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The Best of the Wurst

Gunk Haus in Highland



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The couple has done considerable research into the history of their restaurant. Today's Gunk Haus began as a single-family-home in the 1870s, and was converted to a boardinghouse after the Civil War. Known as the Hollywood Hotel, it remained a boardinghouse until the 1930s, when it was purchased by an Italian family who operated it as the Hollywood Bar and Grill, which it remained until 1967, when it was purchased by a Jamaican family who kept the name but ran it as a Jamaican restaurant. In the 1990s, it became well known as a reggae club, as unlikely as that might seem in the apple orchards of the Hudson Valley (there were many Jamaican immigrant families working in the orchards). The couple discovered the building when they came up to the Hudson Valley to visit Elizabeth's sister and brother-in-law. "My brother-in-law drove me past this place and I started to laugh—'No way!' I said. Dirk and I were heading to Germany that week, but on the way out of town we drove by the restaurant and I said to Dirk, jokingly, 'Oh, by the way, that's the place Ted wants us to buy.' We barely paused on the road and didn't discuss it any further. So we left for Germany—I don't really speak German, but I can understand a bit, and after a while I began to realize that he was telling everyone he had found his dream restaurant. I said 'Dirk, are you talking about the Hollywood Bar?' And he said, 'Oh yeah—I loved it—that's the place!' It looked like it needed so much work that I didn't take it seriously, but he recognized the potential from the get-go. When we were renovating, so many people stopped by and wanted to take a look at the place, saying they had been interesting in buying it but that it looked like too much work. Every time we heard that, we got more and more discouraged. But in the scheme of things, the work was largely cosmetic. The beautiful old wood floors were here, but they had about two layers of linoleum on top of them. There was a drop ceiling that we took out, which revealed the original rafters."

The interior of the Gunk Haus is open, light, airy, and spare, with the relaxed atmosphere of a country pub. Whether seated at a banquette or at one of the long, pub-style tables, your eyes are drawn up to the rafters. The walls have been freshly plastered (with actual plaster—something of a lost art that is experiencing a revival), which contributes to the Old World feel of the place. The bar is lively, with a semi regular, semi local crowd, but the emphasis is on the restaurant. "For the first year, we didn't even have bar stools," says Elizabeth. "It's just not something you would ever see in Bavaria. People sit together at long tables."

Gunk Haus in Highland

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