The storied eatery the Bear Café, part of the Bearsville Theater complex, was shuttered for three years. Open on and off and with various owners since the ’70s, it’s remembered for high-end food and celebrity clientele, including names like David Bowie and Uma Thurman. The entire complex of businesses and buildings was the brainchild of music manager Albert Grossman, who wanted to create a space for artists to record, stay, and of course, eat. Since its 2019 closure, locals have eagerly awaited the Bear Café’s return.
The spot lives on in its newest incarnation, the Bear, which opened in late June in the space that used to house the Little Bear Chinese restaurant. (The Bear Café’s former home next door is now occupied by a Mexican restaurant dubbed the Bear Cantina.) After the Little Bear’s lease ran out in September 2021, Bearsville Complex owner Lizzie Vann began renovations on the space with plans to bring the Bear Café’s spirit back to life. While paying homage to the original, Vann's goal was for this restaurant to offer a completely new experience.
The space’s highlight is the riverside room, with large windows overlooking the Sawkill Creek. “We have one of the best views in Woodstock,” says Vann. “And one of the best locations in Ulster County.” The riverside room is filled with black walnut tables by Steve Heller of Fabulous Furniture, and pink velvet chairs. Vann wanted to recreate the vibe of a botanical garden, so there’s plenty of greenery on the tables and hanging from the ceiling.
“If you look out the riverside windows, you’ll see that the bed of the Sawkill is filled with this beautiful bluestone that’s been polished by the water,” says Vann. “So we took those stones as the color inspiration.” The space is done in varying shades of cool gray and white, with the new bar made of three large slabs of bluestone. Lighting is provided by copper artichoke lamps from Danish company Louis Poulsen.
Per chef Josh Rajala, the Bear’s menu straddles the line between fresh, new items and old favorites. He worked with former Bear Café owners, chefs Eric Mann and Peter Cantine, before the place closed and continues to take his lead from them. “What was so special about the Bear Café was there was no schtick,” Rajala says. “It was just good food.” For the menu he draws influences from all over the world, including Asia, Portugal, and Spain, all made with Hudson Valley ingredients.
Start with Brussels sprouts served with caramelized onion, hazelnuts, and toasted garlic ($12) or a classic beef tartare ($19), served with crispy egg and dijon vinaigrette. PEI mussels shine in a Thai-style preparation with a coconut curry broth, bell peppers, and leeks and a grilled baguette for dipping ($18).
Vegans will jump at the seared tofu and soba noodles main, which is served with a lemongrass miso broth, scallions, shitake mushrooms, Napa cabbage, and wasabi soy sauce ($23). The lemon thyme-infused mushroom risotto offers another meat-free option, with oyster mushrooms for umami and texture, sautéed escarole, and a dusting of pecorino romano ($26). Meat eaters have plenty to choose from including pan-seared steelhead trout, two types of steak, a roasted chicken, and a New Zealand rack of lamb. Mains run from $18 for the burger to $50 for the ribeye.
An extensive, globetrotting wine list offers both low-intervention and conventional options by the bottle, with a smaller selection by the glass. There are six cocktails d'auteur all named for classic rock songs or icons. (When in Woodstock...)