Kingston’s Foxhall Avenue, which bisects Midtown from Broadway to Albany Avenue, is a quick thoroughfare that’s depressingly lackluster. You pass rows of vinyl- or asbestos-sided down-at-the-heels Victorians too close to the road. The working-class neighborhoods along Foxhall have been stubbornly immune to the urban renaissance that has transformed Uptown and the Rondout, but now that’s changing. The renovation several years ago of a former lace curtain factory facing the railroad tracks into artists’ lofts brought an influx of artists, and now a hip new bar/restaurant called the Beverly Lounge has unexpectedly injected new life into the corner of Foxhall and Derrenbacher.
The magic of the Beverly, which is located in the former Kozy Tavern, starts with the sign: White script letters spelling out “Beverly” on a dark-blue background are discreet but stylishly retro, like a 1940s film noir set piece. It’s a beacon to those seeking not just a nosh or a drink, but also a cultural adventure that embodies all the mystique of the American bar without the dreariness, while honoring a Kingston tradition.
The solid brick pillars framing the corner door entrance are no-nonsense, true to their working-class origins; but once inside, the atmosphere is elegant English pub, without the TV and generic brewpub atmosphere that tend to afflict the genre in America. The room is clubby and dark, with forest-green walls, a tin ceiling and crown molding illuminated soft orange, and wooden booths along one wall (a child-size wooden booth is snuggled under the front window). Suspended over the bar are a row of Art Deco cut milk-glass globes, and atop the back wall above the bar is a mysterious painted frieze depicting a row of abstract diamonds and primitive landscape populated with Native Americans. A pair of dramatically lit giant cigarette butts occupy a niche on the wall. On the opposite wall hang a pair of large square black-and-white collages, whose geometric but loosely configured black forms seem inspired by machine parts.
Just over a year ago, Trip Thompson and Jenifer Constantine, owners of the popular Market Market Café in Rosendale, bought the building from the Gagliardi family, who had run the Kozy Tavern since 1940. “Our main impulse was the opening of the Lace Mill, which was a sign that things in Midtown were going in a certain direction,” said Thompson. “When we saw the bar,” – it’s called a Cassidy and was made in Kingston, he noted – “we were done.”
The couple, who have since separated but remain friends and business partners, opened the bar last August, naming it after Constantine’s grandmother and hiring Thom Hines as chef. Hines devised the menu, which features traditional bar food, such as chicken liver on toast, deviled eggs, burgers and lamb sliders, with an exotic twist that includes game, such as rabbit leg and duck wings with blue cheese sauce, and unusual flavorings. An example is the ancho chili brownie with salt-and-pepper ice cream, a sweet/savory concoction made completely from scratch.
“People’s eyes are still on Uptown, and at first it was really slow,” Thompson said, noting that he and Constantine supplemented the waiters’ tips. “It’s now starting to come to fruition.” A concert by Jonathan Richmond, which will be held in the banquet room located behind the bar on April 8, is sold out and will doubtless prove a shot in the arm. In the spring the partners plan to open the adjacent dining room, eventually expanding the evening hours to include brunch and lunch. An outside dining area will also open in the warm-weather months.
Thompson and Constantine originally planned to open a bar/restaurant in Uptown, in a building they own on North Front Street. When those plans fell through, they had no intention of opening a business in Midtown – until they saw this building. They did an extensive renovation, tearing out the foam ceiling tiles and installing the tin ceiling and crown molding and replacing the red vinyl booths with the original wooden booths, which they discovered dismantled in a shed on the property; their friend John Cox restored them and built the matching wooden tables to their design.
While scraping off the beige paint, Thompson discovered the mural with the diamonds and landscape, which originally wrapped completely around the upper walls. “Gesturally, it’s brilliant,” he said. (It’s possibly by Wignold Riff, a German artist based in Woodstock in the 1920s and ’30s, who painted the murals in a former bar in Rosendale called the Well, which are similar.) Prior to 1940, the building, which dates from 1865 or 1870, was an A & P market, and before that, it was a hotel, with a store downstairs.
Thompson and Constantine found one of the milk-glass lights at Zaborski’s Emporium and were able to obtain matching ones from eBay. They added the oxblood barstools, but to avoid looking too traditional, they commissioned Woody Pirtle, the well-known artist and designer who also designed the Market Market logo and the Beverly sign, to create the collages. (At his request, Pirtle bartered the artwork for food and drink at the bar.) The ceramic cigarette-butt sculpture is by Casey Taylor, and it commemorates “the cigarette burns on the bar,” including numerous burns from cigars, doubtless made when “old men left sitting at the bar passed out,” noted Thompson.
