Uncle Cheef brings New York City-style live music to Brewster
Walking into Uncle Cheef, the new live music lounge in Brewster, one could be forgiven for thinking they had somehow teleported from a red brick building along Route 22 to an exclusive jazz club in downtown Manhattan. The space is all mood, with dark walls, low lighting and brass fixtures. Holding pride of place onstage is a Hammond organ, a legendary instrument whose sound appears on hundreds and hundreds of records.
Uncle Cheef, while once a figment of owner Ian Hendrickson-Smith’s imagination, is, in fact, the real deal. Opened at the site of the former Bull & Barrel restaurant on Route 22 in Brewster, the music venue is the product of Hendrickson-Smith and wife Jenny Larisey’s combined decades of experience performing in, visiting and/or managing some of the world’s most well-regarded jazz clubs. The venue aims to bring New York City-quality live music to Putnam County.
Hendrickson-Smith, 47, and Larisey, 43, are more than qualified to be the ones to bring jazz to this area. For the past ten years, Hendrickson-Smith has been performing with The Roots, the official house band on The Tonight Show. Before that, he spent two decades traveling around the world touring (he toured with the late Amy Winehouse), performing and recording music, including as a member of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. He and Larisey met while she was managing The Cellar, Vancouver’s original underground jazz club.
Opening up a live music venue has been a long-time dream of Hendrickson-Smith’s. Before Larisey moved to New York, he was making moves to open a venue in Brooklyn called The Roost. Then, The Tonight Show called. “So I put those plans on hold,” Hendrickson-Smith said.
During the pandemic, with more time to think and dream, the idea of opening up a music venue resurfaced. By this time, Hendrickson-Smith and Larisey had moved out of New York City and were living in Brewster. “We love this area. We love where we live, we love our neighbors. We decided to set up shop here; we thought this location was great, right in the center of things.”
Over the course of several months, construction crews transformed what had been the upstairs space at Bull and Barrel into a space wholly in service of sound. “The shape of the room made me think it could be successful,” Hendrickson-Smith said, gesturing to the cathedral ceiling. “The natural acoustic properties of the room were thrilling.” The couple took it several steps further in order to create the highest quality sound experience, adding insulation to the poles that the room’s lights are hung from, building a floating stage–a stage that sits on rubber–adding sound baffles to all the pictures that hang on the walls and stuffing the table vases with bubble wrap.
“The whole room has been curated to adapt to the sound,” Larisey said.
Hendrickson-Smith and Larisey knew that in order to build a successful venue, they needed to create a place that people would crave as much for its music as for its food and drink. To accompany craft cocktails from the bar, the tapas-style food menu includes various cheeses and charcuterie, house-marinated olives, Mediterranean dips and spiced, warm nuts. Diners can also choose from tater tots with poutine gravy (a nod to Larisey’s Canadian roots), red beans & rice (a recipe from Hendrickson-Smith’s Louisiana family), pressed sandwiches & sliders, salads and a small dessert menu.
From the menu to the handmade tables, bar shelves and concrete bar top, all made by Hendrickson-Smith and Larisey, along with friends, everything about Uncle Cheef is a hands-on labor of love. For those seeking to experience New York City-style jazz, blues soul, and funk music without leaving northern Westchester/Putnam, Uncle Cheef looks hard to beat.