An African-Israeli Cafe Grows in Harlem

Silvana_Harlem_YeMing3One doesn’t expect to see a mezuzah outside a restaurant in the midst of a bustling Harlem street. The block of 116th street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard is lined with bodegas, hardware stores and soul food spots. But upon closer inspection the embellished clay ornament at the light blue store front of Silvana, a café and shop, reveals it’s a mezuzah.

Silvana’s tall shop windows are filled with a variety of colorful items that appear to stem from all over the world – from candles and African wood figurines to hookahs and jewelry. “Shwarma/Falafel/Bar/Live Music/Boutique/Café” is printed on the marquee, which seems like a lot for one venue. But everything falls into place inside, where you find yourself in a living room between Israel and Africa, with partly exposed red brick walls, a dark red carpet on the hardwood floor, and large wooden tables that customers share. Some work on their computers, while others munch on cakes or falafel sandwiches.

Opened in June 2013, the place reflects the vision and story of the owners, Sivan Baron and Abdel Kader Ouedraogo. Baron, 40, grew up in Ramat Gan and came to New York to complete her degree in architecture 15 years ago. She met her husband, a native of Burkina Faso, when she was working in a French restaurant. The interfaith couple who celebrate both Muslim and Jewish holidays, owns two other popular restaurants in the area, Shrine Bar, a world music venue, and the French bistro Yatenga, which are next to one another on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard near 134th Street.

Silvana_Harlem_YeMing1Silvana is different yet again: They wanted to introduce Israeli food to the neighborhood. The menu is hardly experimental, but features all the classics at good quality and decent prices, from tahini, hummus and tabbouleh to lamb and chicken shawarma and shakshuka. Silvana is also designed to be social hub that cuts across age, class and profession: “You see firefighters, professors, students, kids and taxi drivers,” said Baron.

On a recent Friday evening, the café was almost empty, but a decent crowd has gathered in the unexpectedly large, but still intimate basement, which sports a hookah lounge, a bar, several tables and a small stage, on which a local band performs together with Aliah Sheffield, a young singer from New Jersey. The audience — diverse indeed, but no firefighters in uniform — seems to enjoy the soul music despite the microphone’s slightly too high volume.

The incredibly well designed atmosphere of the place suggests that Baron — who was nicknamed Silvana by a friend’s grandmother as a child — knows what she’s doing. She lost her job as an architect during the recession of 2008, while she was pregnant with her second child, but she has found a new artistic outlet through the restaurants. Even though the work is demanding — “It feels like having five kids,” the mother of two said — she enjoyed designing the logo, menus, interior design and choosing the retail products. Some come from across the globe, others are made by local designers, and there are a few, such as the mezuzah which were made by hand in Israel by Baron’s cousin.

Photos: Ye Ming

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Calling it a night?: Harlem Bars Slam Community Board Proposal

Barkeeps say 2am close would kill business 

HARLEM BAR AND RESTAURANT owners fear that a new proposal requiring local establishments to stop serving liquor at 2 a.m. could close the tab on their late night business.

The proposal, initiated last week by Community Board 10’s Economic Development Committee, would require new businesses seeking a liquor license recommendation from CB 10 to agree to stop serving two hours earlier than the 4 a.m. norm in the rest of the city.

“The entire city is open until 4 a.m. so if Harlem bars were to close at 2, it would put us at an extreme disadvantage,” said Sherri Wilson-Daly, one of the owners of the popular Harlem Tavern on W. 116th St.

“For them to put our businesses at a disadvantage like that is doing a real disservice to the community.”

Although CB 10 cannot change the hours of operations for existing businesses, the board can omit their liquor license recommendation for new businesses seeking approval from the New York State Liquor Authority.

CB 10 is still in the early stage of the proposal process and will further examine the effects of the plan before moving forward, said CB 10 Chair Henrietta Lyle.

“There’s still a lot of work being done looking at the economic effect and police reports by the community board,” said Lyle. “It is still in the early stages.”

As more bars and restaurants continue to pop up in bustling Central Harlem, CB 10 aims to limit the late night crowds that have appeared in other bar-ridden areas of Manhattan, like Murray Hill and the Meatpacking District.

“They’re nervous that Harlem will become like the Lower East Side or Meatpacking District with lots of people in the streets, but we are still very far away from that,” said

Susannah Koteen, the proprietor of the Italian restaurant Lido on Frederick Douglass Blvd. and W.117th th.

“We’re keeping people in the community, hiring people from the community and bringing money into the community, so it seems strange that would want to hinder business,” she added.

In August, CB 6 approved a similar proposal forcing bars and restaurants in the Murray Hill area to meet with the New York State Liquor Authority if they wanted to keep serving later than 2 a.m.

“It’s hard to do business in Manhattan,” said Koteen. “If businesses want to stay open a little later and make a few extra bucks, why not?”

BY Joseph Tepper

Community Board Considers Closing Bars Early

A Harlem community board is mulling whether to ask bars, nightclubs and restaurants to stop serving liquor two hours before last call.

Frederick Douglass Blvd south of 125 St in Harlem.

This week, Community Board 10 tabled a recommendation that would require establishments to stop serving liquor after 2 a.m. in order to get more information from its economic development committee, which proposed the rule.

“This is something that has been tabled by our full board,” said the chair of Community Board 10, Henrietta Lyle. “It’s a recommendation from our economic development committee. A recommendation. They brought that to the full board. It’s not under consideration at this time. We have tabled this issue pending information and better clarification.”

Bars licensed to serve liquor in New York can do so as late as 4 a.m., according to the state Alcohol Beverage Control law.

Most restaurants and bars that apply for liquor licenses come to agreements with their respective community boards before applying, said a spokesperson for the New York State Liquor Authority, which is in charge of granting licenses to bars in the state.

Harlem bar owners said they didn’t understand why the community board’s economic development committee would support such a move.

“New York’s a unique city,” said Gareth Fagan, one of the owners of Harlem Tavern on Frederick Douglass Boulevard near 116th Street. “People work 24 hours a day. People want to be able to grab a drink on the way home or grab something to eat on the way home. And that’s what made it great is that you’d be able to go into a diner or a restaurant and get a full meal at 1 a.m. or at 4 a.m. — whatever the case may be.”

He added that he hadn’t heard of anyone who was in favor of the recommendation.

“I don’t understand why one neighborhood would choose to close at 2 a.m. and another down the street would be allowed to open till 4 a.m.,” he said. “I think it would be detrimental to the neighborhood.”

Ousmane Keita, who is co-owner of Bier International, a beer garden at Frederick Douglass Blvd and 113th Street, said none of the people he’d talked to supported closing their tabs early.

“It’s definitely not a good idea considering that this neighborhood is starting to boom,” Keita said. “Some of our clients come in late just to have a drink and they don’t want to be rushed.”

The next general meeting of Community Board 10 will be held on Wednesday, January 4. The board’s economic development committee meets next on Thursday, Jan. 12.

Community boards on the Upper West Side, in Hell’s Kitchen and Bay Ridge, Brooklyn have recently opposed bar, restaurant and nightclub liquor licenses over noise, crowds and safety.