Thompson said that he intends to install another piece on the wall. “I want to find something that isn’t art – maybe a piece of machinery painted bright red… Thelonious Monk said there are no wrong notes, only wrong reactions. Whatever we have, we take it and use it. It’s usually form following function.”
Originally the couple had hired the chef from Market Market as the Beverly’s chef, but after he got “his executive catering dream job,” they took on Hines, who was in training. (Hines’ grandfather was a bartender at the Kozy Tavern, and his father grew up on Derrenbacher Street.) The ingredients are locally sourced when possible, the beef grass-fed and the ketchup, hamburger buns and ice cream homemade. Once the dining room opens, the entrées will be expanded and the bar menu simplified.
So far reviews of the $10 cocktails and food are mostly raves. Earning special notice are the burgers, lamb sliders, johnnycakes with sweet-corn relish, pernil (roast pork) with rice and beans and curried fingerling potato salad.
Currently the banquet room is rented out for rehearsal dinners, memorial services and organizational meetings (including by the Kingston Democratic Committee and the ArtWalk). “It’s perfect for swing dancing and yoga,” said Thompson, who said that he also hopes to host more live music events in the space, which seats 85. “I talked to a lady who said, ‘Oh I went to my prom back there.’ People have a connection to the building.”
The Beverly hosts the gay-themed Pansy Club on Thursday night, while Wednesday is Vinyl Night, hosted by a music aficionado, such as music critic and author Peter Aaron, spinning records. Music is integral to the Beverly’s atmosphere, Thompson said. The selection by the bartender is ideally “relatively esoteric and things you haven’t heard before. It’s music that makes you curious. You are only going to hear this music here. It’s a very individualized experience,” he said.
Indeed, during a recent visit, I enjoyed the intensely rhythmic, lyrically melodic Nigerian and Ethiopian funk from the 1970s spun by bartender Drew Piranino. Piranino, who lived 12 years in Brooklyn before decamping with his wife to Connelly, the scrappy waterfront community on the other side of the Rondout Creek, told us that the crowd at the Beverly “is 90 percent fantastic” and includes not just the ubiquitous transplants from Brooklyn, but also people from the neighborhood who formerly worked at the Kozy Tavern.
He offered me a shot of lemon whiskey. “It tastes like a wallet,” he said. “Spot on,” I thought, describing the combination of fresh-and-delicious with smoky-and-aged (though I’ve obviously never tasted a wallet). Piranino, whose wry humor, knowledge and quick service were a delight, is developing a following.
Between them, Thompson and Constantine have decades of experience in the food industry. As artists (Thompson, who was born in Oklahoma and raised in Texas, is a painter; Constantine, who is from the Glens Falls area, is an industrial designer), both worked in restaurants and tended bar to support themselves. Both have also played in bands. They’d been living in a loft in Williamsburg, “sharing a bathroom with five other artists,” when they had their first son in 2004 and decided that it was time to leave. They bought a house in New Paltz in 2006 and opened Market Market the following year.
With Market Market, “We were trying to provide something that was not available then, such as Korean food and authentic street tacos,” said Thompson. He and Constantine also wanted to provide a venue “for people who were writing and producing their own music up here. We filled a niche.”
Thompson, who currently lives over the bar, said that although his new neighborhood “is a little roughnecked, I never had any problems, even working four to five in the morning. It’s very friendly, and people have lived here for generations.
“Midtown is really cool, and Broadway has loads of potential,” he added. He noted that the Brooklyn migration is also decades old: “Talk to older Kingstonians, and you’ll find that a lot came here in the 1930s and ’40s. They have Brooklyn accents.”
The old industrial city is the perfect canvas for the couple’s sensibility. “Jen comes from a family of antique dealers, and we have this appreciation for older objects and the history of places,” Thompson said. “That’s what we’ve tried to do: bring back the building’s glory. There’s no place like us around, and we know what we have. It’s just a matter of people finding out about us. We think the future is very bright.”
Beverly Lounge, Sunday-Thursday 5-10 p.m., Friday/Saturday 5-11 p.m., no reservations, 224 Foxhall Avenue, Kingston; (845) 524-2570, www.thebeverlylounge.com.