08/12/2011 05:04 pm ET Updated Oct 12, 2011

Hudson Valley Pop-Up: When 5&10 Comes to Town

There are plenty of good reasons to quit the city for a small town. Some folks prefer the rural tranquility. Others want to raise their kids around character-building natural hazards, like prickers, poison ivy, and the blinding sap of the Giant Hogweed. Gastronome and mixologist Max Watman moved from New York City to Cold Spring, New York--an hour north by MTA, one and a half on the Palisades--in 2005, seeing in it an ideal place to raise a child, chickens, and a whiskey still. By 2011, something was missing: restaurants he hadn't been to a hundred times.

For Max, familiarity has bred not contempt but a wistfulness for the variety of urban life. Of course, as a food-and-drink writer, who was recently a panelist at the week-long saturnalia that is New Orleans's Tales of the Cocktail, Max suffers the culinary déjà vu less acutely than some of his neighbors. So Max and Cold Spring native Bekah Tighe, a professional baker, decided to treat their town to a new, suitably protean eatery, the 5&10 Pop-Up.

For the benefit of those who take their meals at the microwave, a pop-up is a temporary restaurant, a fine-dining Brigadoon that appears in some unusual location for a one-night-only engagement. Max and Beckah's 5&10, named for its five-dollar cocktails and ten-dollar small plates, took over a Cold Spring pub on July 28.

McGuire's on Main is small, dark, and old-school, with embossed tin ceiling panels and a bar polished to a high sheen by innumerable elbows. A POW-MIA flag hangs above Ms. Pac-Man, and there are a jukebox, a dartboard, and a pool table. BE GOOD OR BE GONE, warns a sign. Another instructs patrons to POG MO THOIN. Doing a pop-up in a place like McGuire's solves a perennial problem: how to sample sophisticated cocktails and haute cuisine without leaving the sheltering bosom of a place like McGuire's.

It was packed by quarter after six. Max, his wife Rachael, and a couple of sweat-varnished auxiliary bartenders were shaking up cocktails just fast enough to meet demand.

There were a number of Watman originals on the menu. The Cin and Smoke, made with tequila, lime, agave nectar, and a homemade chipotle-cinnamon bitters, is destined for the canon, with its fine-tuned play of citrus and sweetness, capsaicin and smoke. (Max built it around mezcal, he says--just not for five bucks a glass.) Spiciness reared its head again in the Bourbon Snap, in the form of homemade ginger syrup. The Strawberry Rhubarb Fizz, an ice-cold gulp of lime, homemade strawberry vodka, and rhubarb bitters, was a more delicate affair, a nice breather between rounds of harder stuff.

Then again, most people were buying drinks two or three at a time, so "breather" might not be the right word.

Even the "Core Curriculum," as the menu put it, was Advanced Placement: a Manhattan with Punt e Mes substituted for drab old Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth; a crisp Martini with gin, Lillet, orange bitters, and a lemon twist; and the "Taconics," gin and rum tonics with homemade tonic syrup. A high note: Remember the Maine, the Charles H. Baxter classic, with rye, sweet vermouth, American Fruits Sour Cherry, and Herbsaint.

What to eat with tipple this fancy--and potent? It's got to be urbane without being a portion-controlled bummer. Max and Bekah's menu improves on bar food in ways both obligatory and unexpected. Crispy wings in South Asian sweet-and-spicy sauce? Nobody will argue with that. Strips of tripe slow-cooked in milk, garlic, and thyme, then fried and served with mignonette? People might argue with that, until they've tried it, after which they'll never want mozzarella sticks or calamari ever again. Bars that serve pickled eggs are an endangered species, but the 5&10 served coffee-and-stout pickled eggs, with pickled sausage, beets, and carrots.

The main-course plates were mostly surf-and-turf: hangar steak with chopped onion and mint; garlic and herb grilled shrimp; and a comely octopus and olive salad. The surprising standout, though, was a plate of gnocchi with local mushrooms and tarragon. Not only was it delicious, but it also raised the question, "Why isn't this on more late-night menus?" Pure carbs--without the stigma of a Hot Pockets SideShot.

Will the 5&10 be a regular occurrence in the Hudson Valley? Probably. Time will tell. The trick, paradoxically, might be to keep it more of a secret, like the spectral game of nine-pins in "Rip Van Winkle." Big, sweaty crowds can be fun, but it's hard to get up the nerve to order over and over again when you're afraid the waitresses might drop dead of overwork and heat exhaustion. The good news is, the 5&10 proves that pop-up restaurants, far from being just another culinary fad, can help food lovers escape the monotony of small-town dining. As Max puts it, "For the audience--and that's kind of what it feels like, a performance--it offers up something new and special. That's the challenge, too. This started as something I thought we could do for our friends. It quickly became something like a dare--we didn't know if we could make it work. Can we open a restaurant for one night?"

Clearly. Now, the Hudson Valley wants to know--how about one night a week?

All photos by Stefan Beck