Sometimes one sets out to do one thing and ends up with something all together different. Circumstances, life, fate and maybe a little magic step in and deliver something unexpected, yet totally fun and delightful. Such has been the case for us, Marie McKenna and Elizabeth Hughes, and our place called Lost Dog Café.
Once upon a time we were in an all-female band in NYC. The band was called The Derangelles (yes, deranged angels). We had grown up in Binghamton, N.Y. and moved to Park Slope, Brooklyn with two sisters we met who attended Binghamton University. Our goal was to pursue our lifelong dream of creating music. We played at the now defunct CBGB’s, The Bitter End and Speakeasy. In the meantime, in order to pay for studio rehearsal time and rent, we worked in restaurants in NYC. Liz started as a prep cook, moved up to sauté and before long had mastered many aspects of the fine art of cooking. Marie had virtually no waitressing skills but managed to get her first job at an Italian restaurant on 34th St. Though it was obvious that she didn’t know how to open a bottle of wine with a tableside corkscrew, the owners let her stay, probably because of her natural instincts for hospitality and making people comfortable.
Thus began a life-long love of cafes. We had many favorite haunts in the East & West Village of NYC like Café Orlin, Yaffa Café, Florent, Kiev, Odessa, Pyramid Club, King Tut’s WaWa Hut, Holiday, and Downtown Beirut. Where did we go to celebrate great moments of our lives? To a café. Where did we meet up with friends? In a café. Where did we go when we were bored? To a café!
After over a decade in NYC, we decided to move back to our hometown of Binghamton, NY. Liz noticed that there weren’t any places in town with that comfy, “café” feeling. She suggested we open a place of our own and bring something from all the great spots we loved in the city. In our planning stages we learned that Carla Bruce & Ravi Prakash were interested in our pipedream, and the four of us decided to set off on this journey together.
Lost Dog Café opened in an old garage on Main Street in Binghamton on October 24, 1994. It was named after Liz’s wayward 2 ½ lb. Chihuahua Clarese who had gotten lost on some of Liz’s visits to Binghamton. Clarese always turned up even if each disappearance lasted for weeks at a time, which we decided was a good omen. Our goal was to create a comfortable, unassuming place where people could hang out, eat good food and drink great coffee. On opening night there were over 200 people sitting at tables, on the floor, on couches…some of whom had gotten word that we opened from an interview on WHRW at Binghamton University, others who had naturally gravitated towards the hub of light and activity. We’ll never forget the endless cappuccinos we made that evening while Patti Smith’s “Gloria” blasted in the background. We, with the help of our friends, family (including Marie’s children Carson then age 6 and Farrell, age 4) and staff (who were really more like friends) managed to create a place that was special. It was more than food, more than coffee, more than music…it was a great place, and it was our own.
Lost Dog Café moved to a much larger space in and old cigar factory on Water Street in April 1997. At the time, there weren’t many restaurants downtown and we had a tough time getting financing for our vision. We wanted more space so that bands could perform, art could be hung and we could accommodate more customers. This meant that we were turning into a real restaurant. We had to strike the balance between the small, bohemian café that we started as into the larger, more spacious restaurant with a full bar.
We’re now in our 18th year and there have been many changes along the way. Carla and Ravi moved on, a deer crashed through our window in 2008 and we were flooded in 2010 which closed us for 7 weeks. We can honestly say we’ve enjoyed just about every moment of being at Lost Dog Café. We love the people we’ve met, the friendships we’ve made, the talented & creative individuals who have worked here over the years and became friends, the artists, musicians, poets, writers, activists and speakers who have shared their talents and ideas . We love feeding people and making them happy, giving everyone a home away from home. So if you’re ever “lost” in Binghamton, you know where to find us.
Marie McKenna & Elizabeth Hughes