“About the time I was 21, I was studying to be a sommelier. I realized at a certain point that if I was going to be polishing glasses, I wanted them to be my own,” says Alex Van Allen, proprietor of Dyad Wine Bar in Kinderhook. It would be another three years before he returned to his hometown to open the business in 2015, but the seed was planted.
“At the time, there were fewer businesses in Kinderhook than there are now,” says Van Allen. “But I saw the potential. I could remember as a kid there being a lot of great businesses, then a dormant period. But the aesthetics of the village are very beautiful. I knew it was only a matter of time before it bounced back, and I wanted to be at the forefront of that.” Hospitality and entrepreneurialism run in the family. Van Allen’s mother, Michele Genovese, worked in restaurants his whole life and owned a few herself, and by the age of 24, his older brother Jonathan was the owner of three Berkshires restaurants.
When he first came up with the concept for Dyad, Van Allen planned a wine bar with American tapas. “I wanted to pair everything with the wine,” he recalls. “A hyperfocus on small plates that worked well with whatever we were pouring at the time.” But the trouble with American tapas is the Americans. Quickly guests began asking for entree-sized portions. “One thing I learned in the hospitality industry: Don’t be so strong-headed about what you want that you’re not willing to roll with the punches,” says Van Allen. Dyad still serves a sizable list of tapas, or, in American, apps, but the spot evolved to full restaurant service to accommodate guests' dining habits.
Van Allen brings his sommelier training to the floor, where he circulates, checking in on guests and answering questions when needed. “I am always poking around, so my knowledge is there and accessible,” he says. The wine list is constantly changing, with a strong emphasis on organic, sustainable, and low-intervention producers. Van Allen has his servers taste all the wines so they can describe them to customers.
The name Dyad, from the Latin root for two, was originally conceived to describe the pairing of wine and food, but it has since taken on several additional, unintended but serendipitous meanings. There is the pairing of old and new—hyper-modern furnishings, with materials like black leather, chrome, and formica, against the backdrop of a 235-year-old house.
“The building has two main rooms,” Van Allen says. “And the term [dyad] is used in sociology for any couple that goes and does things, like the couple that goes out to dinner.” He also points out that in developmental psychology and family medicine, the term is used to describe the mother-child unit, fitting as Van Allen’s mother has run the kitchen at Dyad since its opening. “I had a different chef lined up, but he bailed at the last moment,” Van Allen recalls. “As moms often do, she swept in and saved the day. She’s been the chef ever since.”
Since the pandemic started, the menu has changed daily. While that may sound like madness, it is actually an adaptation designed to keep Dyad agile in a volatile market. “With supply issues and price fluctuations, it was harder to allocate everything on a consistent basis,” Van Allen says. “We found it easier to switch nightly. That way, we could keep things fresh and exciting for people that wanted to do takeout every night, and it also made it so we could pick foods that traveled better.” On any given day, apps might include French onion soup, squash blossoms, shrimp wontons, or mac and cheese. Entree options could be a housemade pappardelle topped, beef stew, grilled salmon, or pork ribs. One reliable pick? The house burger, with its made-to-order patty and your choice of cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion. Classic.
And while Dyad still does a fair amount of takeout business, it’s worth dining in. The building that houses the restaurant dates back to 1787 and boasts two Rumford fireplaces that put out ample heat and ambiance. “There is so much history and really rich culture right here in Columbia County—not every part of the country can say that,” says Van Allen. He leaned modern with the design to juxtapose the original details like the historic wide-board pine floors, a vibe he describes as “high-end but not stifling.”