In the foothills of the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley, drinking and eating options in the city of Kingston, NY continue to expand.
In October of 2018, Lis Bar opened in the midtown area of Kingston, joining a few other small businesses in a growing community.
Escape Brooklyn caught up with proprietors Patricia and Jonathan Rich to talk about design, the menu, opening a business Upstate, and their love of Kingston.
In 50 words or less, tell me everything I need to know about Lis Bar.
Jonathan Rich: Lis is a warm space we spent considerable time designing, where you can enjoy well crafted cocktails, natural wines and an accessible, yet still interesting menu, of really well-made food.
It’s for longtime locals and new arrivals alike, and we are proud to be part of the positive change happening in Kingston.
You guys have a Polish theme, why? What does “Lis” mean?
JR: When we were developing our concept, a Polish focus came to mind. Patty is Polish, born and raised in Queens, whose parents who moved to the U.S. in their twenties. What we wanted to do was more modern, accessible-Polish, or Polish-inspired place, and we wanted it to be casual. Great food, drink and service, but no white table cloths – Patty worked in fine dining in NYC for years. Thus: Polish Tapas!
Lis (pronounced “LEASE”) is Polish for fox, a nod to our location on Foxhall Avenue in Kingston.
Who designed the space? Any specific inspiration? Where did you get all this cool stuff?
JR: We designed it and tried to create the kind of space we like to spend time in. We hope that between the lighting, the overall design and the stove, that we’ve created a cozy vibe – yet we also have an outdoor patio for warm fall days and summer weather.
As far as inspiration goes, there are hotel lobby lounges we have always liked, design-wise – like Sean MacPherson’s spots, especially The Marlton Hotel. His design work and the businesses he builds are impressive, yet still creative and unique.
Patty was the one able to make our vision for the space real, spending countless hours in second hand shops, at the Brimfield Antique Show, scanning Craigslist, yard sales – you name it. There are negatives to having taken a year to design and build the place, but the positive was that we basically were able to build the kind of restaurant we wanted.
You’ve created such a perfect atmosphere for a cocktail bar. What can you tell me about the cocktail menu?
Patricia Rich: Our cocktails are mostly rooted in the classics. We try and put a seasonal and Polish twist on them, i.e.: using popular Polish spices, using honey in place of simple syrups, or creating our own homemade liquors which is very popular in Polish culture. Our Krupnik (a homemade, spiced honey vodka) Sour is a perfect example. Oh, and we cut all our own ice!
Let’s talk about the food, which is incredible. Polish Tapas – tell me about it!
JR: Thanks, we’re pretty proud of the food!
Patty worked with our chefs to develop the menu and arrive at something which is clearly grounded in Polish food, but with a more modern and accessible take on it. Poland’s seasons, climate and agriculture is very similar to the Northeast of the U.S., so it’s easy to have the links, food-wise.
What’s your current favorite menu item? Current past favorite you’d consider bringing back?
JR: My current favorite on the summer menu is probably a tie between the Pork Tenderloin (grilled peach compote, rye berry, rosemary) and Tomato Salad (pickled green tomato, herb farmers cheese, Banyules vinegar and olive oil. The farmers cheese is also made in-house.)
PR: We’ll for sure be bringing back the Celery Root Steak. It’s a thick slice of celery root steak, panko breaded and flash fried, served over pureed roasted potato and watercress and almond soil (a mixture of almonds, olive oil and lemon juice). It’s like if your fried chicken was a vegetable. This will appear as a monthly special as we’re running some of the “all star” menu items throughout the year.
Any staples on the menu that don’t change?
JR: Most of the menu changes seasonally, but we always have two types of Pierogi, which we make in-house; we also always have Kielbasa, or Polish sausage. Another staple is our burger, which actually gets rave reviews! We also always have Paczki, which are Polish donuts (with seasonally changed fillings) that we make in-house.
What unexpected part of Lis do you want people to know about?
JR: Our wine program. Though we’ve obviously spent time developing the cocktails, our wine program features all, natural wines. Our Wine Director Gabriel Weinstock has created a thoughtful selection from terrific wine makers, many of whom are not exactly household names.
Given our Polish roots, we lean towards several wine makers from Eastern Europe. There’s a very, very old wine making culture there, which many people don’t realize – and so there’s a lot of great wine coming out of Hungary, Georgia and elsewhere. We also still love wines in Western Europe of course, and recently we’ve been enjoying wines from the Koppitsch family in Austria. Closer to home, we also love Wild Arc Farm & Winery in Pine Bush.
Shifting gears: what do you love about living Upstate?
JR: While Patty and I expected to like it when we moved up from Brooklyn about ten years ago, I think we’re both still surprised by how much we actually love living in this area. It’s great for raising kids, and we love rural living and being so close to the mountains. We all ski almost every weekend in winter, and love being near the river and lakes for boating, swimming, and water sports.
Our family lives in Woodstock, so having a business in Kingston gets us our “urban” fix. We love its history, and that while it’s had its issues, Kingston is a city home to a diverse population and economy. Patty and I love how creative it is. Speaking of creativity, we love all of the public art (much of it thanks to O+), and we love living in a city which has so many entrepreneurial and artistic people making it home. There are a lot of people opening small businesses, renovating properties, and getting involved in the community.
What’s running a business with two kids like?
JR: Right now, things are crazy for us every day, every week! I have a political and PR consulting practice, we have the restaurant, and two kids (plus one dog, and one cat). But you get through it. It always ebbs and flows between busy and insanity, but it’s really fulfilling.
Let’s get into your event programming. Tell me about the grill situation happening on Sundays in the back lot of Lis. How did the idea come about, and how did you build it?
JR: The grill is really about our enjoying grilled foods, and the whole process that goes into it. We’re slowly building that part of our operation — but the plan is we will go most of the year, using the grill on Sundays with a hybrid menu that will change weekly. As we get it all worked out, we’ll introduce more grill items, like bigger meats game animals, more veggies on the grill, etc.
The actual grill was fabricated by our neighbors, SCP Metal Fabrication. We built the rest out of cinder blocks (from Craigslist!) and fire bricks. It’s not fancy at all!
What about the pop-up Market + Bar?
JR: The market is our pop-up Market + Bar with Slowmade, an artists collective which, like Lis Bar, is relatively new. It’s a great time and happens the third Sunday of the month through October.
Participating artists and makers set up in our parking lot, which we closed off, from 12-5 p.m. We have a DJ, an outdoor bar stocked with natural wines and good beer, plus a house made punch. We’ll have the grill going all day, also in the lot. Then we roll right into our normal night service at the restaurant when the market ends.
Last question: pretend for one minute that you’re somehow not working on a Saturday. Describe a perfect day: what do you do, where do you eat and drink?
JR: A free, perfect Saturday? In my view, we’d have a family ski day with perfect, bluebird weather, maybe at Plattekill after a big dump of fresh snow. Then we’d finish with a leisurely dinner and drinks at either Peekamoose or The Pines, both great post-ski restaurants!