Here’s something that those of us who write about food perhaps don’t talk about enough, especially given the recent spike in inflation: affordability. This is a relative term, of course, what’s super-expensive to me is probably not to a C-suite executive at Google. It’s a matter of personal perspective.
But when restaurant burgers are now regularly priced at $26 and salmon dishes clock in at $35—and the local mid-tier Italian red sauce palace is charging $25 for eggplant parm—it can feel like the possibility of an “affordable” meal at a full-service restaurant has gone the way of the dodo.
Imagine my surprise and delight when some friends who live in Rhinecliff, two miles west of downtown Rhinebeck, invited me out to Kip’s Tavern—and I viewed the menu prices. To be clear, this is not cheap eats territory, not where you’re going after you rummage through the couch cushions for spare change. But Kip’s Tavern is that increasingly rare breed of eatery that combines cozy-chic digs, professional service, tasty food, and entrees priced under $25.
Monkey Bar in 2012, overseeing it until the pandemic hit. Then Dorsey and his partner decamped to their home in Staatsburgh and waited it out. It was during this time that Dorsey first spied a vacant restaurant on the Rhinecliff waterfront. "Just to get out of the house, we’d go to Rhinecliff and walk around," Dorsey says. "I noticed the old China Rose space, kind of boarded-up and not looking so healthy. [China Rose was Rhinecliff's only restaurant for many years, and when it closed in 2016, the hamlet was without an eatery.] We joked about me opening a place here—there's not a lot of places on the water to just go and chill out."
That was a dream deferred, however, as Dorsey was back in Manhattan by August 2021, fielding lots of job offers but just not interested in city life anymore. "My partner said, 'You’re miserable, we’ve gotta figure something out,’” he says.
After talks with the landlord of the China Rose space proved fruitful, Dorsey leased the restaurant in March 2022 and embarked on a seven-month renovation project, installing a new kitchen, new bathrooms, a glow-up to the two cozy dining rooms, and stripping the red paint off the bar and re-topping it with marble. The space is now clean-lined and bright but unfussy, letting the hundred-year-old building's delightful idiosyncrasies—like stained glass double-doors leading out onto the patio—remain. "The place spoke to me," he says, "it has character and charm."(The opening of Kip's Tavern last fall continues a mini-renaissance in Rhinecliff, which includes the recent opening of local provisions market The Epicurean, and the ongoing efforts of the hamlet's own media outlet, Radio Free Rhinecliff, which records and broadcasts local shows, like artist Norm Magnusson's "Correct Me If I'm Norm," out of the back room of The Epicurean.)
When opening Kip's Tavern, Dorsey cast his mind back to his time at Monkey Bar in Manhattan, where he had been brought in to steady a listing ship. "The menu was super high-end. It was too formal, too fussy, too many rules. People didn't want it," he says. "People wanted high touches and accessibility."
The word accessibility and others like it come up numerous times in my conversation with Dorsey, like when I ask him what inspired the menu. It's small—just five entrees: ricotta cavatelli ($21), Atlantic salmon ($23), chicken paillard ($20), chicken pot pie ($22), cheeseburger ($20)—with an emphasis on elevated pub fare. In addition, there are one or two specials a night, like a melt-in-your-mouth wild boar stew over jasmine rice. Christina Ramirez, who's cooked locally at Deer Mountain Inn in Tannersville and The Dutch in Saugerties, is at the helm in kitchen.
"We're not trying to reinvent anything," Dorsey says. "We're serving food you won't get tired of, food you can rely on. We want it to be really approachable: Have a chopped salad and a martini and relax at the bar."
One of the more approachable features of Kip's Tavern—named for Jacobus Kip, founder of Rhinecliff's original European settlement, the town of Kipsbergen in 1686—is its prices. Cocktails are $10 to $12; glasses of wine run $9 to $13, bottles $36 to $52; the entrees are all under $25. While not cheap, at its price point, Kip's Tavern punches above its weight class in terms of service, food quality, and ambiance. (Just wait until warmer weather and sunsets on the patio.) And Dorsey is committed to keeping his prices affordable. "As long as we can keep our prices low, we will," he says.
For a one-restaurant town, Rhinecliff is lucky to have Kip's Tavern.
1 Shatzell Avenue, Rhinecliff
Dinner is served Tuesday to Saturday, 5-9:30pm. Brunch begins March 18 and will be served Saturday 11am-5pm and Sunday 11am-4pm.