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 The hostess — who asked that her real name not be published — is a personal chef and mother of two who also has a degree in sound engineering.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!
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • 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.