The old Rondout

It was my buddy Lynn who turned me on to Clarence and Marge’s Riverside, this great old funky bar with boat slips down on the Rondout where Rosita’s later got built. It’s now the home of the Hudson River Maritime Museum’s Woodworking School. The place had portholes, grimy tall windows looking out on to the water, deco details, scrap wood and metal everywhere. Clarence served cold beer and shots.

I’m not sure if he knew how to mix a drink, or pour a glass of vino beyond port. The Riverside drew the tugboat crowd that was once the area’s prime. Come back several days after a visit and you could usually find your table by the empties you left there. I seem to remember those being the years when smoking was still okay.

Wanting to impress Lynn, I decided to throw a big party. I’d gotten to know Clarence, a delivery man when not bartending, well enough to try his dandelion wine. Marge, always resplendent in an ever-changing array of improvised turbans, told me how she’d spent earlier lives as a scullery maid. We’d talk for hours. The couple felt comfortable enough to fight and cry, bellow and curse in front of me.

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We decided to do a Dandelion Wine Festival.

I invited every artist I knew who could add some wildness: bands, solo musicians, sound experimenters, video mayhem masters. I projected old government propaganda films off the creek’s surface onto the bar’s outside walls. Friends made esoteric dance tapes for the old ballroom we half-cleared beyond the bar. People could drink Clarence’s dandelion wine for free. We served it in what looked like methadone cups. The event drew an eclectic crowd. Old friendships were renewed and new ones established.

I was living an hour’s drive away at the time. We kept stopping by rest areas to hang out and continue our discussions, so it took a caravan of us three hours to get back into the deep Catskills. No cell phones then.

I went back the next day to clean, pick up stray materials. Clarence and Marge were appreciative. They said it was like what the area had been back in the Sixties and Fifties.

We thought the newly hip Riverside would stay as it was, a new locus for an increasingly original version of what had once been. But then the place shifted away from its past. Clarence and Marge sold out, tired and ready to retire. Many of us have lost touch, although Lynn and I have stayed good friends.

I’ve never tasted dandelion wine since. I remember its aged sweetness.


Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.