What happens when two “liberal elite” Muslims open a bar in Trump territory? It’s a question to which Arif Khan (LF ’16) and his wife Sabeen Hasan are finding answers since they fell in love with an abandoned country wayside bar and restaurant called Hoot Owl in a rural area of the Hudson Valley. In mid-February they purchased the property in the town of Shawangunk in southern Ulster County, and set about renovating and learning about its history. Khan writes,
This project provides a fascinating study in place, community, and change. After Dutch settlers killed and chased away the native Lenape inhabitants, the Hoot Owl originally served as Dwaarkill Post Office and General Store at least until 1910. It then functioned as a bar, brothel, and restaurant under various owners. It closed in 2013.
As we have learned from locals, the place served a really important role in the community over the past 100 years. The area is rural-residential with mostly horse farms and beef farms, but one mile away is a burgeoning Jehovah Witness compound that receives tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world. (They are expanding their facility here after their $1 billion+ sale of their Brooklyn Heights properties...to Jared Kushner and his friends.)
During the building renovation, Khan and Hasan used the opportunity to begin to restore Hoot Owl’s position as a gathering place at the center of community. They hired local contractors and reached out to neighbors to borrow construction tools and assist with beer selection. They gave away the maple sap they harvested on the property to their neighbors. In the meantime, they fielded rumors that they received a Harvard grant to open the restaurant to study the locals. (“I wish!” wrote Khan.) Or that they are from Canada.
The restaurant opened its doors in time for Mother’s Day, offering good, affordable food and drinks in a cozy and casual setting. Executive chef Johannes Sanzin has had a distinguished career in Germany and New York and has been lauded by the New York Times, New York Magazine, and Gourmet. The menu consists of mostly American comfort food, with a couple of curry dishes and Middle Eastern appetizers hiding in plain sight.
Hoot Owl is a 2 hour drive from NYC. When you go, they will treat you right, and you may become a regular. To visit or just to learn about Khan and Hasan’s journey, there’s a Facebook page.