While misty rain trickled down outside, the Bollyhood Café in the Mission District was warm and buzzing with attractive young hipsters celebrating the last night of Chanukah together.
I was there, too, for the kickoff event of a new monthly open-bar club night in San Francisco called Milk and Honey.
The club night, created by Jewish record label JDub Records and sister website Jewcy, includes free food (while supplies last), free booze (’til the tab runs out) and live music. JDub and Jewcy already host Milk and Honey events in Los Angeles and New York. Throwing the first San Francisco installment on the last night of Chanukah was a great way to get the word out to young Jews looking for holiday parties.
After spending a few hours navigating the crowd of nearly 200 curly-haired indie boys, beautiful girls in peacoats and tall men with dreadlocks, I gathered that Milk and Honey is not just for Jewish 20-somethings; it’s an all-inclusive party. And later, I learned that an all-embracing attitude is indeed part of the plan.
“It’s not a uniquely Jewish event but an event for Jews and their friends,” JDub’s Sharon Bruce told me. “San Francisco has a unique Jewish presence and we’d like establish ourselves there.”
Resident event DJ Matt Haze echoed this sentiment.
“It’s not a standard club event,” Haze told me. “I’m hoping people will experience Jewish music in a different way and discover newfound connections to it.”
Haze worked to create those connections by weaving JDub record cuts such as “Hermetico” by Balkan Beat Box and “Queen of Hearts” by Soulico into his DJ set that also included soul, funk, Middle Eastern beats and bass-heavy hip-hop. At different points in the night, Kaftor worked the turntables while Israeli drummer Gavri Friesem performed and Audio Angel sang.
The musical concept for the event was to keep the tunes flowing and personal, without boundaries between audience and performer. Instead of having traditional bands, it’s a combination of live musicians and DJs — and everyone performs on the dance floor instead of apart from the crowd on a raised platform.
“The idea is to give it a house party vibe, make it seem like a jam session,” Haze said.
Haze will be tracking down the musical talent for future Milk and Honey events — next one takes place Jan. 12 — and will continue to spin at the parties as well. He got hooked up with the gig after working with JCCSF’s The Hub to put together a Jewish hip-hop show featuring Steinski last fall.
JDub contacted him after that show and asked if he’d like to be a part of the new monthly club event, and he jumped on it. Along with food and music, Milk and Honey also will feature other arts — from live painting by Jewish artists to screenings of kitschy films with Jewish references, such as “Blazing Saddles.”
Despite the crowds, the whole event had a relaxed vibe, with handmade throw pillows on the floor, couples dancing and friendly conversations everywhere you looked. Sweet sangria full of fruit was ladled out in tall glasses and there were plenty of beers on tap. A large buffet table was covered with fragrant Senegalese nibbles catered by Bissap Baobab. The lines for booze and food were somewhat daunting, but that’s to be expected when such treats are handed out free of charge.
As my two guests — both non-Jewish — and I wandered throughout the Bollyhood, we kept marveling at the size of the crowd and its positive nature. The expertly mixed music also stood out, and it was fun to hear popular JDub tracks in a club atmosphere.
“The breadth of what people know about Jews is that they don’t eat bacon, they wear funny hats and they listen to ‘Hava Negillah,’ ” Haze told me later. “This is a great way to show the diversity of the Jewish experience.”
Emily Savage lives in San Francisco. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.