Darlings: A Southern Restaurant and Bar to Open in the Old Postage Inn in Tillson | Restaurants | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

Just like there are flyover states, there are what could be called drive-through towns. The hamlet of Tillson in Ulster County is one. Straddling Route 213 between Rosendale and New Paltz, with a population of 1,586, Tillson is mostly a residential community, a place you pass through on your way to somewhere else—especially since its one watering hole, the Postage Inn, closed in October 2021.

Sitting on the corner of Tilllson’s biggest intersection, though there is nary a stoplight, the Postage Inn had prominent visibility for 34 years. But after more than three decades, the building is getting a facelift and a new identity. It will reopen this spring as Darlings, a bar and restaurant serving Southern food and craft cocktails.

The venture is the latest hospitality undertaking from the owners of Huckleberry in New Paltz, Julie Dabbs and Billy Simkiss and Leah Allen and Mike O’Neil, who own six bars including New York City-based Abilene, Skylark, Lowlands, and The Adirondack between them. These two couples are joined by a third—Madi Taylor and Luke Peters, who have worked front-of-house at Huckleberry since its opening in December 2015.

“The way it works is the owners invite bartenders and servers and career folks to open the next spot with them, so people in the service industry can have access to equity and capital and a way to retire,” Taylor says. She and Peters were invited to open the next restaurant with the owners three years ago. The pandemic shutdown and the soaring real estate market delayed the project and the property hunt, but in late 2020, after six months of searching, the couple drove past the Postage Inn. “It wasn’t even really listed anywhere but we drove past it every day on our way to work, and I was like ‘I want to buy that,’” Taylor recalls telling her husband. “‘I think it’s for sale,’ he said.” He was right.

It took over a year to close but on October 26, the team got the keys and set about pooling their skills to refurb the space themselves. “We really have a lot of space to be creative—we are all equal in this process,” Taylor says. Both she and Dabbs are from the South, so the culinary concept emerged clearly early on. Think big buckets of fried chicken, catfish, smoked meats. Taylor, who is vegetarian, is ensuring at least half the menu is plant-based, with options that maintain the Southern spirit, like fried oyster mushrooms that she swears “look and taste just like fried chicken.” She adds, “We’re keeping the food menu really fun, really playful, and tight, so we can play around with specials and add some depth on a weekly basis.”

As for the rest of the design and details, it’s a collaborative, seat-of-the-pants approach. “There are no proposed drawings or design mood boards—nothing. Every day we address a different project,” Taylor says. “It’s three women designing a space together, and we’re very different. It’s very Midcentury with some Art Deco vibes—but also very chill and woodsy. It definitely is eccentric and whimsical and very colorful.”

Things are moving right along. They’ve installed checkerboard tiled floors and wallpaper, painted and built a bar fridge and, outside, a nearly 4,000-square-foot gravel patio. “The patio will be very full of big grasses and flowers—very Secret Garden,” Taylor says. “We want every single spot to feel like you’re not in your hometown, like you are somewhere else completely.”

There is still some back-of-house hiring to do, but the duo of chefs is on board, with Darlings set to open in early May. Follow along on Instagram for the latest updates.

Marie Doyon

Marie is the Digital Editor at Chronogram Media. In addition to managing the digital editorial calendar and coordinating sponsored content for clients, Marie writes a variety of features for print and web, specializing in food and farming profiles.
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