The murky depths of the Hudson may not be the turquoise lagoons of the South Pacific, but this meandering body of water is a roving focal point of relaxation and recreation in the region. And this September, the river will get a tropical makeover as the backdrop for the tiki-inspired waterfront bar The Jet Set in Newburgh.
The project is a collaboration between the team behind Liberty Street Bistro—chef/owner Michael Kelly, his wife Alex, and executive chef Maggie Lloyd—along with designer Pat Nunnari and beverage director Jessica Gonzalez. Located in the old Blue Martini space, next door to Primo Waterfront, the Jet Set will offer a vacation from the mundane with fruit-forward craft cocktails and Asian fare in a space inspired by Mid-Century Modern tiki culture.
Nunnari, who has been designing signs and branding for Kelly since the opening of Liberty Street Bistro, is something of a tiki aficionado and has visited iconic bars all over the West Coast. So when Kelly wandered into his office one day and casually disclosed his plans for a tiki bar on the waterfront, the Newburgh native and his wife Stephanie Nunnari were quick to jump on board as partners. “I just love the idea of being able to brand a tiki bar, so it set off a spark in my head,” Nunnari says. “Three seconds after Mike walked out, I turned to my wife and said, ‘We have to do this.’”
In 2021, the owner of the waterfront building had invited Kelly to look at the space and propose a concept. “At the time we were just navigating COVID with the bistro and having trouble coming up with something that would fit in the right way down there,” says Maggie Lloyd, executive chef for Liberty Street Bistro and now the Jet Set. “It felt like we would perhaps stretch ourselves too thin doing something like the bistro down there.” A fortuitous visit to Fuschia Tiki Bar in New Paltz sparked the idea in Kelly’s mind. (Fuschia’s owner Anton Kinloch was involved with the Jet Set for a time and consulted on the cocktail list).
“Being on the water gave us an opportunity to build something that feels like you’re on vacation—an escape—there’s boats, fresh air. The location just clicked with that vibe,” Lloyd says. “Especially after COVID, that ability to go somewhere without going somewhere, being able to take yourself out of your day-to-day, is something amazing to offer.”
Mid-20th century was the heyday of tiki culture, so Nunnari looked to that period to inspire his design of the Jet Set. “It’s very angular. There is an L-shaped lounge that is pea green—straight out of 1967,” he says. “The Midcentury thing is mixed with tropicalia, a lot of fake plants and also real ones.” Nunnari is branding each space individually with names and decor like Blue Lagoon and Voodoo Lounge. He’s hoping for a volcano. The interior will have 80 to 90 seats with another 70 to 80 outside on the deck overlooking the water.
The name the Jet Set harkens back to the glory days of air travel, with bartender as pilot. (The vibe will be rounded out with a uniform of Hawaaian shirts.) “Tiki itself has its origins in post-war escapism,” Nunnari says. “These guys who came back wanted to think back on paradise. It’s an Americanized sort of thing—it’s kind of fake in that respect, which leaves a lot of room for you to put your own twist on it.”
The fakeness Nunnari alludes to can also be problematic with tiki bars historically borrowing culture and iconography indiscriminately in service of an exotified escape. “It’s very hard to talk about tiki history without the appropriation of cultural iconography, specifically tiki gods, coming up,” says Alex Kelly, another partner in the project. “We get that, acknowledge it, and are not looking to add to the fetishization of Pacific Islander culture with The Jet Set. We have leaned heavily into the idea of mid-century modern air travel. What we aim to do at The Jet Set is focus on the quality of the cocktails our guests will be drinking.”
Tiki cocktails, which were some of the first stateside to experiment boldly with fresh fruit, complex spirits, and spices, marked an important turning point in the craft of mixology. “These cocktails, which are in essence tropical cocktails featuring mostly rum, are an entire genre within the beverage industry, and an important one at that,” Alex Kelly says. “These cocktails were born from tropical enthusiasts and flourished during the golden age of tiki culture in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s and have sustained continued popularity. We seek to bring those tropical flavors, the art of a well-crafted cocktail, to our guests.”
The cocktail list at the Jet Set spans tiki classics like the Mai Tai, the Zombi, Navy Grog, and a fishbowl for sharing (of course) with a big emphasis on frozen drinks and a handful of bespoke cocktails. Gonzalez, who has consulted on the drink program at Liberty Street Bistro since the beginning of 2021, is an award-winning bartender whose CV includes craft cocktail meccas like Death & Co. and NoMad.
The menu was designed to be a hearty companion to the fruity, boozy cocktails. “There will be a good amount of fried stuff to offset the tartness of all those drinks,” Lloyd says. “A lot of things coming from the wok—fresh, quick, pan-cooked vegetables that have flavor depth to play against the fruity sweetness.”
For culinary inspiration, she read through tiki bar menus from across the country and came up with a program of shareable plates that pull from the Asian continent. “I wasn’t trying to recreate the wheel,” she says. “What I’m doing is largely Chinese, Japanese, and Korean-focused. There is a lot of Malaysian influence there and I’ll have some more classic Polynesian food for specials. For the first round, though, I want to give people something they’re familiar with before I can start really pushing that.”
Her tack is elevated bar food with a tiki twist. The chicken wings will be chili crisp rather than buffalo. There will be a whole fried fish, fried rice dishes, cold sesame noodles, fried oysters, and several burger options. “The whole vibe is to get down there, order a bunch of drinks with friends, a bunch of food, and just keep ordering as you go,” Lloyd says. “You know, just be a little bit more casual with it.” At Liberty Street Bistro, Lloyd changes the menu five to six times a year to flow with the seasons, a sensibility which she looks to bring to the Jet Set. “For our opening menu, about 70 percent are vegetable dishes, we’re at the peak of summer.”
Using local produce and far away flavors, the Jet Set will seek to offer a refuge from the mundanity of the work week where you can let your cares melt away for a while. “The riverfront feels separate from the rest of town,” Lloyd says. “We’re just leaning really hard into that to give people an escape within Newburgh. Particularly after COVID, most people can’t afford to go on vacation, but you can go down to the Jet Set and have a three-hour vacation.”
The Jet Set is set for take off Friday, September 2.