The newest bar on the block is Dear Kingston, and it’s already taken the neighborhood by storm. Calling it a bar is selling it short – it’s more of a craft beer garden, tap room and family-freindly community space. It’s the brainchild of owner and real-estate-appraiser-turned-bar-entrepreneur Eric Sturniolo and his leadership team Stephen Thomas and Conor Kennedy, both experienced in the bar and beverage industries.
Step inside and you’ll be greeted with warm wood tones and unpretentious decor, with a brightly glowing neon sign fashioned by the bar’s backyard neighbors Lite Brite Neon. Everything here is hyperlocal, from the drinks to the food to the art – and perhaps most importantly, the staff and the customers. In an age where many Kingston locals are grappling with the loss of community amidst a wave of new transplants to the area, Dear Kingston is a gathering place our city truly needed. The impressive turnout so far has confirmed Sturniolo’s conviction that an establishment made expressly for locals would not just be good for business, but good for the community.
We spoke to Sturniolo about his long journey toward renovating and opening his space and the creative, strategic thinking that went into the location’s many strokes of unique genius.
You’ve been open for about six weeks, how has your experience been so far?
We’ve been very busy. We’ve had a ton of neighborhood support, which was very important. We wanted to be a neighborhood bar first for Kingston. We’re not catering to tourists or city people or anything like that. Obviously, they’re welcome here too. But we’re open seven days a week, and part of that is because we want to be available for people who live and work here, and not just people who are, you know, visiting on the weekends or Thursday to Sunday.
We get industry people from the other restaurants who have Mondays and Tuesdays off. They come here ’cause it’s their weekend. A lot of people come here after a shift wherever they’re working for an after-work drink. We’re open till 2:00 am seven days a week. We’re open late for people who are working late… we just want to be available and accessible and welcoming.
What’s your Kingston connection and how did Dear Kingston come to be?
I wanted to be in the Hudson Valley, but north of Rockland, where I’m from, ’cause I just didn’t want to settle down there. Rockland is very suburban. I couldn’t picture this in a strip mall or something like that. So, just purely based on data, Kingston was a clear choice for both me personally to put down roots and also to have this business.
But the first summer of the pandemic, there wasn’t a lot, and this was when everyone was moving out of the city and buying up everything in Kingston… not so much commercial stuff, but just in general. There was not a lot available, but I kept looking, I looked at a ton of places.
My concept was a beer garden, so I wanted a backyard. And most commercial buildings don’t have anything like that. Then I found this building, it was owned by the Red Cross. It was office space, leased to Ulster County. It wasn’t really listed anywhere. I found it on a very random website that I knew of. I was like, “Oh, it’s weird. It looks like a house, but I’ll take a look.'”
And then when I came into the backyard, I was like: “This has gotta be the place.”
When I looked at this place for the first time, that was the first time that I ever wore a mask. And I remember seeing other people wearing masks was super-weird. So yeah, that’s how long ago it was, at the very beginning of covid.
What did you have to do to renovate the space?
There was like a kind of reception and then maybe five or six offices, everything was closed off. We took down all the walls, it was a complete, 100% renovation. We demoed everything and then built it back up. This [pointing to the vast backyard area] was the office parking lot. There’s still a handicap symbol there. The deck is all new. I wanted a covered deck for when it’s raining, or in the winter people can still come outside and hang out.
It’s been hard to renovate the back because I can’t tear it up and grow grass — that’s going to be very hard and take a long time. So we’re planning on building it out. The planters are new. We have fire pits back there.
The mural is by a local artist, Sean Willett. His art is actually hanging up inside. Every few months we’re going to rotate a different artist in Kingston.
Everything here is obviously brand new. Construction didn’t take that long, but getting the approvals from the city, that took a very long time. It took from June of 2020 to April of 2023 to open.
What kind of scene are you building at Dear Kingston? It’s great that the back area is a huge, family-friendly play and hangout area.
Going back to the neighborhood-bar-for-locals thing — early afternoons or late afternoons during the week, we have families that come in with their kids and their dogs. It’s not just nice for adults. And the kids have chalk and bubbles and Connect Four. The population around here is very family-oriented.
Traditionally, in Germany, beer gardens were kind of like the town center. It would be a place where the whole town goes for the entire day with your whole family and just you eat and drink and kids are there. Your dog is there. And we didn’t necessarily set out specifically with that goal. It was more just like, we want everyone to feel welcome here.
How do you describe Dear Kingston to folks who haven’t been here?
We call it a beer bar and garden. Okay, we’re still working on the garden. But yeah, it’s a beer bar garden. My original concept was that a lot of people love the beer hall or beer garden atmosphere, but the beer that is usually offered in places like that… to me, it’s not as exciting as it could be. Good craft beer bars have great beer, but that’s kind of it.
So why not have both? Have a beer garden, but instead of, you know, just German lagers have American craft beer. So all the beer on tap is American. It’s as local as we can make it, for the most part. Mostly a lot of New York, mostly northeast. I don’t even think we’ve had anything from further west than Colorado yet.
There’s so much beer just in the Hudson Valley that I can easily only do Hudson Valley beer and always have a great tap list. There’s so much stuff just in the county. So it was basically like, if someone wants the communal beer garden environment but also wants a good, hazy IPA, that place should exist.
And that’s here. And it’s not such a crazy concept, but it doesn’t really exist anywhere outside of a brewery. But then you’re just stuck drinking the brewery beer.
Has the neighborhood been quick to embrace you?
