Friday, February 26, 2010

MUSIC, MUSIC, MUSIC


It's so beautiful outside! Snow everywhere...the tree branches weighed down by cotton balls of moisture. There's really little we can do but plan on making the best of it in these conditions. I know many of our friends are just "done" with all this snow, but it's here, and yes, there's going to be a lot of sore backs later on today from all the snow shoveling...but there are also going to be a lot of happy kids out there playing in their backyards with the schools closed today (and yesterday)! And it's just in time to get you into the weekend frame of mind...look what we have planned for Sunday:


It's true; we're going to be treated to more music, and a terrific return performance of The Jericho Mountain Grass ("The Grass"), in the main Restaurant at The National Hotel on Sunday, February 28th, 4 p.m. - 7 p.m. The Grass performed in The Rat Lounge on December 6th, and they helped us launch our Sunday Musical Afternoon series. We're thrilled to have them back and hope you'll make the time to come to see them and support them. The Grass blends traditional ballads and new-grass tunes, and consist of Carl Klinger on mandolin, Toby Hoffman on banjo, Peter Kane on fiddle, John Stetson on bass and John Gehman on guitar.


The Grass returned to Frenchtown after playing throughout Hunterdon County, NJ and Bucks County, PA since 1980, from venues as varied as the Tinicum Arts Festival and Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve. When they joined us in December, their fans came from nearby to as far away as the Philadelphia area. They are just incredibly talented and infuse the room with their unique and distinctive sound. Mark your calendars and do come by!

photo by Sarah R. Bloom (photographybloom.com)
It seems as though every time I think, "Wow, this is definitely the best so far" (whether from a proprietor's point of view, having a room full of patrons who are clearly enjoying themselves, to a very personal and subjective point of view, enjoying the selection of music being played), we're treated to another surprising and talented performance, always different, always delightful. Such was the case when Teri Rambo (photo by Sarah R. Bloom, photographybloom.com) performed two weeks ago in our Rat Lounge. She truly filled the room, with people coming over because they love her music, as well as our own patrons being enticed to join the audience after her music started filling the building. It was a joy to see and hear.

As I'm writing this in the middle of the night, I had the pleasure of going through some of the photos and video clips we've taken from a few performances at The National Hotel in the last few weeks.

Even yesterday, with the weather as bad as it was, musicians and local patrons of The National Hotel, showed up for Open Mike Night, instruments in hand, and just made the very best of a wintery evening.


Some started in The Rathskeller Pub, warming themselves next to our wood-burning fireplace, grabbed their drinks and some friends, made their way to The Rathskeller Pub Lounge and sat down to enjoy a delightful evening watching and listening to the performers who'd signed up to take the mike. Truly a special kind of night, with all the snow outside, few cars on the road, and everyone driving ever so slowly and carefully...or those lucky enough to be from Frenchtown, walking over to The Rat.
video

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

THE PIECES TO THE PUZZLE KEEP COMING: JAMES AGEE

Every time Pete and I have the opportunity to chat with our friends who frequent The National Hotel, we;re treated to yet another little mystery being solved--or perhaps a new one beginning, to which we need to apply ourselves to try to investigate. I have personally been the recipient of mounds of information, generously gifted to me by many of you who frequent The National Hotel. I am in awe of the verbal historical knowledge that so many of you are able to impart, and of the artistic component that seems to be woven into the fabric of Frenchtown. I've witnessed this myself during our Thursday Open Mike Nights in The Rathskeller Pub Lounge and our Sunday musical afternoons...but that's for another post.

Several months ago, one of our regular and loyal supporters, Chris Poh, shared with us some information about an important literary figure, James Agee, who was apparently a regular at The National Hotel while he wrote one of his most important works, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, recognized by the New York School of Journalism and the New York Public Library as one of the 20th century's greatest literary works. He spent several months in Frenchtown, and frequented The National Hotel, and it looks like wrote a great deal while he stayed in our town. Chris believes that it's very likely that given Agee's writing style, that he might have been sitting at the Bar while penning this great literary work.


