Neighborhood Visionaries & Business Owners: A Conversation with Myriam and Marva Babel

Ode to Babel, opened by Brooklyn native sisters, is not to be missed. Photo via Ode to Babel.

Walking down Dean Street, it’s easy to pass by Ode to Babel, a bar and lounge nestled among residential buildings where Crown Heights meets Prospect Heights, at least before their 5 p.m. open. Inside its unassuming facade is an intimate yet vibrant space filled with leafy plants, portraits lining one wall, and most nights a DJ spinning in the corner. Behind the bar, expert bartenders slinging craft cocktails from a seasonal menu. To walk into Ode to Babel is to enter the sultry cocktail lounge where the bartenders are actually nice and seem to be having fun—an elusive combination.

This space is owned by sisters Marva and Myriam Babel and this June, they opened Good Life just a few blocks away on Washington Avenue. Good Life is a bright and airy counterpart to Ode to Babel, with a rotating cocktail menu and Instagramable pink accents.

It’s clear to any patron spending time in either Ode to Babel or Good life that Marva and Myriam are more than just owners of local bars: They have a vision for cultivating space for the communities that they believe in. Getting the chance to hear about their vision for their two businesses was just as delightful as I expected it would be.

Myriam + Marva Babel: Our initial concept for Ode to Babel was to have a multi-use concept space that would provide creatives in our community a place to gather for events, a space to showcase their art, purchase their crafts, and of course great cocktails. Creating a communal space was very important to us, we knew we wanted the space to feel like an extension of your home- very warm and comfortable. The space eventually evolved, and we ended the retail element to focus more on the bar and lounge

Edible Brooklyn: The creative vision behind both Ode to Babel and Good life is palpable when you walk in. Marva, I know you are an interior designer; in addition to attention to interiors, what do you think makes each space unique from another Brooklyn bar?
M+M. B: I think our spaces are unique because we focus on elements that speak to more than just providing cocktails and beer— obviously those are critical elements, but for us, it’s not the end all be all. We strive to create a full experience, through the art on the walls that are generally by, or of, people of color, through the life of the plants that keep us all grounded and in good spirits, the lighting that is warm and appealing, and the music that is globally influenced [with] lots of afrobeats, deep house, and reggae.

E.B.: It’s no secret that running a small business is hard anywhere, and it’s even more difficult in New York City where rents are high. On top of that, Prospect Heights is a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, with an increase of white residents from 28 percent to 45 percent between the 2000 and 2010 census, and I’m sure it’s gone up since then. In an environment that may seem inhospitable to black, female, Brooklyn natives, what do you think has made your business ventures successful?
M+M.B.: It’s definitely the push against gentrification—it’s actually one of the reasons we believe our spaces are successful. It’s important to maintain spaces for us by us, POC, women, and our community is rallying behind us and spaces like ours. It’s crucial because we want to give our support to places that are authentic to us—where we can live, dance, sing loudly, and live openly without being the only one in the room—but being apart of a thriving and beautiful community that is built and nurtured by us, our community. 

E.B: What is the best thing about owning Good Life and Ode to Babel? What is the most difficult?
M+M B: The best thing about owning these spaces is hands down—meeting wonderful people, and making great friends along the way.  Seeing people in the space having a wonderful time, or on dates, or celebrating milestones that will create lifelong memories for them is the most amazing part of this. 

The most difficult is maintaining spaces in a city that is very, very expensive to function in. It really takes the support of patrons and the folks that want to see our community thrive- which definitely eases the difficulties we face. 

Ode to Babel is at 772 Dean St, Brooklyn, NY 11238 and is open Tuesday-Sunday at 5pm.
Good Life is at 706 Washington Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238 and is open Monday through Friday at 5pm and Saturday and Sunday at 3pm.