Yeah, a hundred percent. We wanted to be a neighborhood bar and we very quickly became a neighborhood bar. We have a lot of regulars. We have a mug club that sold out in a day. We were thinking it would take a few months, but it didn’t even last 24 hours. And that’s all local people who come in. They have their own mug and club number. Their number is etched in their mug. They’re up on the shelves behind the bar. They walk in and we know their number. We take their mug down and they get to drink out of their mug. They take it home at the end of the year so they can keep it, and then we’ll do another subscription next year. That’s been a very local thing.
A ton of people walk here, which is really nice. They come with their kids or their dogs, many say, “I live right around the corner,” or “I work right around the corner.”
And I didn’t want TVs. There’s no TVs here. The reason is because I want people to be able to talk to each other, including people who they don’t know. Like if someone was sitting next to you, I wanted no TVs and the music at a conversation level so that people can talk to each other and meet people.
I’ve talked to a lot of people who live four houses down from me in different directions in Midtown, who I never would’ve known if it wasn’t for this bar.
I heard a rumor that you give everyone a warm chocolate chip cookie at last call.
So that’s actually the last call for the kitchen. We call it a midnight snack. Around 8:45, we start baking fresh made chocolate chip cookies. And the idea is the whole bar smells like chocolate chip cookies by, like, 11:50. And then you’ll stick around for another drink and a free cookie.
That’s brilliant and will make you legends. We haven’t talked about the food. What was the thinking going into creating your menu?
The thinking was to do a kind of traditional but slightly updated German beer garden food.
So we have pierogies, which are made by the Krupa Brothers who are in the Rondout. We have sausages and hotdogs that we source from Kingston businesses. I’m not gonna say a name cause we haven’t settled on one yet. We do a sausage platter with pickled vegetables, apple chutney, and we pickle all our vegetables in-house. They’re super good.
We have a pickle plate. We do a grilled cheese. We do a kind of plainer hotdog for kids or plainer people that we call puppy dog. We have our Midtown dog, which has beer, cheese, and harissa and pickled onions, which is super good. We have a big soft pretzel that we serve with mustard, and you can add beer cheese onto that.
And then we have the cookie, the secret cookie at midnight.
The tap list is extremely varied, how does that work?
We wanted to be very accessible to people who aren’t necessarily into beer, but also we want to have stuff for someone who is more beer-nerdy like myself. All those people could be happy here.
Our first nine lines are what I call style lines. And the style of each stays the same. Line one is a lager, two is a session IPA or pale ale, three is an IPA, four is a double IPA, and so on. One of them is also cider, which is important to always have.
We continually rotate our beer selection. So basically when a keg is empty, we put something different on, but in those style lines, we stay within that same style. So if our double IPA line kicks, I’ll put on another double IPA, but it’ll be a different brewery, a different beer.
And then the rest of the tap lists, we have 14 beers, so the rest I call wild card lines, and that’s when I’m looking around and trying to find something really rare or cool. That’s where I go a little crazier with the selections. Everyone can come here and be beer-nerdy or learn about beer, but it’s all super-comfortable and easygoing.
There are some craft beer bars that are very snobby about it. If you go into a place like that and ask for a Bud Light, they would make you leave. But here we’re like, oh, we don’t have that, but line one is similar style and it’s made in Hudson. We’ll give them a taste — we’re very generous with our tastes as we want people to be happy with what they end up buying.
And for the most part, or honestly always, they’re like, “Oh, this is great. And now they know that they like some craft beer or they like this new brewery, or maybe they’re willing to spend one or two more dollars for that beer versus a Bud Light, for something that’s local, or a family-owned brewery, or somewhere they could actually go drive to and see the beer being made at the brewery.
And then on the other hand, if someone is coming in looking for the newest release or the craziest sour beer, we have that too.
We have a pretty big non-alcoholic drink selection too. We have a few NA beers. We have some sparkling botanicals that Stephen actually made in his prior job at a tea company. So even if you don’t drink alcohol, you can come here and feel comfortable. If you’re gluten-free and could only drink cider, we always have a cider on tap and we have three or four cans and bottles.
No matter what you do or what you drink or what you eat or where you are coming from, we want you to step in, and you’re always gonna be welcomed with a hello and a menu and a coaster. There will always be something to eat or drink or just, you know, people to hang out with.
I know you just opened, but what are your plans for the future of Dear Kingston?
Very near future? We want to put some shade sails and string lights up in the back. We are going to be introducing beer buckets, cans, and pitchers for the summer, ’cause we hopefully will be busy and we want to have a fun community setting. Like, come here with a bunch of people and get a few pitchers and pitchers of craft beer — everyone thinks of crappy Coors Light pitchers, but why not have a good beer in a pitcher? You don’t have to get a bucket of Corona cans. Could be like a bucket of Sloop or something like that. So yeah, we’re gonna do that this summer.
Do you feel like there’s a scene building here in Midtown Kingston, where people can walk up and down Broadway and have lots to do?
Yeah. We have a lot of people, especially now that West Kill is here. With Tubby’s and West Kill, people are going back and forth. These people that were here just walked in with two six packs from West Kill. We see a lot of crossover and we are friendly with them. I don’t see myself as like a competitor or rival with any place in Kingston, especially these really close places. We all do different things. No one’s doing what we’re doing, so there’s not competition in that way, but also that’s just not the kind of person I am. I want everyone to succeed and having a bunch of places in our own little “Midtown Entertainment District” is good for everybody.