Two elderly women are walking down Third Avenue in the Manhattan neighbourhood of Murray Hill when they stop outside an unassuming diner with puzzled looks on their faces. “What’s up with Sarge’s?” one of them asks in a thick New York accent, craning her head around a burly security guard to peer in through the window.
What is up with Sarge’s? The classic diner might not be the most famous of all the New York delis, but its 56-year history means it’s hardly in the minor leagues when it comes to the city’s iconic eateries. Photos of celebrity patrons line the wall and merch emblazoned with the slogan “New York’s best-kept secret” hangs in the windows. It’s a popular spot, but not usually the kind of place you’ll find a line down the block to get into on a Tuesday night.
Tonight though, is a little different. This is the first date on Haim’s five-stop deli tour, a concept that harks back to the very beginning of the sisters’ musical journey; way back in 2000, their family band Rockinhaim played their very first gig at Canter’s Deli in LA.
“This is my dream,” bassist Este marvels as she, Danielle and Alana walk through the restaurant, past lucky fans sat in the burgundy booths, tucking into pastrami, rye and corned beef sandwiches and matzo ball soup. The trio pause to thank people for coming as they make their way into the heart of the deli, waitresses balancing plates of the stomach-filling sandwich slabs clearing a path in front of them. A radio plays at half volume, drowned out by excited chatter, and no one remembers to switch it off until the group are halfway through their opening song, ‘The Wire’.
Haim are the kind of confident, charismatic band that seem like they would be right at home in any venue, but that’s especially the case today. “Funny story – we’ve been coming here since we were kids,” Alana says of their connection to Sarge’s, before explaining it was her, not a booking agent, that reached out to the restaurant to set up the show.
Delis have always been the cornerstone of the Jewish community in America, offering not just a space to gorge on traditional dishes like latkes and kreplach, but cultural hubs and places to gather. With this short, delicious tour, Haim are upholding those ways, continuing to celebrate their heritage as they have done for their whole careers. In 2017, ahead of the release of single ‘Want You Back’, they invited fans and friends to join them at LA’s Canter’s for a deli dinner party, while 2019 track ‘Summer Girl’ hints at the lyrics of ‘Lo Yisa Goy’, a song often sung by kids at Jewish summer camps.
These hallowed spaces of cuisine and company feature prominently on the group’s imminent third album, ‘Women In Music Pt. III’, specifically in its artwork. The cover, shot by director Paul Thomas Anderson, finds the sisters behind the counter at, yep, Canter’s again, with tubes of meat hung behind them and an analogue display that reads: “NOW SERVING 69”. “We like familiarity, as you can tell,” Este told NME of their studio preferences last year and it seems that ethos extends to other parts of their lives too.
‘Women In Music Pt. III’ is still over a month away – it’s set for release on April 24 – but this tour is an early chance to toast to it. Set up at the back of Sarge’s, Haim dazzle their way through a semi-acoustic five-song set, including ‘The Steps’ and ‘Summer Girl’ from the forthcoming album. Both have a touch of The Velvet Underground to them live, especially the former which features a guest appearance from Rostam on acoustic guitar and is introduced by Alana as her “favourite song” on their new record. “It feels so good to scream ‘You don’t understand me’,” she explains.
The new album’s title came to Danielle in a dream but made her sisters “think about some of our experiences more”. For Este in particular, that seems to have included reflecting on the women that have come before them. “I was watching MTV and a woman came on the screen by the name of Britney – or Miss Spears, if you’re nasty – and I fell in love,” she tells the attentive dining room. “Two years later a movie called Crossroads came out and I’ve never been the same since.” Then, she puts down her bass and adopts her best Britney voice (verdict: close your eyes and you might believe it was the real deal) for a cover of ‘I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman’.
Minutes later, the three women are headed to the door and Sarge’s staff get back to the business of clearing plates and untouched pickles, of which there are few. As low-key shows go, Haim’s deli tour feels like more than just good promo but a fortifying coming together that salutes the past and nods to the future, even in these strange times.