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Historic Athens inn to introduce new chef

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    The Stewart House overlooking the Hudson River in Athens.
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    A view of the bar at the Stewart House in Athens.
October 29, 2018 10:06 pm

ATHENS — The new owners of the Stewart House on North Water Street on the Hudson River in Athens will introduce its new chef during a Nov. 8 celebration.

The bash at the historic tavern, circa 1883 will serve as a chance to introduce chef Bob Turner, who will be cooking with local ingredients evoking a farm-to-table feel.

Stewart House owners Lon Ballinger and his wife Lois acquired the business in November 2017 and spent this past winter refurbishing it, he said, adding that while the structure of the building was sturdy, new items such as a roof, windows, a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system were implemented, he said.

“I went into the basement and studied it and found the building was very solid after standing for over 100 years,” Ballinger said. “We wanted to keep that character and culture that was going.”

Renovations topped out in the millions, but Ballinger declined to reveal an exact cost.

“If you want a good job, you have to pay for it,” he said. “We’re happy with the work being done.”

The Ballingers have decades of experience in the food and entertainment service industries. For nearly 30 years they ran the New York City nightclub and performance venue Webster Hall, where many legendary acts including Prince, in 2005, graced its stage, Ballinger said. They sold Webster Hall in October 2017.

“He was so extremely talented and creative, it was actually mind-blowing,” Ballinger said of Prince. “I honored every moment of it.”

Ballinger wants to bring the same level of excellence to the Stewart House.

“You only have one time to make a first impression. We’re going to try to do our very best,” the new owner said. “We just want to do a really good job.”

Despite not visiting Athens before purchasing the Stewart House, Ballinger fell in love with the area, especially the Hudson River, which he dubbed “the first superhighway of America.”

“I refer to Athens as the little town time forgot — it’s got its own little vibe,” Ballinger said. “We just fell in love with the town and we wanted to be part of it.”

The Stewart House’s nine rooms will be open all year. It’s the perfect place to take a partner for a special night, especially because all the rooms overlook the Hudson River, Ballinger said.

“We think it’s so pretty people will come and stay,” he said. “It’s got this really cool, chill vibe.”

The Stewart House is close to Crossroads Brewing Company, bakery Bonfiglio & Bread and the French restaurant Rive Gauche, all on Second Street.

“All the neighbors in town are great,” he said. “The Hudson Valley is being reinvented and it’s exciting to be here.”

Ballinger negotiated the nearly $2 million asking price, but declined to reveal how much he paid.

Former owner Owen Lipstein, who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, managed the Stewart House for over 15 years and is pleased to see the Stewart House continue on with new owners. The Ballingers visited Santa Fe to meet with him, Lipstein said.

“They are experienced and skilled based on what I know,” Lipstein said. “I’m happy to pass it on to someone with the experience.”

Selling the business was bittersweet for Lipstein, but he is proud of the work he did to take the 134-year-old hotel and restaurant to the next level, he said.

“It feels good to have made a difference in that place, which we clearly did,” Lipstein said.

He looks forward to returning to the Stewart House to see some of his former employees.

“It will be great to come as a guest,” Lipstein said.