The Young and the Restless: Liberty Street Bistro
Chef Michael Kelly will tell you he doesn’t like authority. Which is why he and his wife, Alexandra Kelly, became their own bosses by opening up their own restaurant on Newburgh’s Liberty Street. The same headstrong attitude landed Chef Michael an invite, at just 28 years old and not even one year into running his own kitchen, to prepare a dinner at the James Beard House. In her own 28 years, Alex received a journalism degree from New York University and became the senior contributors editor at The Huffington Post. Now, while co-owning/running Liberty Street Bistro, she works full time as a digital editor for Reader’s Digest.
“Our age probably contributes to why we opened here. A lot of the people who tried to talk us out of it were of an older generation who had seen Newburgh try and unsuccessfully come back. They thought we were just two dumb kids who were trying again,” says Alex. Opening Liberty Street Bistro was no small feat. It took a move back home to the Hudson Valley from New York City, a hunt for the perfect location, countless hours wading through paperwork and applying for licenses, a multitude of renovations and a whole lot of convincing their friends, family and investors that opening a French-influenced, modern American restaurant with a prix-fixe menu in Newburgh was not just another rebellious whim.
“I’m not going to say it’s easier to be in Beacon or Hudson or Rhinebeck, but if you open a restaurant there, people will come. If you open a restaurant in Newburgh you have to be a little bit different. We still have a hard time; some people just don’t want to come here because you read in The Times Herald Record that there was a crime around the corner. But does that mean you should write off an entire area ’cause it’s got issues? If you want something to be good, make it good,” says Michael.
How is Liberty Street Bistro making it good? Fresh-baked brioche dinner rolls; Sunday brunch; $1 oysters; Pasta Mondays; the frequently refreshed craft wine, beer and cocktail menu; and the final flourish to every meal: a small plate of handmade macaroons. But for Chef Michael, every detail is attended to for something greater. He considers the restaurant to be part of a positive “changing tide” in Newburgh.
And though the words “changing tide” tend to elicit gentrification murmurs, Chef Michael rejects such assumptions by maintaining his creativity in the kitchen, “using modernist tools when appropriate,” but paying attention to who his diners are and where his restaurant is. He’s not #cookingforthegram, Chef Michael is just cooking. “We have a lot of fun with social media, it’s play time for us. If we can take a cool picture it’s good, but I don’t think the number of likes I get has too much impact on the number of seats I fill. If you’re not making a good product it doesn’t really matter how beautiful it looks on your phone.”
What’s less important to the Kellys than their number of likes on Instagram? The year they were born. “It’s such a cliché. Every [previous generation] wants to make it seem like the new kids on the block suck. But there is so much more to owning a restaurant than to worry about that stuff. I was here at 9am today patching holes in Sheetrock and painting. There has to be no excuse. It’s ‘Shut up, this has to get done, I don’t care if it’s not your time to work, just do it.’ It doesn’t really mean much to me what year you were born or what generation you’re in. You’re either going to get up in the morning and do it or you’re not,” says Chef Michael.
Liberty Street Bistro now welcomes diners to the newly added lunch service Wednesday through Sunday.