Governor’s Tavern Fills The Iron Horse’s Big Shoes
Ortega, Dykeman and bartender Fernando Martinez
By Jamie Larson
The new Governor’s Tavern in Hudson, New York is a welcome surprise behind its humble alley corner entrance along some train tracks. From the former beloved and historic dive bar, The Iron Horse, the new owners, Renee Ortega and Brian Dykeman, have created a professionally executed yet comfortably local hometown pub. Governor’s is also offering some truly elevated pub grub, cooked up by a British expat head chef, that combines expected staples with the flavors he misses from home.
“We wanted to create a place where people could feel comfortable, whether they’re regulars or it’s their first time visiting,” says Dykeman, who grew up just outside Hudson and knew the old bar well. “We didn’t want to alienate anyone who used to come here — but we also want to bridge the gap.”
Ortega also owns the Zombie Hut in Brooklyn, where she and Dykman met, but they only go down to the city to check in once a week, having chosen to move to Hudson full time and focus on Governor’s. She says they feel the most important thing to a successful neighborhood bar is a great staff; cultivating a fun community atmosphere starts with a crew who enjoy being there, too. They must be doing something right because they were able to convince Chef Steve Rawlings to move up to Hudson after working in some significant NYC kitchens including Brucie, The Breslin and Reynard.
What Rawlings is doing with a standard tavern menu is truly a reason to check Governor’s out. He’s created a signature hamburger, with onion strings that actually taste like onions and an au jus that, when dipped, almost tricks your brain into experiencing a mouthful of French onion soup.
What’s more, Rawlings has brought authentic UK tavern fare to the table as well as standards like fish and chips and English-style curry on Wednesdays.
Dykman is serious about beer and curates an ever-changing list of taps. There’s usually something local on tap and drink prices in general are very reasonable, even offering a $3 Miller Light for your thrifty session.
Governor’s, named for the couple’s first bull dog, Governor Russell Smalls, is appointed traditionally, embracing dark wood and exposed brick. What’s most striking is the mural-sized photo on the back wall of Warren Street from the 1800s, taken from a vantage not far from the (then) State Grill.
But Governor’s has big shoes to fill. Frank Martino’s Iron Horse was an institution. Opened some time before 1883 as the State Grill, the inn was an affordable boarding house and tavern for farmers journeying to Hudson for provisions. The barn behind the bar was used to house the horses and coaches. It operated in some capacity during Prohibition and up until the ‘90s opened at 8 a.m. to accommodate shift workers. A number of movies looking for a classic bar shot scenes inside, including “Iron Weed,” “Cake Eaters” and Paul Newman’s “Nobody’s Fool.”
“We loved the feel of the Iron Horse,” says Dykeman, adding they initially hoped to change little about the interior. “But we quickly found out nothing was up to code, and it was going to fall down.”
When Martino passed away in 2013 it was hard for locals to see the Iron Horse sitting empty, and harder still to watch later as it was gutted for restoration. But it only takes one trip to see that Governor’s is not just a worthy successor to The Iron Horse but a continuation of the building’s legacy. They are still using the original bar-back and repurposed the original bar, which they found in the walls. Dykeman says they are also restoring the original State Grill and Iron Horse signs for later display.
“The Iron Horse was special because Frankie was always here,” Dykeman said. “It’s important to us that we are here too, being involved, being a neighbor.”
In an old newspaper article about the history of the Iron Horse, which the new owners found during renovations (and I happened to have authored some years ago), Martino discussed the future of the establishment. Since his own grown children were off in other professions, he said he daydreamed about a nice young couple buying the place, fixing it up and maybe even serving up some food from the back. Dykeman and Ortega said it makes them happy to think that they are that couple.
Seasons change, and it’s spring again at Governor’s. The owners’ combination of professional acumen and connection to the area seems the perfect mix to steward the historic watering hole into a new era.
14 South 7th Street, Hudson, NY
Open Tuesday-Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. (2 a.m. Friday and Saturday)