It’s nearing 5 p.m. on a Friday evening. The staff at the Lis Bar is getting ready to open. Staffers are setting tables, juicing fresh citrus. Soon a few locals arrive. A train rumbles by just across the street. No matter; people are getting settled in an outdoor patio. They ignore it, sip their cocktails and carry on.
“Lis” is Polish for “fox,” a nod to the location on Foxhall Avenue in Kingston. Opened by Patty and Jonathan Rich last fall, the newly spiffed-up lounge fits into the neighborhood like it has always been there. Actually, it has, in various incarnations since 1954. The new owners wanted to maintain the friendly atmosphere that patrons have come to expect, while introducing a casual-but-upscale aesthetic and a new-to-Kingston culinary offering.
Patty’s parents hail from Krakow, Poland. The family still has connections there, which may have influenced the couple’s decision to serve Polish-inspired tapas plates and inventive cocktails with names like Peasant’s Spring, Room in a Castle and the Meadow. The room, though painted a dark woodsy green, is brightened with mix-and-match lighting and tabletop candles. The décor throughout is rather homey, with books and artsy touches and comfy seating that puts people together.
Being in a neighborhood where people can walk in is one of the reasons the Riches were attracted us to the area. “The fact that it’s residential,” says Patty. “And this spot has always been a family establishment.” The presence of their two children, ages 11 and 8, underscores the familial vibe. They’ve lived in the area for a decade; the kids attend the Kingston Catholic School. They’re rooted. “Being a real part of the community – you can’t do this kind of business and be apart from it,” says Jonathan.
Patty adds, “We want to be a place that appeals to people who live and work right here. Earlier, we had a cocktail called Two Streets Down, because so many people came in and said, ‘Oh, I live two streets down.’ Former owners have come in. That’s what makes me happy: that history still lives here. We have big shoes to fill.” Indeed, buying the building and jumping into those shoes has been an investment with a learning curve.
Jonathan’s background and current “day job” is in consulting. “Patty worked in fine dining in the City for many years,” he says. “We talked about doing something along these lines for about 15 years. It has been a massive learning experience. We spent about a year on the design and renovation process. Patty did the finish work on these custom-cut slabs of wood.” He indicates the table at which we’re sitting. “I’m not a woodworker, but I like to refinish,” she says. “That’s our MO around here: finding things that have had a life and giving them a new one. Something old and something new. Every day is a surprise. In the industry, you know that every day, something happens.”
Jonathan acknowledges that it’s a tough business. “It’s easy to see why so many places fail. There are so many ways you can go wrong – or you have so many different aspects you have to do well to succeed. It’s massively complicated. But on the flip side, what other business can you get involved in with so many interesting things? It’s the food, it’s drink, design, artwork, the music we’re going to play. I don’t think there are that many businesses where you can cut across so many interesting individual aspects. It makes it really hard, but also very interesting. You can do the business and express yourself creatively.”
Lis Bar is yet another creative business endeavor adding to the resurgence of Midtown Kingston, where well-established arts businesses have thriven for years. Setting the menu each season is a collaborative effort between the bar workers and the chefs. “The Polish tapas is a sort of strange idea,” says Patty, “but I’ve always had the urge to present Polish food in a different way. With the small plates, people won’t be afraid to try things. I had a discussion with our chefs about ‘What is Polish food?’ Things are very seasonal; you utilize everything. That’s the common thread in our bar and our menu.”
And about those Old Country small plates coming out of the kitchen? How about the house pierogi with roasted potato, farmers cheese, braised beef, bacon and sour cream, or sour rye soup with smoked pork, kielbasa and pickled egg? Or dill spaetzle with Lis sauerkraut, green garlic and cured egg yolk? Or beet pasta with dandelion pesto, English peas, walnut oil and cured egg yolk? And desserts – such as a donut with rhubarb jam and thyme – simple but sweet.
Lis Bar, Monday & Thursday 5-11 p.m., Friday & Saturday 5 p.m.-midnight, Sunday 5-10 p.m., closed Tuesday & Wednesday, 240 Foxhall Avenue, Kingston; (845) 514-2350, www.lisbar.com.