Old-time ambiance at the brand new Stockade Tavern
Last week, gadabout that I am, I was at the soft opening of a new watering hole in Kingston’s historic district: the Stockade Tavern — a “classic American drinking establishment,” as the owners, Giovanna Vis and her husband, Paul Maloney, call it. This is not your ordinary bar. “We’re taking our cocktails very seriously,” says Vis (“Jenny” to her friends). “Cocktails were invented in the 1800s,” she continues, “and, like all our food, they’ve become processed. So we’re doing traditional, well-crafted cocktails that you don’t find in bars around here.”
Maloney, 48, is a painter, and Vis, 38, has a Masters in museum studies, which makes them ideal bar owners. But to be thorough, Maloney took an intensive course from Dale DeGroff “and learned the history of alcohol” and everything about cocktails, Vis says. (DeGroff, aka King Cocktail, Wikipedia reveals, is the man who triggered the world-wide cocktail revival in the late ’80s when he was mixologist at Manhattan’s Rainbow Room — and got a James Beard award last year for his efforts.)
“Let me tell you about the ice machine,” Vis says. “This is a little esoteric, but if you’re a real cocktail drinker, ice is important. Our ice cube is a perfect one-inch cube. The ice cubes with the big dimple, those melt so quickly that if you shake the drink long enough to make it cold, it waters it down. With our ice, only the appropriate amount of water melts into your drink.”
With that much devotion to ice cubes, you can imagine how delicious the cocktails are. The pours are measured, so the drinks are consistent, and the recipes are from the golden days and made with high-quality ingredients and fresh juices. Check out the Ward Eight (Old Overholt rye, lemon juice, and house pomegranate grenadine) or the Airmail (Rhum Barbancourt, fresh lime juice, honey syrup and cava). “One of our favorites is the 20th Century,” made with Beefeater gin, Lillet Blanc, white crème de cacao and lemon juice, Vis says. “The combination sounds insane, with that chocolate element in the crème de cacao, but it’s surprising how it comes together, it’s very balanced.”
If you’re not in a cocktail mood, there are a few wines, including some sparkling ones; 20 bottled beers and four on tap, including Yuengling from America’s oldest brewery; a stout; and a couple of regionals, none of which you’re likely to find at the next bar down the block, she adds. “We’ll have Bud in a can, but it’s really just because we want everyone to feel comfortable.”
Delicious cocktails, unusual brews, and a friendly vibe
Simple savory nibbles might be grilled sausage; smoked cheddar cheese with fresh onion, stone-ground mustard, and wheat crackers; a pickle plate with hot-baked pretzels; and sardines in the tin. “We want the drinks to be highbrow and the food to be a little bit sophisticated but not complicated,” says Vis.
The Stockade Tavern is in the old Singer sewing machine building (you may remember the other half of the ground floor — now a gallery — was once a notions and fabric shop with an entrance on Wall Street.) The ornate tin ceiling and the diamond-paned, Tudor-style windows are original, but the interior is otherwise new, even though it looks old. Vis masterminded the Federal-style design, adding paneled walls to disguise cracked plaster, deep crown molding, a curved bar and angled banquettes. She and Maloney did a lot of the work, and her father and brother, Jerry and Ben Vis, are master carpenters who did the hard parts. “We left the Singer emblem on our door, and our tables have iron sewing-machine bases, to give a nod to the history,” she notes. “We’re trying to keep a convivial atmosphere — a nicer, quieter place to go. No TV or pool table, and the music will be low. We don’t want anyone to have to yell.”
Maloney is on record that the couple hopes to attract everyone “from a politician to a drag queen,” which these days doesn’t sound like a very broad range, so let me add that it’s inviting for any imbiber. Vis, Maloney, and sculptor Don Johnson, who owns the building and is a partner, hope the tavern will bring more life to Kingston’s Uptown. There are cute shops and some terrific restaurants nearby (Elephant and Le Canard Enchainè, to name but two). Go have a drink, and celebrate the revival of the great American cocktail.
» Stockade Tavern, at 313 Fair St., opens on Saturday, May 29 without fanfare, unless you count a heads-up from the Accidental Foodie. Thereafter, you can go on Thursdays through Sundays, from 4 p.m. to closing.