The owners of Helsinki Hudson have a goal: to bring the community of Hudson together through food and music. And after only two and a half years, they say they're pretty happy with their progress.
The club moved to Hudson about two years ago after 15 years in Great Barrington. Owners Deborah McDowell and Marc Schafler say they wanted a bigger space that they could own themselves, and a spot closer to Shafler's home in Columbia County.
"But we also really wanted to be an integral part of the change in Hudson and help in their renewal," says McDowell.
"Let me tell you something," Schafler, "Hudson is happening."
So what exactly do they see happening in Hudson?
As McDowell and Schafler restored their 19th century former industrial building over the last five years, they say they've watched Hudson evolve significantly -- new restaurants, new businesses, new crowds.
McDowell explains: "You definitely see a change here. There are a lot more musicians here, for sure. It's an appealing town, you don't need a car really, the river is splendid, and a lot of people are moving here and they're coming to work on the town."
"It's a community that's growing in all directions," adds Schafler. "It comes from a lot of ingredients. It's less than two hours away from Manhattan, it's affordable, it's got beautiful architecture and the Hudson River Valley has always drawn artisans."
But, most importantly, they say it's a town that's willing to try something new.
"Here there's a great desire for people to do things differently. They want to get outside the whole 'box-store' mentality and have a more hands-on approach to the social and economic factors. They're pioneers," says Schafler.
The original Club Helsinki was named after the Hotel Helsinki in Finland, where McDowell's grandfather worked. After being raised in a family of artists, musicians, and playwrights, McDowell says she realized her life should always be in theater. So she paired up with Schafler, a builder and designer, to make Helsinki a reality in Great Barrington. With the move to Hudson, their team has expanded to include Cameron Melville, a musician, and chef Hugh Horner.
All week long
Today, Helsinki Hudson has something going on almost every night of the week. McDowell and Schafler say they're not just a concert venue or a restaurant, they're also a sort of community center. Instead of only scheduling shows for the weekend crowd, they also host events during the week, like open mics and shows by local bands. They also host dance lessons, hula hoop classes, marching band practices, parties, weddings, fundraisers, and even a children's summer music camp. Sometimes all in one night. If there's a dance lesson upstairs, a packed restaurant, and a concert going on in one night, they call that "the trifecta."
"It doesn't feel like a job, it feels like a mission. People need to be together instead of in front of a television by themselves. We want to be a place where people can come and work out their creativity, where people can get together and be joyful," says McDowell. "I just feel really indebted to the town of Hudson for embracing us."
A draw -- for performers
Along with those hoop classes and open mics, Helsinki Hudson has also managed to book a series a good shows from national performers. Among the many acts that have come through the club this year: Wye Oak, Sharon Van Etten, The Magnetic Fields, the Antlers, Thurston Moore, Joseph Arthur, and Steve Earle.
McDowell and Schafler say relationships and contacts formed over their 17 years in the business have helped them book good shows. And McDowell says the club has at least one other advantage: its food.
"We've been doing this for a long time and one thing the artists love is the great food. Sharon Jones spent a huge amount of time in the kitchen, just trying things out and talking to the chef. On the road, artists don't get to eat very good food and it's really rare for a venue to have first class cuisine, so our menu is definitely a draw."
"Good food and good music will bring people of all equations together," says Schafler, "and that's how you build community. "
And that's what the duo says they're ultimately trying to do: to help lift the community they've become a part of.
"Hudson is going to continue on the path that its on now," says Schafler, "more creative people are finding this a place to hang their hat. Because it's an affordable, creative and productive community that makes them feel like a part of something. It feels like a small town, but with a lot of creativity."
photos courtesy of Helsinki Hudson / Will Chilton
405 Columbia Street
Hudson, NY 12534
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