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The Universal Language of Brooklyn’s Babel Loft

Sisters Marva and Myriam Babel breathe new life into the idea of a communal space.



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IN THE OLD Testament story of Babel, a united human race speaking in a single tongue comes together to build a tower to the heavens. They are thwarted by God, who transforms their one language into many, and they can no longer understand one another. It is a story of foiled dreams and the loss of community, and in many ways, it is the inverse of the story of Babel Loft, a social club, tasting room, and community space set to open in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.



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Babel Loft isn’t necessarily a reference to the biblical story; it is instead founders Marva and Myriam’s surname. The twin sisters were raised in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, then moved to Crown Heights as teenagers, and now spend their time in Prospect Heights. In 2015, they opened a beloved bar and community space on the border of Crown Heights and Prospect Heights, Ode to Babel, that hosted poetry readings, late-night DJ parties, and pop-ups that became a gathering spot for artists, the LGBTQ+ community, and people of color from the neighborhood. More than a gathering space, Ode to Babel was a place for creativity to germinate and spread. It closed in 2023 to make way for the more ambitious Babel Loft, which will offer members daytime collaboration through workspaces, a distillery, and two bars featuring Black-owned spirits. Another side of the building, “the B-side,” will be kept in a raw-loft design that will house live performances, events, and chef residencies serving curated menus. “[The B-side] is like the flip side of a vinyl album!” Marva notes when explaining the varying energy in the two sections. Of the decision to be a members-based community, Myriam says, “We are members-based to make sure it doesn’t lose its essence. It’s not a way to be exclusive. It’s about the energy we want to sustain and keep close.”


I’ve known Marva and Myriam since the early aughts and saw the crowds that thrived at Ode to Babel. With Babel Loft, the sisters have harnessed Ode to Babel’s community, with many becoming investors in the new venture. “I think a lot of our community, our core, is following our transition in life. We are all growing together, evolving, maturing, and moving along. And when the water flows, you go with the water,” Myriam shares. The sisters have divided up their responsibilities: Marva, “the a.m.,” operates mostly in the daytime, working behind the scenes on the business aspects of operation, while Myriam, “the p.m.,” is on the ground at night, building social relationships.

Weeks before Babel Loft was set to open, I visited the building, curious to see what the sisters had in store. The outside is quintessential Brooklyn; it feels like your friend’s mother, grandmother, or auntie might live there in a prewar apartment. Guests enter the bottom-floor reception area, where they can get coffee and then proceed to either the A or B side. All of the interiors were renovated with the help of Kenneth Nix of Nix Design Build, while the A-side’s furnishings were done by Lorri Hakansson and Erica Svec of W.S. Archives. “I really wanted it to have the spirit of the Babel brand,” Marva said. Lush plants fill corners, pops of pink and deep blues serve as accents, and art from legendary painter Barkley L. Hendricks and photographer Tyler Mitchell offer layers to the whitewashed walls.

The space reminds me of my teen years spent at Brooklyn basement parties where art and dance fused, shaping how I now live and write. I find that spaces like these offer an opportunity to take off “the mask” and experience the intersection of music, art, and community. While there is a fluidity and willingness to evolve in everything the Babel sisters do, they remind me, in unison, “Everything is intentional.”

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Our Contributors

LaTonya Yvette Writer

LaTonya Yvette is a contributing editor for Departures and a multi-media storyteller. She founded LY, a highly trafficked lifestyle blog, in 2011, and produced visual and written content for a decade. During that time, she published her first book, “Woman of Color” (Abrams, 2019). She also co-authored “The Hair Book” (Union Square, 2022), an illustrated children’s book, with Amanda Jane Jones. Her third book, “Stand In My Window” (Dial Press), hits shelves Spring 2024. LaTonya is the owner and steward of The Mae House, an upstate New York rental property and the home of Rest as Residency, which offers BIPOC (primarily geared towards families) a no-cost place for rest and focus. Yvette resides in Brooklyn with her two children, where she writes the newsletter “With Love, L.”

Brad Ogbonna Photographer

Photographer Brad Ogbonna splits his time between New York and Los Angeles. He was born and raised in the Twin Cities in Minnesota (where Prince is from).


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