Perched near the Kingston waterfront with a bright, white interior—and a list of unique wines poured in the owners’ personal china—Brunette, a wine bar that exemplifies the personal touch, may just become your new favorite hangout. Long-time Hudson Valley weekenders and first-time bar owners Tracy and Jamie Kennard opened this addition to the Kingston Rondout last summer. They established the hospitality–driven space as a way to satisfy downtown’s need for a community gathering spot, and the result has been the most darling of doings.
Though they don’t have previous restaurant experience (Jamie is a graphic designer and Tracy is a business consultant), the couple approach operating the bar with the organized but easygoing mindset it takes to throw a dinner party, a temperament that welcomes customers as guests and friends alike. “Whether at our house or at the bar, that feeling when someone walks through the door never gets old,” says Tracy. “At both places, the same rules apply: Keep things low-key and not too fussy, comfortable, and welcoming. Strive for perfection, but don’t stress when it doesn’t happen.”
Spend a few minutes perched on one of their wooden barstools and you’ll see that the Kennards make good on this breezy business philosophy. They seamlessly handle the nuts-and-bolts stuff—emptying plates, refilling water glasses—but will gladly stop to help a little girl investigate what type of flowers are in her petite bouquet (on Sundays, the couple sell mini stems from the florist up the street), or to tell you how they searched through countless tag sales to track down just the right lamp shades.
Brunette is a “natural” wine bar, which means the wines are created with as minimal manipulation as possible. Each selection is usually sustainable, unfiltered, and without added sulfites, which also means the wines are sometimes inherently organic and biodynamic. The pours change weekly, but Brunette’s menu is created daily to reflect a newspaperesque aesthetic featuring song lyrics, suggested sips, and a brief description of the weather in terms of wine (read: “Drink Wine in the Park Weather”). The Kennards’ sense of humor and personal tastes are reflected in the wine descriptions. Their pink Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance, is described as being like “the last night of the fair, and you’re kissing someone behind the cotton-candy stand…wild, gritty, and distinctly all–natural.”
If you’re not wooed already, consider the snack menu. Brunette offers savory morsels and sweet nibbles, which may not be substantial, but are enough to resolve that peculiar sip-driven craving or appease that post-work, pre-dinner hunger. More important, everything is both fun and well made in the same thoughtful way that characterizes all other aspects of the bar. Trout roe “nachos,” consisting of roe, crème fraiche, and potato chips, and cake salé (a savory quick bread) are just two examples of what you can expect to find on offer.
Tracy and Jamie have touched everything in this place, and it shows in the best of ways. “We’re not fussy, per se,” Jamie insists, “but we like details. It’s a little more work that way, but we like to think that’s why people come back.”