When walking down Warren St, the spine connecting many of Hudson‘s most popular eateries and shopping destinations, passersby often stumble into places they’ve never been before. It’s one of the best parts of visiting this Hudson Valley hotspot, since something fresh and exciting can pull you in when you least expect it. Bar Bene is no different.
Its sign immediately captivates, with the promise of good times. However, underneath the sleek letters, all visitors can find is a boutique gift shop. Curiosity either drives them inside the tiny store, or down the adjacent alleyway. Whichever path you choose, Bar Bene awaits.
“We are the best first date spot in Hudson, hands down, because of this speakeasy vibe,” Bar Bene manager Eric Hill says. “You have to almost be lured in by the lights and the music and the sounds [either through the alley or through the shop]. And once you’re back there, you’re transported into this mid-century modern bar.”
Guests who take the brick corridor path first end up in a fenced-in Bohemian garden. A firepit and standing heaters warm visitors during brisk evenings, while string lights illuminate the area. The atmosphere is intoxicating.
However, it’s nothing compared to what’s inside. Bold colors, chic furniture, and urbane yet approachable staff welcome you into a classy watering hole from a bygone era. Hudson is no stranger to stylish interior design, but Bar Bene still finds a way to bring something new to the table. Relics of the past enhance this experience, with 1960s chairs with loud patterns sitting in front of a fireplace with ornate molding. A vintage turntable spins records from a modest collection of oldies, and decades-old issues of LIFE magazine rest on the mosaic coffee table.
A massive, quartzite bar with a leathered finish ties the space together. It’s a gathering place, meant to put weary travelers at ease over a glass of vino.
Bar Bene emulates the Italian tradition of aperitivo. In the period between the workday and dinnertime, many nightclubs and bars in “the boot” serve cocktails and light fare. This cultural ritual opens up the stomach, in preparation for decadent feasts. Aperitivo bars inspired the owner of Bar Bene, Marie Wong, during her time spent living in Italy. She enjoyed frequenting aperitivo bars, enjoying glasses of wine alongside a little nosh, such as olives, bread crisps, or charcuterie.
Wond always wanted to own a wine bar, even when she and Hill first met. At the time, Wong was working for WS New York in Hudson Yards as a sort of sommelier of spirits. As Wong described her dreams, Hill said if she ever needed someone to build the wine list, he was game.
Fast-forward to the pandemic. “She called me, mentioning the she had purchased a historic building in Hudson in 2019. [Wong] asked me if I would consider moving to the Hudson Valley. As fate would have it, I actually moved to Kingston during the pandemic. It was sort of kismet, if you will,” Hill recalls.
They joined forces with a designer—Wong’s childhood best friend—and got to work constructing the eclectic essence of Bar Bene. Of course, one of the most important steps to take was assembling the wine menu. Hill sees himself as an artist with a paintbrush when he’s putting together a list. First, he selected a few bottles with particular sentimental value.
For instance, the Cava comes from a Spanish winery called Raventós i Blanc. Hill poured this sparkling wine for years at Mary’s Fish Camp, a New England-style seafood joint in the West Village of Manhattan. “I’ve met the Raventos family quite a few times because they would come in and drink their wines with us every time they were in New York.” Their winemaking dates back to 1497, fitting with Bar Bene’s commitment to old-world specialties. Raventos produces their Cava in Conca del Riu Anoia, a small wine region along the coast of Catalonia. This was wine choice one for Hill.
Natural wines dominate the overall list, highlighting terroir from world-famous wine regions. While working as the head sommelier for the Four Seasons restaurant, Hill familiarized himself with absolutely incredible wines. “When you open a bottle of wine, it’s not just something delicious that gets you drunk. It’s also a story, and often a history of people,” Hill explains.
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“It’s also so scientific. I’m a big fermentation nerd. Not gonna lie. All of it excites me: kombucha, cheese, beer, kimchi, like, I love fermentation. All of these things wrap up into one beautiful little package that we call wine, and it’s, it’s something that’s been made since the beginning of humanity. I want to make a list that I feel is indicative of things that I like to drink, but that also showcases wines with really beautiful stories behind them, too.”
His list covers all the bases. Light, approachable, fruity white wine varietals like Riesling and Trebbiano give way to bone-dry and elegant wines made from Muscadet and Greco di Tufo grapes. Of course, a cozy space like Bar Bene boasts a robust selection of top-tier reds as well. Traditionalists will love Tuscan Chianti Classico and Merlots from Bordeaux. There’s a delightfully bold Grenache grown near the Rhône delta in France, along with a very fun-to-drink Malbec rosé—notes include watermelon, raspberry, and rose petal.
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Hill’s staff knows a ton about the wines he serves. The warm, friendly, and always debonair crew creates a comforting environment, where conversations are encouraged. Ask about the vineyard that grows Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand. Inquire about a wine’s nose. Talk about what you’re looking for in a glass.
“We can get as nerdy or as storied on the wine as you want, or you can come in and crush rosé in a unique environment as well,” Hill assures.
Bar Bene wouldn’t be an aperitivo spot without grub. A blend of local familiar flavors and exotic international offerings mark the small plates menu. Currently, three Hudson Valley cheeses fill elegant boards. Cheval Farmstead in Stuyvesant supplies Black Magic, a creamy French cheese dusted with organic coconut shell ash. In addition, the bar also serves an aged alpine cheese from Hawthorne Valley in Ghent and “peggy” from Churchtown Dairy in Hudson. In contrast, Italian meats make up most of the charcuterie options, ranging from soppressata to hot capicollo. Fresh lemon hummus, house-marinated olives, and gelato from Sleepy Hollow round out the diverse offerings.
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Up front, Wong’s sister Jenny runs the gift shop. Appropriately named Sisters Hudson, this collection spans from handmade jewelry and vases to designer-quality shoes and linens. Jenny spent many years working at The Getty in Los Angeles, CA, honing a refined taste for goods. She has a particular preference for unique items like a line of handbags and totes made from the upholstery of late ‘70s classic cars. In general, she brings in whatever makes her heart happy, just like Hill and his wines.
“The wines we pour at Bar Bene are wines that I absolutely love to drink. I love sharing them with people, I love talking about them, and I love educating people on how wine is made and where it comes from,” Hill says. “We source bottles from producers who care about wine, that put their whole heart into what they do. Above all, they strive to make a product that they’re proud of, that’s either based on hundreds of years of history or they’re totally flipping the script and trying something completely new.”
538 Warren St, Hudson