Kingston’s burgeoning music scene just got a boost with the opening of the Rondout Music Lounge. It’s open from 5 to midnight every day except Monday and features live music most nights (definitely over the weekend). Located in a handsome, vintage storefront with high tin ceilings and wood floors, the venue brings back a tradition of music that once happened here when it was the Sturgeon Bar. The lounge specializes primarily in jazz and blues, taking advantage of the numerous world-class musicians who happen to live in Ulster County, such as Joey Eppard, Harvey Sorgen, of Hot Tuna, and Michael Bernier, who has toured the world numerous times with Tony Levin. Right now, there is no cover, and a Budweiser is only $3 ($2 during a special happy hour some nights).
Owners Jared Zwiefel and Michael McGrath hail from Dutchess County—they were classmates at Arlington High School–and have migrated across the river partly because of the area’s cultural vibrancy. Zwiefel, who works at Hudson Valley Auto Interiors, located in Gardiner, during the day, bought a house in Uptown Kingston, while McGrath commutes from Millbrook. The two said their model was a club in Millbrook run by a friend called Millbrook R&B. “It books lots of bands and gave us the experience,” said Zwiefel. They landed in the Rondout partly because their landlord offered a very reasonable rent. Plus, he had restored the space beautifully, finishing of the wood floor and putting in new heating and AC and the vintage wooden bar.
Besides beer and wine—there are plans to serve hard liquor and soda soon–Rondout Music Lounge also serves burgers, quesadillas and other bar food, so one can have a meal prior or while listening to the music. Andy Parker, a musician and native Kingstonian, is booking the acts, and the work of two local artists hangs on the walls. (The large exposed side brick wall is bare, which Zweiefel hopes to cover with art; local artists, take note.)
The lounge has a Facebook page, and so far it is relying on word of mouth and the musicians’ substantial network to attract customers. Zwiefel said the central location was also a boon, with many walk-ins. In two short weeks, the place has already attracted many tourists, including a couple from Long Island visiting the area on their boat. “They were thrilled,” Zwiefel said. “They said there was nothing like this where they live.”
He and McGrath are considering opening the lounge in the afternoon, when they’ve noticed a bustle of activity before people disappear for dinner. There’s always something interesting playing on the sound system—even if it isn’t live; Parker promised to “play my harmonica while slinging drinks” as part of the entertainment. Joking aside, the venue is aimed at the 28-plus crowd—music lovers who are into jazz and blues.
Among the coming attractions are a performance by blues-guitar wunderkind Connor Kennedy, who is only 16 years old, and Roy Bookbinder, a folk blues guitarist with a direct link to the geniuses who defined the Delta Blues.
“I love the foot traffic,” said Zwiefel. “It’s a beautiful location. And we’re near the bridge, so we’re getting a lot of people from Rhinebeck.”