Making Soulful Music and Specialty Coffee in Kingston
A lyrical couple crafts good tunes and signature coffee in a hip riverside cafe.
Photos by Joan Vos MacDonald
As core members of the band The Hipstones, Mark Palmer and Anthea White have made music together for years. These days they’re also making coffee in midtown Kingston.
The Australian musicians, who have been described as “soul music visionaries,” recently opened Village Coffee and Goods on Railroad Avenue. At the sunny cafe, the couple cooks up breakfast and lunch and also sells commodities such as specialty coffee, honey, and maple syrup. Palmer and White moved to the U.S. in 2009, first settling in Manhattan, then Williamsburg, then Kingston two years ago.
“We migrated up here somehow,” says White. “We had a son and wanted him to be able to experience nature, some greenery, some grass. We wanted to have a yard, just a bit more outdoor space, so we bought a place up here, not expecting to live here, but we just never left. We met so many amazing people. It just felt right.”
Although Kingston fit their needs for greenery and a sense of community, the couple was particular about their coffee. Before moving north, Palmer worked as a barista for Toby’s Estate Coffee in Brooklyn.
“There wasn’t really anywhere to get the type of coffee that we love,” says White. “We thought, let’s just create something. Mark has been a barista for a long time and he’s an amazing cook and we thought, let’s try it.”
The cafe’s space, formerly a barber shop and taxi service center, seemed ideal, but since midtown Kingston experienced an exodus of businesses over previous decades, the couple heard concerns about the location. Fortunately, the location worked out just fine. The cafe had customers from day one.
“I think there is still that stigma, especially among longtime Kingston residents, but we haven’t seen it. It seems to be a real destination spot for people. They keep coming.”
The cafe serves an evolving menu that includes omelets and frittatas made with farm-fresh eggs and locally harvested vegetables, as well as a quinoa bowl and salad.
“We change the menu depending on what fresh produce we can get.”
White is happy the space also helps encourage a sense of community.
“We wanted a space where people could just come and meet and bump into each other and feel comfortable, not intimidated, and, at the same time, get really, really good coffee and some amazing food. I feel like we achieved that. We want there to be connections.”
Since launching the cafe, the balance between making music and coffee has been a little lopsided, but hopefully that will change. The couple hopes to stage live music in the cafe back room, which can also be rented for events and meetings. They moved a piano from home into the back room because they plan to perform there and invite other musicians.
“There’s so many amazing musicians in and around town.”
Palmer and White first met because they had the same vocal teacher. They sang together in the vocal ensemble Jubilation for years before becoming a couple and making their first album as The Hipstones in 2004. In the past they played with between five and 10 rotating ensemble members, but these days they tend to perform as a duo, with Palmer on the analog drum machine and singing through a vocoder while White plays synth bass and sings.
While their music has been described as soul, White would not call it “classic” soul, since their influences range from Aretha Franklin to Etta James to Chet Baker and a few new Australian bands.
“We have a bit of a jazz background, inspired by all the influences that we love, which are very soul and R&B based and then we just create music that is what it is. You have to listen to it.”
About once a year the couple also travels to Japan, where they once lived for six months, to perform a few gigs.
The cafe is open every day, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends.