Joyous Lake, Ron Merians’s fabled Woodstock bar, earned its place in music history by allowing locals and rock stars to mix in a heady blend of intimacy and decadence. Now, almost 15 years after its doors closed, sisters Betty and Doris Choi are breathing life into the Mill Hill Road icon. By opening Silvia, a vegetable-centric (but meat-friendly) restaurant and lounge, the Chois are introducing their own spin on intimacy and decadence, and bringing a sense of community back to the rock ’n’ roll landmark.
In 1971, Joyous Lake opened as a macrobiotic restaurant, but it soon evolved into a legendary dive bar. Arena headliners like The Rolling Stones, Phish and Muddy Waters dropped by between East Coast gigs to play on nights that regularly shook the small building on its foundations. Joyous Lake was remarkable in the Era of the Rock Star; its stage was neither raised nor set back from the audience. The stars stood among the crowd, and everyone—musicians, staff and patrons—rocked out as one.
In 2003, “The Lake,” as it is affectionately called, was finally shuttered after years of sex and drug scandals. But, despite its louche reputation, locals have precious memories of The Lake’s populist fun.
Living in Woodstock for more than 10 years and regularly driving by the abandoned Joyous Lake property, the Choi sisters decided to put their operational and culinary skills together and return the building to its former glory.
“We wanted to have a place where people could come and gather, which I think pays tribute to the history of this place,” says Betty.
In The Lake’s honor, Silvia features an open kitchen, which allows diners to interact with the cooks and see how their dishes are prepared. The Chois created three distinct dining areas within the space: a light, airy indoor dining room; a darker, cozy bar; and a completely refurbished outdoor deck. From counter seats, diners can watch flatbreads bake on hot coals, while vegetables—say, shishito peppers or kuri squash—roast over wood. Drawing on her experience in plant-based and raw cuisines, Doris, the restaurant’s chef, carefully sources each ingredient in her kitchen. She buys from local artisans and growers like Ironwood Farms in Ghent, and Choi makes just about everything in-house—and that includes fermenting her own miso, gochujang and kimchi. Silvia’s kitchen also reaches into the bar: Look for beet, cinnamon and preserved lemons to show up in your drink.
The sisters remain dedicated to the welcoming vibe of the place. “We wanted to create a celebratory atmosphere with an open kitchen and a wood-fired grill,” says Doris. “These draw people in and make them feel like they’re a part of something, like they’re participating.”
This story was originally published in March of 2018.