All That Jazz & More at Zen Dog Café in Rhinebeck
Zen Dog Café, which opened in Rhinebeck three months ago, is astonishingly eclectic. Located in an old house on Route 9 just a stone’s throw from the Beekman Arms, Zen Dog is a crazy quilt of rooms that are home to a bar, café, bookstore, jazz club, gift shop, art gallery and several lounges. Walking in is a bit like falling into the proverbial rabbit hole, for it’s not quite like anyplace else you’ve ever been before. “It’s really hard to explain,” says owner D J Kadagian. “But it’s nothing you expect.”
The enigmatic Kadagian is a materialist turned idealist. Growing up in Westport, CT, he felt “broke” compared to his wealthy friends and after attending Cornell’s Hotel School he opted out of low-paying
restaurant work to go into finance. “I started at Shearson Lehman in 1987, the week the stock market crashed,” he recalls. Eventually, he opened his own investment firm and developed a proprietary trading software but he found material success unfulfilling. He briefly enrolled at Yale Divinity School but dropped out when he realized he did not have the patience to study for exams and write papers. “I had learned so much about spirituality from Bill Moyers’ series on Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, so I decided to start making documentary films myself. I could interview the people who moved me and who I thought would move other people.” Kadagian had success with his initial series of movies called Crisis of Faith, which did the film festival circuit. “The movies have been shown on PBS and the Hallmark and Discovery channels. I thought I was going to be the next fill-in-the-blank big director,” he says sheepishly.
It was through filmmaking that he discovered Rhinebeck. “My wife had been to Omega a bunch of times, and I went there to interview Sam Keen and Huston Smith, who was teaching there and who is one of the two truly holy people I have met in my life,” he says. “We stayed at the Beekman and fell in love with the town. People were sitting outside at cafes—it felt like Europe. And then we went driving around and saw the landscape and we were blown away. It’s a much different vibe than Fairfield County.”
He approached creating Zen Dog the same way he made movies. “I don’t think linearly,” he explains. “When you are editing a film, it’s a little like assembling a puzzle. And though my movies are based on interviews, they are driven by music and so is the restaurant.” The music that drives Zen Dog is Brazilian and West Coast Jazz. “It’s the music of the 1950s and 1960s,” he explains. “You hear it with your heart, not your head. It’s the music of Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker and Art Pepper who is my all-time favorite. We have jazz every Thursday night and we’ll be adding a second night soon. It’s not easy to find artists who play this music well.” The café has a vintage Mason & Hamlin baby grand piano that is a lure for musicians. “Most guys are used to playing now on an electronic keyboard, but we try to keep everything acoustic here.”
Not surprisingly, the menu is eclectic, and it’s designed for improvisational meals. There are $5 tapas (roasted pork belly buns, prosciutto-wrapped figs, shrimp spring rolls), $12 charcuterie plates (with cheese, pâté and cured meats), $9 sandwiches (roast beef with tomato tapenade and garlic aioli, ham with camembert and quince jam), and a few hearty entrees in the evening such as the Shepherd’s Pie and lamb tagine. “I am really proud of our pizzas,” says Kadagian, citing the ten-inch Mumbai Pie ($13) as his favorite; it has a spicy Indian-inspired tomato sauce, roasted squash and Panir-style cheese.
Zen Dog is unapologetically “alternative,” which is symbolized by the electric car chargers in the parking lot. “I think we may be the first private business to have them in New York, ” says Kadagian who’s pleased that Zen Dog feels like a community hub. “It’s a place where you can start a conversation with a stranger, or grab a book and start reading,” he says. “The whole point is that it’s a place to hang out.”
Zen Dog Café
6367 Route 9, Rhinebeck; 845.516.4501
Wednesday - Thursday 10:30 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Friday - Saturday 10:30 a.m. - midnight
Sunday 10:30 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Closed Monday & Tuesday during the winter
Live Jazz Every Thursday 7 - 10 p.m.
Wine Tasting Every 2nd Wednesday 6 - 7 p.m.
Art Opening Every 3rd Saturday 5 - 8 p.m.