I tell you, every day I learn more and more about The National Hotel. What is so wonderful is how open everyone is about its history, its roots, and the people (famous and not-so-famous), who frequented our establishment. It's like putting together a puzzle, where you know you are missing many little, but critical pieces, and although there are tiny wholes throughout the finished product, and you can make out the shape of the picture, each day you find just one more odd-shaped piece that fits perfectly and brings another dimension to that picture. That's what it's like when I hear another detail, another historical fact, another story about a family who used to come by, who used work here, who used to be a part of The National Hotel. It really lifts your spirits and enlightens us as to how much we still have to learn about this grand old building.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men apparently grew out of an assignment from a magazine, and it also features the photography of Walker Evans, who is best known for his work documenting the Great Depression. Evans has permanent collections at different museums and has even the subject of retrospectives at institutions such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But what brings this home for me, is the fact that he was one of the screenwriters who adapted the 1935 novel, The African Queen, by C.S. Forester, into a movie. Wow! This 1951 film, of the same name as the novel, was one of my father's favorite movies. He loved the plot, he loved the actors (and who wouldn't, when it featured Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, among others). Humphrey Bogart received the Academy Award for Best Actor, his only Oscar for his performance in that film. This brings back so many memories!!!

How appropriate to put all this together in my mind, to learn and want to research more about this famous writer, not just because of my own personal interest in The National Hotel, but also because the Oscars are right around the corner...12 days and counting, according to the news.

Stop by The National Hotel and share some more stories, some other bits and pieces of what makes this establishment so important to our community. This grand old building is a center-point for so many people today...but just imagine what it was decades ago...I just can't help but wonder what other stories are yet to be told. Do you have any you'd like to share?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

MUSIC AT THE NATIONAL HOTEL


The National Hotel is bursting at its seams with musicians who have shown up to support our efforts to feature local talent. Not only were we treated to an absolutely wonderful Thursday Open Mike Night (a.k.a. open mic night), two days ago, where participants enjoyed jamming with each other, supporters showed up throughout the night to encourage, listen, enjoy, and share in their friends' passion, but moreover, we were honored to have been chosen to be the hosts of this musical night. And this Sunday, we have yet another treat: Teri Rambo. She'll perform at The Rathskeller Pub Lounge from 4 p.m. - 7 p.m. (note the time change, please). As I've written about before, Teri is an Indie/Folk musician, and we will have the opportunity to listen to some of her own work, as she performs this Sunday. We are so excited!


Please do come out and support our local talent. We've been so fortunate these last few Sundays when we hosted our past musical acts. They've been absolutely enchanting--drawing people from our upstairs Restaurant & Bar, downstairs, to hear them, to listen to their songs, to watch first-hand a performer sharing his/her talent.

Some things happen because one works so hard at making sure all the little details are taken care of. But life is funny in how it presents you with opportunities that are unexpected, sometimes opening doors that you thought you'd end up having to spend hours, days, months just knocking endlessly to see if your efforts produced any results. Such is the case of our Thursday Open Mike Nights at The Rathskeller Pub Lounge.

Pete and I envisioned this very early in the process, built it into our website, knowing that one day, the building would be able to feature musicians, poets, writers, and numerous other creative artists that bring that extra depth into our lives. There's never been a performance, a musical revue, an artistic endeavor, that we regret seeing or in which we participated. On a very personal level, the arts have always been an important part of our lives.

We used to live in Hell's Kitchen (renamed "Clinton" when we lived there, and now finding better branding opportunities being re-renamed to "Hell's Kitchen" yet again for the residential properties, and "Midtown West" for the commercial real estate). Well, just a short stroll away was Lincoln Center. Every summer they open their doors to have free musical and artistic events, featuring international dance companies, musicians, and artists that cater to the young and the old. They even have ballroom dancing evenings, with an hour of instruction before the night starts if anyone wants to join in. Completely open to the public, Pete and I shared these days with joy and enthusiasm, later on including our munchkins, Shiara and Laina too. But New York City is full of these opportunities, even walking through Central Park, which in the summer offers free productions performed at their Delacorte Theater (Shakespearean productions with a hit list of performers that span the NY Broadway scene to Hollywood), Summerstage, a series of concerts, opera productions, and numerous other opportunities for the citizens trapped in high rises, to meander through that beautifully planned and maintained park.

And so much more, from museums, to the World Financial Center's ongoing performing arts programming, again, free and open to the public, from art installations to live performances. Wherever you look, there's always something that one can enjoy.

And then having the opportunity to reopen The National Hotel's doors, Pete and I knew that we would like to be able to share this passion, this amazing dimension to our lives, by being able to reach out to our local artists to see if anyone would be interested. And boy, how pleasantly this has come full circle--without sending out a media blitz to inform people about our desires, our goal to fill our building with artists. It's our local talent that makes this area so wonderful, so rich, and such a community.

