The latkes are brown and crispy, the dreidels are spinning. Two candles flicker from the menorah, and blue and white lights hang from the ceiling.
It’s the first night of Chanukah, and the bar’s almost full.
Yes, in what’s quickly becoming a tradition in the Shaw neighborhood in Washington, D.C., local watering hole Ivy and Coney has once again taken on its December alter-ego — Chaivy and Coheny — for the Festival of Lights. Many of the pop-up’s favorites from last year have returned: The shot-glass menorah (aka “ShotNorah”) is still available for revelers and their friends, the Manischewitz is flowing once again.
Red and green dreidels spin away at one table, where a group of 20-somethings has gathered to mark the occasion. They invented a drinking game earlier in the night, when they kicked off the festivities at home. On Shin, the spinner drinks, explains Lev Facher, 24. On Nun, the spinner downs a Manischewitz and vodka shooter. On Gimel, everyone drinks. And on Hei, the spinner designates others to drink.
“Just to be clear, these rules were made up by us,” said Micah Nelson, 25.
“In-Jew-nuity, am I right?” added Elena Ross, 24.
For Hannah Wasserman, 24, the pop-up bar — which will return to its divier secular identity on Dec. 27 — is a fitting way to mark the first night of Chanukah at this stage in her life.
“I don’t want to do nothing. It’s not that rigid that I need to do very specific things, but to not acknowledge it at all, it’s nostalgic. So this is perfect,” she said.
“It’s not a holiday you fly home for,” added Facher. “But it’s not nothing.”
This year’s theme is different: one room has a red glow in honor of the red panda, sometimes known as the “lesser” panda.
Visit the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and you might see the parallels between the red panda and the oft-overlooked Chanukah. Throngs of zoo-goers regularly pack in to see giant panda cub Bao Bao do little more than sit around munching bamboo. Meanwhile, zoo-goers barely stop to even find the resident red panda, Rusty, among the foliage, this despite his daring 2013 escape that briefly landed the bear among Twitter’s trending topics (he was ultimately found in an Adam’s Morgan tree). But at Chai-vy and Cohen-y, pictures of Rusty dot the walls — the “lesser” has finally gotten its due.
Of course, no Chanukah bar would be complete without unique Chanu-cocktails. “The Fire Within” is a shot of Fireball whiskey with a Manischewitz chaser and the “My Ashkenazi BF or Panda?” is Manischewitz on the rocks.
And it’s not all drinking and games, there’s a nominal cause as well. All proceeds from the “ShotNorah” (by which eight guests take a shot in unison) will be donated to HIAS. Filled with Manischewitz, it costs $18.
“The bartender will act as your Shamash, pouring revelers a choice of Red Concord Manischewitz or fine Ivy spirits,” reads a note on the bar’s Facebook page. “No kvelling about stains on your clothes will be allowed.” (The page says kvelling instead of kvetching.)
Those who take offense are invited to send their complaints to [email protected] WJW has confirmed that the inbox is, in fact, monitored by owner Josh Saltzman.
And on the last night of Chanukah, the 2019 Washington dreidel-spinning champion will be crowned inside the “Spinagogue.” Susan Sloan, the regional director of AJC Washington, will reportedly return to defend her crown.
At the end of the bar, Julia Robins, 29, nurses a domestic IPA (she insists she’s already had her fill of Manischewitz) and reminisces on the Chanukah of her childhood in Michigan. Ultimately, she says, the fundamentals haven’t changed. The most important part isn’t the gifts but the company. For now, she’s just swapped friends in for family.
“Alcohol instead of apple juice, too, I guess.”
Jared Foretek is a reporter at Washington Jewish Week, a sister publication of the Baltimore Jewish Times.