When Brunette Wine Bar opened on Broadway in Kingston’s Rondout district in 2015, it brought an air of casual elegance and subtly empowering femininity that the historic waterfront didn’t realize it was missing. With a blush-hued exterior, a white marble bar, framed vintage snapshots of brunette women living their best lives, fresh flowers, and a curated menu of natural wines, the intimate spot contrasted sharply with industrial brick buildings and sports bars in the neighborhood.
Founders Tracy and Jamie Kennard quickly gained a reputation for being approachable, informative, and welcoming, giving Brunette its own status of being slightly precious in appearance yet otherwise unpretentious. But now, after five years, the Kennards have passed the reins to husband-and-wife duo Maxwell Botwick and Jessie Harris, longtime lovers of the bar, who relocated to Kingston from Philadelphia to take over Brunette.
“As customers of Brunette, we fell in love with just about everything: the ambiance, wine list, perfect vintage tableware, and thoughtful branding,” Harris says. “At the end of January, we learned that Brunette was on the market through mutual friends of ours and the Kennards. Once we connected with Tracy and Jamie, things began to move quickly. We drove up to Kingston from Philly on Valentine's Day to meet in person—that day, Max and I decided we were all in.”
Prior to taking over Brunette, Harris headed up Metropolitan Bakery's multiple retail locations as acting Director of Operations for the last decade. Botwick most recently worked as a cook for the Philadelphia 76ers.
“The most noticeable changes will come from the kitchen,” Harris says. “Max's culinary background will allow for a bit more creativity behind each plate, though we promise to keep certain favorites like the trout roe nachos and the hotdog. We also hope to build relationships with local growers and producers, which will allow us to source as locally as possible whenever we can. That is really important to us—expect seasonal specials.
And of course, regulars can count on a stellar natural wine list, the pair being passionate oenophiles. “We stopped drinking conventional wine nearly two years ago, because we really just find natural wine to be more interesting," Harris says. "Right now we're really into tannic orange wines from Georgia. Plus, anything from Bloomer Creek here in New York. Jessie, in particular, can't get enough skin-contact Gewurztraminer.”
As for the pastel color palette and the fresh flower arrangements from Hops Petunia that have become signatures of Brunette, neither is going anywhere either. "We do not have any plans to renovate in the near future," Harris says. "We are most definitely sticking to natural wine and local beer/cider. Perhaps down the line we'll add a kegerator. "
Botwick and Harris officially purchased Brunette at the end of April—yes, at the height of the pandemic. “When we decided to buy Brunette, COVID-19 hadn't yet affected our lives; when everything began to shut down, we obviously felt more anxiety and stress than anticipated,” she says. “With offices understaffed or solely working from home, applying for certain licenses proved to be more difficult. Everything takes much longer and our timeline keeps shifting because of delays. But, fingers crossed, we hope to reopen for 4th of July weekend. We’ll offer take-out along with limited outside seating; we haven't yet decided what our indoor seating will look like, though we are committed to the safety of our customers and ourselves. Extra precaution will be taken every step of the way.