Alex Wolfson and I started talking about Open Mike Nights at The Rathskeller Pub early on after opening the doors to The National Hotel. He definitely made me feel as though this was something doable, something that Frenchtown needed--a place to feel like you can express yourself in the way that only an open forum where you are surrounded by fellow artists and friends, can allow you to feel.

So it started. Very organically. No press releases, no advertisements. Just word of mouth and viral emails. And you came. You shared your love of music, your love of the building, your love of spending an easy night with old friends and new.

And to our wonderful surprise, again organically, others have stepped in to help organize these nights, encourage fellow musicians, many with other day jobs, careers, families, and homes that keep them busy during the hours the sun is out--but they came. We are so fortunate to have so many other wonderful Hunterdon County and Bucks County residents who are dropping by, listening--some came on our first night to listen, and actually took the mike this past Thursday to perform--and some perhaps planning on just what they can do to share their talent with those around them. These nights are for them; these nights are for you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW



What's a little snow? Except today's storm was a big one! It's still coming down, but Pete & Marlon are holding down the fort. Our Bar is open and we've had loads of friends stopping by to warm up, share some stories, and then brave the elements outside once again.

When I look out my window, I can see the wind blowing the snow, twisting and shifting before it has a chance to hit the ground. It's an amazing sight, beautiful to see from inside, and amazing to experience outside, walking & touching the fluffy white substance. My girls and I enjoyed ourselves outside after I was done with work, and even our dog, Pep, got into the action, chasing some snowballs Shiara would throw, only to discover (again and again) that the "ball" had somehow disappeared into the blanketed ground. He didn't stop playing though, until she stopped throwing them.

Driving is another story though. But that's the beauty of Frenchtown, where our neighbors can simply walk over to say "hi," hang out a little bit, meet other friends, and then make their way home on foot. And that's also the beauty of being part of the Delaware River towns, because so many people find it easily accessible to have a short drive from one point or another to The National Hotel in Frenchtown. With the building being at the terminus of Route 12, intersecting with County Route 513, and the start of Route 29, it definitely feels as though we are often at the crossroads of many people's lives.

But be careful out there if you are going to be heading out now; some of the tertiary roads are not yet plowed and it's a bit hazardous. We had a wonderful friend of The National Hotel, who is also an active participant in our Thursday Open Mike Nights at The Rathskeller Pub Lounge, take some beautiful photos (including the ones posted at the top of this blog post), as well as others on her fb page. Really beautiful shots.

The weather reports keep detailing the amount of snow that is yet to fall through the rest of the night. Good thing The National Hotel is a true hotel/B&B, because if Pete can't get home tonight, he has a few guest suites from which to choose right there above the Restaurant & Bar. Better safe than...well, you know the rest.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

THERE'S MUSIC EVERY THURSDAY...HAVE YOU MET THE STAFF AT THE NATIONAL HOTEL?

How about that! I just published a post yesterday & I realize that I am missing half the story. Our Open Mike Nights went off like gang-busters (is that the term??) last week and our 2nd installment is this Thursday beginning at 8:30 p.m. for sign-ups, with the show kicking off at 9 p.m. I know there's going to be a blanketing of snow in our area (or so they've been announcing for days and it started coming down earlier tonight), but instead of staying home and feeling the winter blues, why not come out to Frenchtown and share a musical night in our Rathskeller Pub. You can mingle with others in the Pub while you get a drink and warm up next to our wood-burning fireplace, or meander onto our Lounge area to sit, chat and listen to music. What could be better? Click here if you'd like to contact us via email to sign up or if you have any questions.

On top of that, I also talk so much about the building itself and our wonderful guests, that I think I've neglected telling you about our wonderful staff. I know I've mentioned one name here and there, but really, without the infrastructure in place to have consistently good service, great food and wonderful drinks, where would we be?
So rather than an homage to our own staff, I'll just share some anecdotes as to why our home away from home is so special. Take for instance our executive chef, Ron Rittenhouse. Yes, he has all the credentials that any serious establishment would be proud to publish, but it's his deep devotion to quality, to supporting our local farmers, our local economy, that is an integral part of Ron. When I've been there before the sun comes up working on this press release or trying to put into effect that marketing tactic, I am always pleasantly surprised by Ron's presence before anyone else enters the building. When I see him though, I know I'm cutting it short on getting myself out the door to my other work in NYC...so I run, but it's always a pleasure to see him jump right in, taking care of inventory, prepping for the day, and in general organizing everything for his kitchen staff.
Not long after Ron arrives, Lisa walks through the door...now I know I'm going to be late...should've left 10 minutes ago! But seeing Lisa in action starts my day off just right. First of all, she makes sure the coffee is percolating. Love that! Second, she knows just where to go and what to do to fit right in with Ron; they have a lot of chemistry and compliment each other nicely.

