Tavern 214 opens this weekend in Phoenicia

Above: The bar at Tavern 214, ready for business at last. Photo from Tavern 214's Facebook page.

This Saturday, August 10, Phoenicians and other interested parties will at last get to check out Tavern 214, a brand new gastropub opening in what was once Claude’s Bistro on Route 214. Phoenicia's newest eatery is a restored 1920s tavern with a patio, a fireplace, and a long local history that its restorers remember and hope to perpetuate.

Owners (and brothers) Pete and Michael Diaz have had a few practice runs already. For their first shakedown cruise, the Diazes opened Tavern 214 for the cast of Rigoletto, performed at last weekend's Phoenicia Festival of the Voice. "They booked a party assuming we’d be open, but they were okay with the way it worked out," said Pete. "They brought their own wine." On Monday, the Tavern 214 crew threw an impromptu party for friends, family and locals in the know.

The new venue’s Facebook page has been buzzing with anticipation since last November. On July 9, a jubilant "Let the games begin! Release the hounds!" status accompanied a photo of Tavern 214’s liquor license. This Saturday evening, it’s showtime at last for this Catskills classic reborn as a gastropub.

It’s a project with long deep roots. Pete Diaz says he grew up with former proprietor Claude Beck's son Stan, and has been coming up to Phoenicia for years. "We’d come up and ski back in the nineties and party in the local bars," Pete said. "When Claude passed, Stan called me to offer me the building before they put it on the market."

Even a flood of biblical proportions couldn't dampen Pete's enthusiasm. "I flew up here the day the power came back on after Hurricane Irene," Pete said. "Still bought the place. I want to be part of a renaissance here."

So far, the Phoenicia renaissance is coming along nicely. The Tavern’s next door neighbor, a reinvented motel now dubbed the Graham & Co., has been making a massive splash with their "update on the traditional weekend away” -- an experience that includes free bikes, bonfire nights and inner tubes to float around on in the pool. The Graham & Co's cheeky combination of backwoods simplicity and hipster chic has garnered the place rave reviews from the national press, most recently in the Financial Times.

"They just opened last summer, and as soon as it hit social media -- Facebook, Upstater -- the Brooklyn hipsters started running up here," said Pete Diaz happily. "They’ve been banging at our door demanding to know when they’ll be fed. Can’t wait! I’ll do room service to those rooms."

Local or imported, guests at Tavern 214 will be experiencing the culmination of decades of culinary experience gathered by the brothers in San Francisco, France, and most recently, South Florida. Menu offerings will include chipotle short rib sliders, Hudson Valley smoked duck quesadillas, local brook trout tacos, and lobster truffle mac and cheese.

Brother Michael will be managing the libations. "When I was tending bar in Florida, Michael came down and was my bar back," Pete said. "So I know he slings a great drink and tells a good story. He’ll be managing the bar operations -- craft cocktails, craft beers. We’ve got 60 varieties in bottles and six on tap, and a really nice wine list. We have lots of beautiful wines by the glass. We’re going to be growing that list over the next couple of months."

There’s an emphasis on fresh and locally-sourced on the menu, but not a slavish devotion. "We’ve got local trout, we’re working on local poultry, and I’ve got a pork guy lined up, but my deciding factor is the best quality," Pete said. "If I need to get the best venison from a ranch in Texas I’ll do it. I’m diligent about where I’m buying."

Ultimately, Tavern 214 may offer live music, but there’s more work to do first. "We want to establish a really credible restaurant first," says Pete, "But once we get going -- our bar, dining room and deck are on the right side of the building, and the old dining room on the left that used to be storage, we’ve been using as a work room. Once we develop that space, we can have live music without impacting every dining room table. We want to be a great late night place. We want to be the place where everybody comes after the other places close to keep the good time going."

Sounds like a plan. And the hard lessons of Irene have not been lost in any misty city-kid vision of country life, either. "We’ve got three sump pumps in the basement even though we are a bit uphill," says Pete. "And we’re getting a generator, so we can stay open when the power goes out."

Tavern 214 opens at 5pm on Saturday, August 10. 76 Route 214, Phoenicia. For more information, see the restaurant's Facebook page.