Coast to Coast: San Francisco Restaurant Universal Cafe & Bar Arrives in Germantown | Restaurants | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

After decades spent apart on opposite sides of the country, two sisters have reconnected with their Hudson Valley roots to run an inn and restaurant in Germantown.

Leslie Carr-Avalos and her sister Julia Carr grew up together in Red Hook but their paths diverged as adults: Julia headed to the city while Leslie jetted to San Francisco. There, Leslie became a line cook at American-style restaurant Universal Cafe before purchasing the business just two years later. She ran the cafe for nearly two decades, closing in 2021.

“The closure was a result of the pandemic, but I think that time gave some of us clarity about what we really want in life, and how to move forward in getting to that next phase,” Leslie says. For her, that included being closer to her sister and family back home. But she hadn’t given up on the idea of running a restaurant.

click to enlarge Coast to Coast: San Fran Restaurant Universal Cafe & Bar Arrives in Germantown
Julia Carr and her sister Leslie Carr-Avalos co-own the Central House in Germantown and the Universal Cafe & Bar contained within.

The two sisters saw an opportunity to purchase one of the most well-known and historic buildings in Germantown: the Central House. In previous lives, the building served as a brothel, speakeasy, stage coach house, and multiple restaurants. In its last iteration, it was set up as an inn with restaurant space.

“The building is from 1876 and the owner we bought it from was running it as a B&B,” Leslie explains. “We visited one day and fell in love with space, thinking it might be something we could take on and reinvent together.” They bought it in October 2022 and started renovating right away.

The pair kept the name Central House, but upgraded the hotel’s six bedrooms, common areas, cozy lounge spots, bar, and dining room with decor they describe as “eclectic, whimsical, and modern.” Designer Eduardo Rodriguez matched bold statements like a black-and-white buffalo-plaid ceiling in the breakfast room with toned-down elements like white country cabinetry and rattan furniture. Subtle whimsy continues by the bar where you’ll find a large gold-framed portrait hanging upside-down near traditional-style lamps illuminating organically shaped pottery.

The space allowed for a renewed version of Leslie’s former restaurant concept, now dubbed Universal Cafe & Bar. “It’s a beautiful, fresh, fun new space,” says Julia. “Plus, Central House wasn’t open to the public before, so now the restaurant provides a place both for visitors and locals to gather.”

Open since March, the eatery focuses on small plates that add a fine dining twist to New American bites. “The menu changes often because we want to stay seasonal and as locally sourced as possible,” Leslie says. Ingredients are mainly sourced from nearby farms and purveyors, including Kinderhook Farm, Northwind Farms, Montgomery Place, and the sisters’ own gardens.

The menu is divided by three sections: snacks, sharing, and desserts. Popular options include a spicy fried chicken sandwich with buttermilk dressing and a fresh cabbage slaw ($18), chicken liver parfait with grilled bread and cherry-shallot jam ($15), and a smashed cucumber salad with radishes, sumac, mint, and feta-labneh ($16).

Desserts are made in-house and will change seasonally, as well; currently you can find items like a strawberry-black raspberry cobbler ($15) or chocolate pot de creme ($12).

The bar features 10 beers on tap including local favorites like Mill House Brewing, Vosburgh Brewing, and Sloop Brewing Co. Or, opt for a seasonal cocktail; bar manager Tom Turck, formerly of shuttered Mexican hotspot Modern Taco, elevates spirits with housemade syrups and fruit purees. This season, you’ll find inventive options like Grilled Pineapple Mezcal Sour with habanero syrup, lime, and chili oil; or Flor de Soul with chamomile-infused vodka, sherry, Meyer lemon, honey, and egg white (all cocktails $16).

The nearly 150-year-old building also boasts an elegant-yet-contemporary event space that can accommodate about 100 guests. White marble tables paired with black Shaker-style seating stand out against light gray board-and-batten walls adorned with contemporary art.

“We’re part of a really vibrant community, so we like being creative and elegant, but in a way that’s warm and welcoming,” Leslie says.

“It’s exciting to own a beautiful property and be able to host people from all over,” Julie adds. “And we both live nearby—we’re finally together after so many years apart, welcoming people to gather in a space that’s become like a second home for us. It’s really a dream.”

Central House reservations can be made online, and Universal Cafe & Bar is open Thursday through Sunday from 4-10 pm, serving food from 5-9 pm. Find them at 220 Main St., Germantown.

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