The Arty Semite

A Speakeasy Grows in Brooklyn

By Shoshana Olidort

  • Print
  • Share Share
Wiki Commons
A woman uses her cane flask during prohibition.

In the 1920s, at the height of Prohibition, underground saloons called speakeasies proliferated around the country. They got their name — according to an 1891 New York Times article — from one Kate Hester, who ran such a saloon in her Pennsylvania home, and who was known for telling her customers to “speak easy” when noise levels got too high.

Prohibition may long be over, but one 21st-century Kate Hester is bringing the speakeasy back to life in Brooklyn. In its newest incarnation the speakeasy — called The Hester — features gourmet kosher food and live music, in addition to a full bar. The hostess — who asked that her real name not be published — is a personal chef and mother of two who also has a degree in sound engineering. “There’s just nothing out there that brings together great music and great food, that’s kosher,” she said.

Guests at the most recent event — the speakeasy takes place about once a month — arrived from across Brooklyn and as far north as Washington Heights, like my husband and I. (It turned out we weren’t the only ones who had shlepped that far; we ran into a neighbor, too). Activist Daniel Sieradski lives close by, but that’s only part of what drew him to the event, which, he pointed out, is a welcome change from the typical JCC fare of singles events and Israel programming.

At its launch a month ago there was standing room only. This time around the evening coincided with the third night of Hanukkah, with dozens of other Jewish events competing for a similar audience, so the space was not quite as packed, but the tables were mostly filled and there was additional seating on living room sofas.

Upon arriving at The Hester, located inside a lovely Victorian home, we were greeted by a maitre d’ and seated at elegantly set tables in the dimly lit room that, by day, is a children’s playroom. Doris Cellar of the Freelance Whales was finishing up her set when we came in, and from the little I caught it was great — indie-folk in the tradition of Joni Mitchell, but with a hipster twist. Between the first and second sets we ordered a light dinner and drinks. Highlights were the decadent “Seasonal House Chips with Roasted Garlic-Parsley Sour Cream Dip,” and The Hester’s signature cocktail, the “Pear-Ginger Smash.”

The evening was billed as an album release party for Stereo Sinai, a two-person band featuring husband and wife Alan Jay Sufrin and Miriam Brosseau, both on vocals and guitar. Their songs infuse what the couple describes as bubblegum pop with lyrics from Tanakh, including some scenes that wouldn’t seem particularly singable. It was funny, but I found myself humming along to a tune whose words narrated the story of the binding of Isaac.

As the evening wore on people continued to weave in and out, some stopping by for a drink and to catch a bit of music, others just to check out the scene. Things wound down at around 11 p.m., which was high time for us to begin our trek back to Washington Heights, where we’d left our sleeping baby with the next-door-neighbor babysitter. It was a late night out for us first-time parents, and we still had a long subway ride home, but even as we braced ourselves for a 10 minute walk in the rain, sans umbrellas, to the subway station, we were glad we’d come. We felt pleasantly sated, slightly tipsy, and grateful for the revival of the speakeasy.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The Hester, Stereo Sinai, Speakeasy, Shoshana Olidort, Prohibition, Kate Hester, Freelance Whales, Brooklyn

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.