When building renovator Doug Berlin moved to Beacon in 1997, he saw a diamond in the rough where others saw a forgotten Main Street. “It was a boarded-up, burnt-out area, so I started buying properties,” Berlin says, one of which was a 20-room boarding house that had closed after being cited for building code violations. But the edifice had a spectacular neoclassical façade, harkening back to its roots as a bank. In 2000, Berlin transformed it into the Piggy Bank (845-838-0028), which serves authentic barbecue and other comfort food.
“I lived in southside Chicago for 12 years, which is like living in the South: there are barbecue joints everywhere. When I moved to Beacon, I couldn’t find a single one,” says Berlin. And that needed to change. “We do a lot of barbecue meals; our most popular dish is the pulled pork sandwich,” he says. (For a true Southern treat, Berlin suggests the Southern fried steak: a deep-fried sirloin.)
The building’s interior makeover was finished in a year. Berlin removed a dropped ceiling, exposing vintage tin, and restored windows that were buried within the walls (later to become part of an outdoor patio). The vault is the centerpiece of the bar; there’s a wine rack and even a small office hidden inside. The completed project won an award from Dutchess County for best adaptive reuse.
On the other side of the Hudson, the River Bank Restaurant and Bar (845-534-3046) keeps its wine in a “safe” place, too. This restaurant is also housed in a former bank building; the vault is used as a wine cellar, which hold vintages from Warwick, Maybrook, and Gardiner.
The Cornwall-on-Hudson eatery’s clever name derives from the site’s short-lived past as the Cornwall Bank; it opened in 1900 and closed three years later, after the manager was found guilty of embezzlement. It became the village hall, then an office. Five years ago, owner Anthony Missere asked Lucie Provencher, who was a chef in Newburgh at the time, if she’d like to open a restaurant there.
“It’s a gorgeous building. We both share a love of architecture and wanted to restore it,” Provencher says. The pair refurbished the original mahogany paneling and a chandelier, then commissioned an artist to create a wall-length oil painting of Bannerman’s Island. “We painted the other walls with a color called Dollar Green, have a copper ceiling, and a vintage cash register near the entrance that holds chocolate coins,” she says.
Originally from Canada, Provencher spent 18 years as a professional chef before taking on management duties at the River Bank. The menu — American with Asian, Italian, and French influences — includes roasted duck with a raspberry glaze, and calamari with an Oriental dipping sauce.
Outdoor seating on the Euro-style terrace and live entertainment add to the River Bank’s appeal. “We host jazz trios; art exhibits; and wine, tequila, or bourbon tastings throughout the fall and winter,” she says. “During the summer, I leave it to nature to entertain.”