New York Times
New York Times
New Yorkers Are Scrambling to Make Dinner Reservations- 90 Miles North of the City
By Alyson Krueger | June 28, 2019
Little Kingston, Exit 19 off the Thruway, is drawing restaurateurs, chefs, brewmasters and the people who love them.
On a warm summer day about a year ago, it was standing room only at Wilde Beest, a garden-to-table restaurant that had just opened. Those lucky enough to get a table included the actors Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig — James Bond himself.
In the sage-green and white dining room, customers sat under taxidermy pheasants. Menus arrived in mysterious black envelopes, while at the end of the meal, checks were tucked into vintage Smithsonian science books. The music, selected by Chef CT Turgeon, who opened Wilde Beest with five friends, played on a turntable. All of the guests were given a playlist.
A year later, although menus now dispense with the envelopes and customers no longer receive playlists (“several people called us out on Yelp for being hipsters and elitists,” Mr. Turgeon said), business is still booming.
Wilde Beest is not in Williamsburg or Bushwick, however. The restaurant is in Kingston, about 90 miles north of New York.
And it is not the only one. Another celebrated New York City restaurateur is planning to roll out three establishments in Kingston over the next six months, while a state-of-the-art brewery opened over Memorial Day weekend. From last summer to this one, Kingston saw at least six new restaurants open, and more are on the way. Trailways, which offers bus service to Kingston from Midtown Manhattan several times a day, recently renovated its bus station here.
“I’m happy to take visitors to Wilde Beest when I need them to realize how amazing and ‘on the rise’ our upstate area can be,” said Shawn Brydges, 50, a photography agent who is based in Manhattan but heads to Kingston on the weekends.
Up until a few years ago, ever since I.B.M. shut down its operations here in the mid 1990s, Kingston, in Ulster County, had been a sleepy bedroom community, with vacant buildings and an aging population. But recently, it’s seen some interesting new developments, like the bookstore Rough Draft Bar & Books and the chic Hotel Kinsley.
It’s telling that Taavo Somer, the brains behind the Lower East Side bar and restaurant Freemans, is opening, alongside his business partners Charles and Aviva Blaichman, three new restaurants in the Kingston neighborhood of Uptown, also known as the Stockade District, where Wilde Beest, Rough Draft and Hotel Kinsley are.
Kinsley, Mr. Somer’s first restaurant in Kingston, is part of Hotel Kinsley and was built inside of a bank that dates back to the 1860s. Lola, an indoor-outdoor venue that specializes in wood-fire pizza, and Fare & Main, a market cafe, will both be up and running before the end of the summer.
It’s certainly not news that New Yorkers are eager to leave the city on weekends, heading to Hudson and Rhinebeck and Phoenicia. But Kingston is an actual city, with a population of over 23,000. It’s also more spread out, lacking the quaint Main Street vibe of smaller towns.
“In Hudson if you walk a few blocks you end up in the water,” said Brian Tress, who works for Ernst & Young in New York and who owns a house 15 minutes outside of Kingston. Kingston does have a waterfront, but it is “a real city,” he said.
The dining scene here is drawing chefs like Mr. Turgeon, who previously worked at 42 Grams, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Chicago that has since closed, and who is now running the kitchen at Wilde Beest. Others in the restaurant industry are following suit.
According to a report put out by Kingston’s Office of Community Development in April, the city had 300 more people working in the leisure and hospitality industry than in March. That number is up by 600 people from just a year ago.
Of course this development raises the question of whether there’s truly a market in Kingston for all of these restaurants. Are these high-end dining options catering purely to weekenders?
So far, so good, Mr. Tress said. “We aren’t at the point where you have to wait in line, but you do have to make reservations now,” he continued. “Places are crowded on a Monday, and that is unusual.”
The idea of being a big deal isn’t completely foreign to Kingston. In 1777 the city became the first capital of New York State, a role that didn’t last long after the British burned it down in the Battle of Saratoga the same year.
One of the new places in Kingston paying homage to its Revolutionary War-era history is Crown, a cocktail bar that opened last July. It’s located in one of the oldest houses in the city: the Cornelius Tappen House, built in 1704. It’s aiming for a very cosmopolitan vibe.
“I had a drink called Mary’s Lemon Phosphate,” said Mr. Brydges, the photography agent. “It had Japanese gin in it, and it was the best I’ve had in awhile.”
“It’s kind of sophisticated for Kingston,” Mr. Tress said. “There was a gap there, there wasn’t really an upscale lounge, and I think Crown is filling it.” The bar holds special events like burlesque shows that sell out in advance.
There is also a less fancy, though equally appealing Kingston neighborhood to visit, in terms of cutting-edge restaurants and bars: Midtown.
“Midtown is full of little hidden pockets, back street restaurants and bars and even bike shops among residential areas, that sit waiting to surprise you,” said Sam Osterhout, a television writer who moved to Kingston from the East Village in 2012. “That’s something we thought we’d miss when we moved upstate.”
One of his favorite spots is Lis Bar, a Polish tapas place that opened last fall. Patty Rich, one of its owners, grew up in New York, and she was attracted to the industrial Midtown neighborhood because it reminded her of Queens in the 1980s. The building is surrounded by former factories that in the past few years have been converted into artist studios and coffee shops.
Ms. Rich and her husband, Jonathan, bought the space in 2017 and outfitted it with vintage armchairs, bookshelves, rugs, lamps, even old TV-dinner trays. On the brick facade of the building is an original mural of a naked woman. A neon sign, made by the local design firm Lite Brite Neon, is on the door.
On a Friday evening in March, Mr. Rich suggested that many of the customers were creative types, visiting from the city. “See that woman?” he asked. “She is a movie director.” He pointed to a man nearby. “He is a photographer who comes here often.”
Last year, when the Riches opened Lis Bar, other restaurateurs in the area warned them about the difficulties of finding experienced waiters, Mr. Rich said.
But Mr. Rich noticed that with the influx of restaurants, there has also been an influx of decent wait staff. “More people from the restaurant industry have moved up from the city or moved here from elsewhere,” he said. “There are more opportunities that appeal to them.”
Lis Bar’s head bartender, Miles Crettien, 32, moved to Kingston from Hudson. “Honestly, the Lite-Brite neon sign on the outside facade initially drew me in,” he said.
At Kingston Standard Brewing Co., another new place that opened in Midtown over Memorial Day weekend, locals and weekenders seemed to easily mix. Over 300 people of all ages packed into the former transmission shop. There were wooden tables, a stainless steel bar, and a gravel beer garden outside.
At the brewery all the beer is served in batches, which means styles get changed often when the keg empties. “We can only open Friday to Sunday, or we’ll run out of beer,” said Tait Simpson, the head brewer and co-owner.
Kyle Needham, another owner, is the resident oyster expert, having founded Oyster Party, a catering company. He works with farmers across the North Atlantic and North Pacific.
“You can’t really find these kind of oysters around here,” he said. “I just want to bring something new to Kingston.”
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