The Bear Café Is a Diner’s Delight in Woodstock

Farm-to-table flair and nods to Woodstock-era music shine on Tinker Street.

Janis Joplin comes alive at the revived Bear Café in Woodstock. Above the bluestone bar, there’s a never-before-printed Elliott Landy photograph of the singer taken at the Fillmore East in New York City in 1968. In the private dining room, there’s a picture of her eating with Andy Warhol and friends at Max’s Kansas City. The door to the restroom sports a large mural of Joplin hugging her famous manager, Albert Grossman, and at the bar, you can order a cocktail called “Cry Baby,” (a mix of bourbon, Prosecco, peach, and mint) in honor of the song she recorded in 1970.

Owner Lizzie Vann was intentional about giving Joplin a prominent place at her establishment and has even called her the inspiration for reviving the 15-acre Bearsville campus (where Joplin frequently partied), which had fallen into disrepair due to the previous owner’s financial difficulties.

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In 2019, Vann bought the Bearsville property for $2.5 million and then sunk a sizeable sum into renovating it. She hired a team to replace the roof, rebuild the bathrooms and kitchen, install new floors, and add a patio alongside the Sawkill Creek. The restaurant’s new color scheme of pink, brown, and gray was inspired by the bluestone rocks of the creek bed.

At the bar, creative drinks are named after musical legends who once roamed the grounds.

The dining area reflects what Vann calls a “sense of place,” with 36 tables designed by Boiceville artist Steve Heller, who cut them from a black walnut tree in the Catskills, and a giant slab of bluestone as the bar top. Vann added contemporary lighting fixtures by Danish designer Louis Poulsen and velvet seating in mid-century modern Scandinavian style. A private dining area also was created for intimate gatherings and parties.

Josh Rajala, a Culinary Institute of America alum who last worked at The Bear Café 10 years ago, has returned—this time taking the leading role in the kitchen. Rajala grows his own microgreens and herbs on the property and has created a modern American menu characterized by fresh simplicity and seasonal, locally sourced ingredients.

Appetizers range from rosemary focaccia with confit garlic butter, wild Rhode Island calamari, and smoked sea salt to braised local mushrooms from Bulich Farm in Catskill served with creamy polenta, chervil, and Aleppo oil. Long a venerated staple at The Bear Café, the French onion soup—a bubbling blend of sweet vermouth and crostini smothered in melted Gruyère—retains its spot on the dinner menu.

Mains include sautéed chicken with garlic whipped potatoes, haricots verts, and green peppercorn sauce; pan-seared wild shrimp served with Romanesco, charred corn, bell peppers, and chipotle vinaigrette; and prime filet mignon with a rich port jus and garlic whipped potatoes.

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At the bar, creative drinks are named after the musical legends who once roamed the grounds. There’s the Bob Dylan-inspired Blowin’ in the Wind, a blend of Heaven’s Door whiskey, demerara, and black walnut bitters, and Big Pink (blanco tequila, cinnamon, watermelon juice). Indigo Haze, a swirl of Empress gin, rosemary lemonade, and absinthe, is an homage to Jimi Hendrix.

This winter, The Bear Café offers special cuisine nights, spotlighting everything from Italian- and French-themed dishes to oysters and prime rib (Wednesdays) to burger and steak nights (Thursdays). The restaurant also launched a members-only Winter Dining Club with special perks like food and wine tastings and priority bookings to exclusive events.

The Bear Café
295 Tinker Street, Woodstock

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