While recent transplants from Gotham might bemoan the perceived lack of amenities at local bars—no bottle service, no taxis waiting at the corner, the conspicuous absence of the bridge and tunnel crowd—one thing is certain: There is no shortage of places to get a drink in the Hudson Valley. Even the smallest hamlets, like southern Ulster’s Clintondale, boast a local tavern (Brown’s on Rt. 44/55, or, just down the road in Highland, Billy’s Slurp and Burp), while the village of New Paltz comprises a veritable drinking Mecca, with 20 bars and restaurants serving intoxicating spirits.
Bars come in all shapes and sizes, but for this guide I was interested in a particular type of drinking establishment: No bars that were primarily restaurants; no sports bars; no dance clubs; TVs are a turnoff. Bars that transcended the neighborhood establishment and rated the designation: Destination Unto Itself. I was searching for places people would be willing to travel to, places that possessed a certain ineffable quality. Perhaps it was a comprehensive beer list; or the realm of a princely bartender; or the right amount of dark-stained wood and dim lighting to make a room feel just so; or a neighborhood feel to a place that welcomes everyone as a neighbor, the atmosphere humming with contentment.
What follows are the details of my report, following weeks of careful research (see Knapp, Caroline: Drinking: A Love Story; Sykes, Tom: What Did I Do Last Night?; Bukowski, Charles: Post Office). No doubt there is more research to be done as this is an incomplete list at best, but the rest I leave up to you to find and enlighten me about. Drinking is a journey—just bring a designated driver.
1380 County Rt. 2, Krumville; (845) 657-8956; www.krumville.com
This hidden gem is tucked backed alongside a pond seven miles down a winding country road in Krumville. When I sent an e-mail to the cultural cognoscenti of my acquaintance asking “Name some exemplary bars/lounges,” the Country Inn was the first response from a majority, and it’s easy to understand why. In its 31st year of operation (it changed hands in 2002 and switched its menu format from bar food to upscale bistro fare, but don’t let that discourage you), the Country Inn is the gold standard in local watering holes. The Inn has an incredibly eclectic list of over 500 bottled beers from around the world and 10 tap beers that on a recent trip included Chimay Triple, Fuller’s London Porter, and Lindeman’s Framboise. With a pool table, a quirky mix on the jukebox (Joe’s Garage, anyone?), a fireplace, regulars with names like Cupcake, and the antiquated taxidermy of a previous generation, you’ll feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven—if your version of heaven is a renovated rec room stocked with an endless variety of beer. Cash only. ATM onsite
NB: The Country Inn will be closed for the month of January.
66 Broadway, Tivoli; (845) 757-3777
Gerard Hurley opened the Black Swan in 2001, renovating the downstairs of a house on Tivoli’s main drag to look like a pub in his native Cork. Low ceilings, exposed beams, dark-stained wood, and a Pogues concert poster round out the spare, rural Irish aesthetic. Once a vibrant music venue—John Hammond, Cat Power, as well as countless locals, have played there—new owner Mike Nickerson, former booker for the Rhinecliff Hotel, has had to curtail live music due to the village’s draconian noise ordinance. Seven drafts (two kinds of Irish stout—Guinness and O’Hara’s), no bottles, and nothing special, liquor- or wine-wise. According to Nickerson, though, the Black Swan is the top seller of Jameson’s Irish whiskey in the region. A very neighborhood-y kind of place—on a recent early evening, a man with his toddler-aged son sat on his lap enjoyed a pint and a chat with WKZE morning-show host Stuart Hall, a self-described regular, while the Pump Audio Christmas party was going on the other side of the bar and punk music blared. Avoid Thursday nights, unless you want to fight a pack of Bard students for $2 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
NB: The Black Swan will be closed the second week of January, and will reopen after Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday with a limited pub fair menu.
4 S Chestnut St., New Paltz; (845) 255-8636;
Opened in 1973, Bacchus has been a New Paltz institution for just about as long, its longevity bested only by the village’s ur-bar and Friday-night SUNY frat-boy hangout, P&G’s. Housed in a 100-year-old former general store, the building was also once home to a Chinese laundry and a porno photo studio. A recent expansion created front and rear patio areas and annexed the building next door, adding nine pool tables, a ping-pong table, a pinball machine and video games, and a foosball table.
The bottled beer list is long (300 beers from 60 countries), the 14 taps rotate every few months, and the decor looks much as it did when the place opened, permeating the establishment with a charming, worn-in feel. The dining room is upstairs, but skip that and just grab a bite at the bar if you’re hungry—unless you want a god’s-eye view of the bar below from the balcony dining area. Avoid the pre-mixed margaritas. Live music Wednesday through Saturday.
521 Warren St., Hudson; (518) 828-4151
Located in the former Hudson River Theater space, Stray (Straight + Gay) Bar might just be the answer to Hudson’s lack of a great drinking spot (Red Dot excepted, see below). Opened last March, new owners Peggy Anderson and Jason Wykoff kept the stage (for DJs and live music and on weekends—December saw Joe Medwick and Jim Weider perform), but built a new bar on the other side of the room with reclaimed wide-plank floor joists from another Hudson building, and the back of the bar set against exposed balloon framing.
Manager Brock Purdy calls the decor “rustic chic,” but the emphasis is clearly on the chic end of the spectrum—black leather couches framed by elaborate intertwined branches and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Warren Street define a decidely urban space. A space that Purdy hopes can attract a diverse clientele that is truly representative of Hudson. Complete with pool table, half a dozen taps (Pilsner Urquell Wolaver’s Organic IPA, and $3 pints of Saranac(!), among others), and eight wines by the glass.
Pinecrest aka Crest Bar
20 Country Club Lane, Woodstock; (845) 679-3213
This is the rustic lodge—fireplace included—that every urbanite dreams of when weekending in Woodstock. Once the tourists are tucked in, however, it becomes a serious late-night hang for locals and service-industry types. The Crest boasts a pool table, half a dozen taps, and a karaoke night on Thursdays which is reportedly the most competitive in the region. With the not-so-recent demise of the latest iteration of the Joyous Lake and the long-lamented Tinker Street Cafe, the Crest is the best Woodstock has to offer.
59 North Front St., Kingston; (845) 339-3888;
At the western end of Kingston’s dive-bar row on North Front Street—Artie’s and Stella’s and the new and decidedly un-divey, hip-hop chic Toniq are down the block—Snapper’s, as it’s known by the locals, is a bit of the Lower East Side visited upon Kingston. The tattooed-and-pierced patrons (and staff) drink alongside the area’s youthful musical and artistic set. Members of Mercury Rev and Coheed and Cambria are said to be regulars when not on tour. The jukebox features the widest selection of punk around—The Misfits, Iggy Pop, and Stiff Little Fingers—and Snapper’s has just about everything but a pool table—pinball, foosball, two dart boards—including a vaguely stale scent that recedes in proportion to your intake. Occasional live music: Pitchfork Militia, January 7.
321 Warren St., Hudson; (518) 828-3657
Before there was a scene in Hudson—before there was upscale Mexican food, WiFi coffee bars, and everyone wanted to own a Federal-style building on Warren Street—there was Red Dot. Perry Cooney and Alana Hauptman have run this storefront bistro before Hudson was trendy, and the room is the epitome of kicked-back, shabby chic.
Due to the spatial constraints of the print edition, the following establishments were not mentioned in the print version of this article. They are still, however, quite worthy of a visit.—BKM