- Sabrina Eberhard
[Editor's Note: our favorite pandemic pop-up is returning this year! The build-out of Padrona didn't happen this winter, and instead Buttercup opens May 1 for the season, with an expanded menu. The piece has been updated accordingly.]
Ahhh, dreams deferred. The motto of 2020. But when life gives you sour cherry pits, make amaretto. Or so goes the philosophy of Kat Dunn, a veteran mixologist, with a CV that includes tending bar at former Greenwich village haunt The Lion and several Fatty Crew restaurants before moving upstate to design the cocktail program for Zak Pelaccio’s Fish & Game and Backbar, as well as Rivertown Lodge.
She had planned to open her “fast, casual cocktail bar” Padrona in a former factory building in Hudson’s Prison Alley this summer, but...COVID. She had a 34-foot hardwood bar planned with teal barstools, cocktails, wine by the class, beers on tap, and a small menu of cheese, charcuterie, and gourmet anchovies in the tin. “To be honest, in Hudson it’s hard to get good kitchen help,” she says. “So for this, I just wanted to focus on my strength and not try to boil the ocean.”
- Rendering by Spacesmith, courtesy of Kat Dunn
- The rendering for Padrona, now expected Summer 2021.
Renderings and recipe testing went on hold with lockdown, the whole dream frozen. But when Rachel Sanzone, owner of Bonfiglio Bread and the late Lick, reached out to her to offer to rent her kitchen equipment for a collaborative pop-up, Dunn’s wheels started turning. “The world sucks. 2020 sucks. Everyone is miserable,” Dunn says. “So I thought, if we can provide just the most quintessential guilty summer pleasures to put a smile on your face for a couple minutes that’s what we’ll do.” Even the name, buttercup, recalls silly childhood flights of fancy, holding the yellow flower up to your chin to see if you like butter.
“My grandfather was a lobsterman on Cape Cod,” Dunn says. “The joke when I was a kid was, “Daaad, can’t we just have hamburgers like everyone else?’ So we started with lobster rolls.” Other guilty pleasures include: Feltman’s of Coney Island all-beef hot dogs—$7 a piece or two for $12 for a basic dog, or half a dozen elaborated options between $9-$10; soft-serve Ronnybrook ice cream with homemade toppings, and, of course, cocktails (including a Pimm’s pop!).
After Dunn got her liquor license mid-September, she began serving up cocktails in what she calls “adult Capri Sun” to-go pouches. As with Padrona, the Buttercup drink list is playful, and deliberately “not precious,” though nearly every drink features some local produce, preserve, or liqueur Dunn has made herself this summer—like the house “amaretto,” a liqueur made with pits from local sour cherries, peaches, and apricots. In the lead up to election day, she served an RBG cocktail featurign Rye, Bourbon, and Ginger, with local concord grapes (because “Biggie sang about Welch’s grape juice").
- Courtesy of Buttercup
- Sabrina Eberhard
- Kat Dunn in a Buttercup mask.
When Buttercup opened in July, they were exclusively offering takeout. As the infection rates dropped, they allowed people to eat on their patio. On weekends, the plein-air dining area buzzed with couples, posses, and families. (You may remember the location from its former incarnation as Musica.)
As the weather cooled, Dunn added heat lamps on the patio for the brave souls. The plan was to remain open only through the end of 2020, but Dunn had so much business that she kept Buttercup open through mid-January, only closing after she broke her wrist.
“In February when I was closed, there were Saturdays that I would see two dozen groups of people come up," she says, baffled. "In February! Which, historically, in Hudson is nothing. I was stunned."
Given the weatherproof success of Buttercup and the uncertainty around 2021, this past winter Dunn decided to commit to doing Buttercup for another season and holding off the build-out of Padrona until 2022. "If you can’t pivot, you’re done right now," she says.
- Sabrina Eberhard
- The mural on the wall outside Buttercup.
Dunn is giving herself time to ramp up and train new staff. For the first few weeks, Dunn will open only on weekends and then will phase into a Friday through Tuesday schedule.
Buttercup will debut with six cocktails on the menu, ramping up to 10 by the second weekend in May. And later in the month, Dunn will also add some vegetarian options to the menu like a "lobster" cake and meatless hot dog.