Ode to Babel, a cocktail bar and lounge based in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, is an ode to Black women and their tenacity. For Marva and Myriam Babel, this has been true — both in starting their business and in keeping its doors open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the past five years, Ode to Babel has been a safe space within its community. The twin sisters curated the space for the creative class, specifically members of the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities. Here, no matter your background, everyone’s authentic self is welcome to convene over light bites, cocktails, live DJ sessions, and pop-up events. However, like the rest of the world, the sisters were forced to shut down their venue for a few months in 2020, and reopened its doors on Valentine’s Day this year for all to return to — with COVID regulations in place, of course.
Gone are the days where patrons are elbow-to-elbow, waiting their turn to order a drink. These days, their manager, Dana La Plante is there to make sure everyone is safely social distancing while having a great time. Aside from their hours and the added limit to capacity, the spirit of Ode to Babel makes it apparent how this calm spot has stayed in business for so long. The vitality is undeniable. Though successful now, the road hasn’t been easy.
“Myriam and I are twins, very similar yet very very different,” Marva tells R29Unbothered. “My sister comes from a clinical background, and my background is creative. She’s also the ‘shy’ sister and was less inclined to go out of her way to meet new people. However, after opening Ode to Babel, she pushed herself out of that comfort zone – our business is very social! She loved the push, and has connected with, and nurtured some amazing friendships through this journey. I’m proud of her for that.”
And the duo has much to be proud about.
According to Marva, they were bootstrapped in the beginning, with no idea how to run a business or the importance of mental and physical rest. Marva admits, “I was very much in work, work, work mode, believing that that was the key to making the business successful. It actually created burnout and depression for both of us, and it wasn’t a sustainable way of being. We both started different methods of self care.”
While Myriam began meditation and acupuncture, Marva began focusing on daily walks in Prospect Park, and journaling which she found therapeutic. They'd both schedule at least two holiday breaks to disconnect from work for a few days, and say their business flourished through this self-care formula. Although they’re still coping with the stress of running a business, they admit they’ve developed stronger bonds with their staff and industry colleagues.
During the pandemic, community support was accelerated, as those who found refuge in Ode to Babel would post pictures, videos, and give social media shout outs about how tasty and beautifully packaged their to-go cocktails were (their innovative RTD, ready-to-drink menu remains largely popular today). From there, the bosses decided to scale up for the general mass market, and not only made RTD a longtime venture, but brand their own spirit as well.
Despite losing half of their staff, the momentum is picking back up, and the space offers outdoor seating in the front and back. The Babel sisters ultimately lean on the heart of their space and the neighborhood for feedback in making the experience better. In the story of the Babel sisters, the true power of community proved to prevail. Even nearby bars carry their staple spirit. “The relationship with our community works because we come from an authentic space.” Our hope is that they continue to build on that, because more places like this are needed. It’s imperative in the name of self expression.