partner Zach Lieberman, then a general manager at Sycamore, take over the Newton restaurant for Christmas Eve. The first year’s Chrismukkah theme planted the seed for some of the drinks now on Maccabee Bar’s menu (the second year’s theme was “things we stole from our parents’ liquor cabinet”).
Maccabee Bar, named for the scrappy, second-century BC rebels who play a starring role in the story of Hanukkah, will feature eight cocktails inspired by the holiday and traditional Jewish flavors. The lineup will include the Hebrew Hammer, made with vodka and raspberry and rimmed with “leavened” sugar; a Latke Sour made with apple brandy, potato, lemon, and egg white; the Manishevitz Martinez prepared with gin, maraschino, and Manischewitz vermouth; a brisket-inspired Holiday Armadillo featuring rye whiskey and a carrot-thyme syrup; as well as a yet-unnamed cocktail that incorporates gin, sherry and olive oil. (“Hanukkah is all about olive oil,” says Levy.)
But not every mixture is so Hanukkah-centric.
“We have one that is a kind of cheeky we’re calling Jewish Christmas, made with sesame-infused scotch and a little Sichuan peppercorn syrup,” Levy says. “That’s our token Christmas drink in a kind of funny way.”
While unique, Levy doesn’t consider the drinks to be a huge departure from the spirit of Better Sorts, whose opening menu featured offbeat creations with savory ingredients like the Cacio E Pepe Martini made with gouda-infused vermouth and a black pepper pasta water syrup.
“It’s still going to be true to the flavors that people who have gotten to try Better Sorts have come to expect,” Levy says. “They’re a little bit sillier, but I think all of our cocktails are a little bit silly.”
On the nonliquid front, Maccabee Bar will serve a number of similarly inspired specials from executive chef Steve Hamilton, including huckleberry jam doughnuts, smoked brisket, and curried sweet potato latkes.
“They match in the sense that they are all based on Jewish and Hanukkah flavors. So you can have a latke with your latke cocktail,” Levy says.
You can also expect to see a bit more color within the normally reserved Better Sorts space.
“There’s going to be lots of blue lights, lots of blue tinsel and blue dreidels. You get the theme here—a lot of blue,” says Levy. “Fun menorahs will be lighted, all of that. It’s going to look very nice and festive in here.”
When asked if Maccabee Bar could return in 2019, Levy says, “I would love that. I’m absolutely hoping that we could make this an annual thing.”
For now, her focus is on the present.
“I’m just really excited for us to bring a side of the holidays that doesn’t always get the most attention, and I think it’s going to be really fun whether you celebrate Hanukkah or not,” she says.