Long before day-trippers crowned Kingston, N.Y. — located 91 miles north of New York City — a hipster mecca, creative types have culled inspiration from the state’s first capital for decades.
Artists, musicians and, more recently, filmmakers regularly visit the Hudson River city of 24,000 or so to work and play, and many are even calling Kingston and its surrounding hamlets, home.
Visitors are drawn to Kingston’s architectural inventory of historic Victorian and colonial stone houses, quaint storefronts and eateries, which are often run by graduates of the Culinary Institute of America — located in nearby Hyde Park. There’s the scenic Hudson River, and the Catskills too. Local farm markets offer the best produce from the Hudson Valley, and there’s a growing offering of locally made wine, beer and hard apple cider.
So look, there’s Daniel Craig at the Uptown Kingston Farmers Market picking up greens before stopping at the Herzog’s True Value hardware store. (James Bond buys his own lettuce and leaf bags?) Craig and his wife Rachel Weisz have a place a short drive from Kingston and they’re both regulars around town.
You might catch the stars at Outdated Café on Wall Street in the uptown Stockade District, named so because Dutch colonial governor Peter Stuyvesant ordered one to be built in 1658 to protect the settlers. And Outdated is anything but. Part café, part antiques shop, the venue was making and serving cold brew coffee long prior to the drink’s current popularity.
Oh, and there was Jason Lee at Outdated. He had stayed in Kingston while filming “Growing Up Smith,” due in theaters next month, which tells the tale of an Indian family that moves to the U.S. to live the American dream. Frank Lotito directs. Jillian Fisher, a Kingston native, serves as an independent location scout and community liaison. Fisher worked on the film with Lee, and has helped to bring many bold-faced names to the area to work.
Aside from Lee, Fisher’s professional efforts have helped stir the locals up with star sightings that include Kal Penn (Fisher describes his tweet about local sandwich shop Joe Beez as the “tweet heard ‘round the world — or at least ‘round Kingston.” Penn was in town for 2014’s “The Sisterhood of Night”); Michael C. Hall (in town for the making of 2014’s “Cold in July”), and more recently, Andie MacDowell, who Fisher said “spent part of her Thanksgiving at our local SPCA, and invited the press to help bring attention to all the animals that needed homes.”
MacDowell was in Kingston filming “Love After Love,” due out next year, and directed by Russell Harbaugh, who “fell in love with Kingston and very kindly acknowledged to me that the locations absolutely enhanced the film,” Fisher noted. “[And] I just wrapped director Justin Kelly’s latest film,” she added. “He shot in Kingston for ‘King Cobra’ and returned because he enjoyed it so much.”
Others who live nearby and are regularly seen around Kingston include Mary Stuart Masterson and Melissa Leo. Other Hollywood and independent film types will swarm Woodstock, Kingston and Saugerties for the 17th annual Woodstock Film Festival, Oct. 13 to 16. On the fashion front, Iman, widow of the late David Bowie, still has a place outside of Kingston that she shared with the famous rock star. And speaking of musicians, Kingston and nearby Woodstock are home to many notable recording artists and performers.
At Kenco sporting goods recently, Natalie Merchant was seen testing a camp chair. Merchant, who lives outside of Kingston, is a supporter of local charities, and has performed at the Old Dutch Church in uptown Kingston. Merchant is a supporter of shopping local, and is regularly seen at area boutiques and shops.
Kingston residents include jazz musicians Rebecca Martin and husband Larry Grenadier. Grenadier frequently collaborates with another area resident, jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, who is said to have his massive guitar collection stored in a vault somewhere in Kingston. And Martin is as serious about music as she is about the Kingston community. As a community organizer, Martin was one of the leaders of an effort that stopped a water bottling company from opening and tapping out Kingston’s water supply a few years ago.
Earlier this spring, musician, producer and Kingston resident Malcolm Burn phone banked for Bernie Sanders. Burn has worked with Bob Dylan, The Neville Brothers, Iggy Pop, John Mellencamp, Midnight Oil, Patti Smith and Better Than Ezra. He’s got a Grammy on his mantle at home for production of Emmylou Harris’ 2001 “Red Dirt Girl.” Tony Levin, a true musician’s musician and Kingston resident who regularly performs with Peter Gabriel, was spotted recently eating sushi at a local restaurant. The former King Crimson bassist is also a supporter of shopping local.
But why Kingston? The city’s proximity to New York City may be part of the reason for the attraction. It could be the magnetism of the Hudson River or the Catskills — which offers stunning views that have inspired artists, musicians and performers for over a century.
Indeed, one of Kingston’s first notable artists was Jervis McEntee of the Hudson River School. The 19th-century painter favored cloudy skies and autumn scenes. McEntee was born in the downtown, or Rondout, section of Kingston, which is now a popular summer tourist spot. McEntee died in 1891 and is buried in Kingston’s Montrepose Cemetery, which was designed by Calvert Vaux — who also did the landscape design of Central Park. Vaux is buried at Montrepose too.
A few miles from the cemetery is The Hutton Brickyards, located right on the Hudson, and which is now the site of Smorgasburg Upstate. The foodie flea market is open Saturdays through the end of October. Smorgasburg was first launched in Brooklyn, and the organizers — like many before — visited Kingston and fell in love with the city, so they decided to bring it to town. Several weeks ago, the Smorgasburg Upstate debut drew more than 10,000 people.