When I return to NJ from a full day away, Lisa is usually gone, and I'm greeted as I walk through the back door of the kitchen, by Zack and Jeff. I have yet to find them in a bad mood. The "hello's" and "how was your day" always await me. They don't get thrown off by me or by my two munchkins who are always in tow, as they come to greet their dad, Pete.

And then there's Marlon, of course. Wonderful Marlon, or "Merlin" as one of our long-time customers calls him, "Merlin, the magician, because he always makes magic here and takes care of everything." Do you have any idea how fantastic it is to hear comments like that? We've only been open since November 3rd of last year. To have people constantly coming up to me and telling me just how great Marlon is, how wonderful Kasey is at the bar, how great Glenn makes the drinks (not to mention his collection of jazz music that he has allowed us to share with all of you, beautifully complementing Marlon's extensive jazz collection), or just how terrific Chris, Kevin, Ryan, Brenda and Bryan are at catering to their every need, is just fantastic.

Oh, and let's not forget The Rathskeller Pub. It just wouldn't be the same without Lynn. Even with a brace on her leg, she managed to work through all that pain, going up and down the stairs to get this or that. She's now working with our newest bartenders, Donna and Tobi, who are proving to be quite the assets to The National Hotel. Just like our clientèle, who enjoy mingling upstairs as well as hanging out downstairs, our bartending staff work the upstairs Bar and the downstairs Rathskeller Pub bar.

On any average day, it's a joy to be around our staff, who seem to enjoy being our ambassadors of good will and courteous service to our clientèle. There's no doubt in my mind that we've got a solid team on board. Having my husband, Pete, at the helm, supported by all these wonderful individuals, who bring their passion for this industry and their love of this historic building each and every day, I am sure we will withstand the ups and downs that go hand-in-hand with the restaurant business.

If there is anything that you'd like us to add, change or review, please feel free to contact us directly at info@thenationalhotelnj.com, or pete@thenationalhotelnj.com. Your feedback is critical to us, so feel free to email us, or post your comments on this blog.

Thank you to all of you who have helped make The National Hotel a welcome spot for our community!

Monday, February 8, 2010

SUPER BOWL SUNDAY IS OVER, BUT THERE'S SO MUCH MORE!


Last night was so much fun! Super Bowl Sunday party at The National Hotel!!! The day had started like any other Sunday and perhaps a little slower than most, because the weather was probably more conducive to people staying at home than venturing out. However, just at around 6 p.m., friends, neighbors, and people we’d yet to meet, started arriving. At one point we had several groups of 15 people coming in at the same time! My husband, Pete, and Marlon, our General Manager, were there to greet everyone and take care of everything. Boy, what would we do without Marlon! He works hand-in-hand with Pete to make sure that nothing is overlooked and that our customers receive the absolute best service possible.

This weekend follows a terrific month of January, where Hunterdon Life Magazine did a feature story about The National Hotel in their January issue, even doing a story about Super Bowl Sunday dishes where our executive chef, Ron Rittenhouse, was one of the featured chefs. They captured him “in action” creating his delicious signature empanadas in our kitchen, and took photos of The National Hotel and of Pete too.


I didn't blog for a few weeks at the end of 2009, for many reasons. Mainly, we were so busy with the end-of-year activities, that all our energy was directed towards making sure we exceeded our customers' expectations and on updating our e-presence. Add to that being a parent, that blogging took a backseat for a few weeks. But having blogged recently, it felt cathartic! So here I go again.

We've shared with you on another occasion that we discovered beautifully preserved pumpkin pine floors in our lobby area and in other areas of our establishment. Well, on New Year's Eve, I had several--not just one or two--guests, ask me if they could go to the lobby area to see the floors. Well of course! Why not, we want to share every little piece of The National Hotel with everyone.

Anyone who has asked to see a room, to see the ones with the large jacuzzi tubs, to see the porches or the very private and separate Rm. 207 Loft Suite, we've gladly accommodated.

The pumpkin pine floors have become a definite draw--we don't know whether it's the story of how we found them under two layers of wood flooring and a dilapidated wall-to-wall carpeting that needed to be changed--but people keep asking, and we're thrilled to share!

