When I visited chef Alex Koones in her downtown Brooklyn apartment, she was shaking out flour from her clothes, and preparing butter-filled dough for what would later become a babka. The dessert was for Babetown, a pop-up supper club she hosts about two times a month for queer women, transgender women and men, and non-binary people to build friendships and community.
“We are living in a time where the lesbian bar is almost in extinction,” Koones told me. “There aren’t many spaces for those different communities to come together. The truth is, most of our parties and clubs, especially if they get good, just get flooded with cis gay men. So, Babetown is sort of about this other segment of our community having a space where they can come together and meet people in their own community they might not ordinarily meet.”
Koones — a classically trained line chef with experience at several restaurants — cooks, and the guest list is open to anyone willing to “put down some money for their portion of food and drinks.” Each event is inspired by local and seasonally available produce and proteins, and the food tends to be typical of Konnes’s New York Jewish heritage. At the brunch I attended, for example, Koones served sourdough waffles, matzo brie topped with pesto, hummus with homemade pita, sausages, salad, and some fruit with vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. And, of course, the babka.
As guests began to arrive, many volunteered to help with the cooking and serving.
“From the food, to the theme, to the music we play, every aspect of the experience is coming from my heart,” Koones said, adding that she hugs”every new person who walks into Babetown. “I let them know this is a place where I hope they can be comfortable.”
As Koones’s food is devoured and guests mingle, a Babetown first-timer, yoga teacher Kristi Cole, told me she had recently been feeling “really disconnected from the queer community.”
“This is a really great opportunity to just come, in a low-stress environment … to just meet people and give me that sense of connection that I’ve been really missing … It’s really a place for people to come together and just get to know each other,” she said.
For regulars, like Leah Shea, who works as a team coordinator at a healthcare company, Babetown events have become a bit like a home away from home, a place where best friends are made, and community is created. “Most of the friends I have now, I’ve met at Babetown,” Shea told me.
As for the longterm future of Babetown? Koones is torn. “Babetown could never be a money-making business.” Koones said. “I’m honestly very skeptical of any for-profit business that labels itself as ‘queer’ … for something to be about benefiting queer people, I think it needs to be for the queer community, not profiting off if it.”
But for now, Koones is planning two more events for the month of June. “Babetown Local,” an event sponsored by GrowNYC where all the food, down to the salt, will be locally made, with a specific effort to showcase queer, female, and POC farmers and artisans. And, excitingly, even a series of Babetown weddings, planned for June 26, the anniversary of the supreme court ruling allowing for same-sex marriage.
Koones will approach both with the simple strategy that what makes the magic happen at Babetown is the food.
“With good, warm food in your stomach, your guard is going to go down and you’re going to find yourself opening up about yourself or listening to a good story from a stranger and that’s just going to happen naturally,” she says.
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