Even the other day, we had the pleasure of having an interesting conversation with someone from Flemington who asked us, "You did a great job restoring this great old building, but I'm from Flemington. Why didn't you save our Union Hotel?" She walked around our lobby area, admiring the pumpkin pine floors. We told her that those floors were a real discovery for us.

After pulling up a corner of the carpet, we didn't find anything but plywood and we were incredibly disappointed. But then, when the day came to replace the carpeting, one layer came up, then another layer, and still a third--and that's when Pete sent me a text with a photo attached of the beautiful and well-preserved floors that he'd uncovered! Wow!!!

Thanks Pete for persevering and not just dropping new carpeting on top of the plywood. Another bit of "news" is that just a couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting one of the people responsible for doing the renovations after the 1984 accident when a truck lost its brakes and came crashing through the front of the building. He confirmed that he did not do any work on the pumpkin pine floors at all. The front door had to be renovated as did other areas of the building, but not the lobby, which confirms our assertion that the floors are the original deal!

Does anyone have any knowledge as to whether the lobby area was always carpeted or somehow had the floors preserved? It looks like no one ever really set foot on them. We are so fortunate...I say that a lot, don't I???

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

THURSDAYS AND SUNDAYS JUST GOT BETTER!

I am so impressed by all that my husband, Pete, has been able to accomplish. You might think that it's a very subjective view given that he's my husband, but truly, every day he manages to push through the daily grind to find the beauty in The National Hotel. While I'm in NYC working at a local non-profit and spending my evenings with our two beautiful daughters, he is working towards creating a truly special atmosphere, a welcoming environment, and a destination for all who want to feel like they are a part of something unique, all through The National Hotel. It's a joy to witness, and an even greater joy to be able to share this through our blog, marketing, communications, and outreach efforts.

Tonight was just full of exciting prospects. Our Thursdays will kick off our Open Mike sessions beginning on Thursday, February 4th!!! Sign-ups start at 8:30 p.m. and the show jump starts at 9 p.m. downstairs in The Rathskeller Pub. Click here to get contact information to let us know if you're interested in participating!

And, Sundays truly got better! Not only will we feature local artists in our Rathskeller Pub Lounge, but we will also be the proud hosts of an open mike session for writers and poets. Wait...that's not all. Pete has also secured other entertainers, who will just wow you. And everything is done through our local artists, our local talent! I'm going to leave those details to my next post, because I don't want to gush all over this page.

Super Bowl Sunday is on the 7th, so we'll save our next performer, Teri Rambo, for the 14th. Please join us in the Rathskeller Pub Lounge, on February 14th, from 3 p.m. - 6 p.m. Teri is an Indie/Folk musician who has written her own music. We hope you'll make the time to share this special upcoming afternoon with us. Mark your calendars!

I do think it's important to recognize how fortunate we were to be able to feature a truly special Sunday afternoon on January 24th. We were treated to the performance of Dennis Thatcher ("Den"), and after the 1st hour or so, he was joined by two lovely ladies who accompanied him with beautiful voices, rhythm and talent.


Den played classic cover rock, and was able to entertain one and all. Even our youngest daughter, Laina, who is a Beatles' fan, was able to request a song from Den. He captured all of our attention, even drawing some of our staff from the upstairs Bar, downstairs to The Rathskeller Pub Lounge, to listen to his music. We were all transfixed by his music, and by his stories. He told some pretty funny tales about growing up in Frenchtown and the different people from town who helped shape his life.


It truly was a fun, relaxed and enjoyable afternoon. I even had the pleasure of having 2 assistants: Laina, as the new videographer, taking turns with Shiara, our oldest daughter, as an additional photographer! And to add to this wealth of involved people, I received an email from one of our very first supporters, Alana Balogh, who helped spread the word about Den! She took it upon herself to email her friends about our Sunday program. This is after all she did a couple of months ago, when she single-handedly contacted musicians in the area to let them know that The National Hotel was hoping to feature live music in the near future. We received such an incredible response from musicians who were interested in performing, that we will always be grateful for her interest and for her continued support. The National Hotel has truly allowed us to meet wonderful people, who continue to give of themselves, and to show us an immense trust in our ability to ensure that The National Hotel surges forward even in this recovering economy. Thank you to all our friends, new and old.

We hope you had the opportunity to join us, but if you didn't, click on the webclip below to get a sampling of the music Den played.

We hope that you'll come and support our local artists and send us your feedback if you'd like to see us reach out to other musicians, or have a particular one in mind. You can also email us at info@thenationalhotelnj.com if you'd like reach us directly rather than on this public forum.

See you on the 14th to welcome Teri Rambo!

video