ITHACA, N.Y. — The ever-evolving downtown retail scene continues to churn. While local residents are disappointed by the impending loss of McNeil Music and Now You’re Cooking, new entrants such as Escape Ithaca, women’s boutique store Willow, and Cayuga Coins are opening their doors.

Two other established are due to follow in short course – the Watershed bar in the former Rumble Seat Music Building at 121 West State/MLK Jr. Street, and a Hawaiian poke restaurant in the former Standard Art Supply space at 308 East Seneca Street, a couple of blocks from the Commons.

The Watershed is intended to serve as a low-key social space – more of a coffee and tea shop during the day, but a focus on specialty drinks and cocktails at night. But, while it plans to be open until 1 AM, the goal isn’t to be a party space; the bar is aiming for a “conversational” ambience, the type of place where patron of State Theatre might meet up for drinks after a show, rather than college kids cruising for half-off Thursday drinks.

Also worth noting, just like the community it will open to, it’s going to have a progressive vibe – staff will make a living wage, waste materials will be recycled and composted, and many of the drinks and drink materials are locally sourced.  The bar has its grand opening planned for Saturday December 17th at 12 PM (ed. note – the previously-reported Thursday 12/15 opening is invite-only), and a preview of the drink menu can be found on their website here.

Meanwhile, over at 308 East Seneca Street, interior renovations are underway to welcome another restaurant into Ithaca’s burgeoning culinary scene. According to the construction crew on site, the plan is to open a Hawaii poke restaurant early next year. A call was placed with the contractor and the architect in an effort to reach out to the business owner, but neither returned a call in time for publication.

Even in Ithaca’s wide spectrum of options for dining out, a Hawaiian restaurant would be a new concept. As explained by one of the construction crew, “poke” (poh-kay) is Hawaiian for “to slice, cut or shear”. A search online shows that traditional Hawaiian poke consists of various forms of chopped, raw seafood dishes, that can be paired with soy sauces, chili peppers, onions and traditional spices. The Los Angeles Times and New York’s the Gothamist are noting a huge surge in its popularity, and it seems the trend is now arriving in Ithaca’s more remote if still worldly corner of the globe.

If we get a specific opening date on the Hawaiian restaurant, we’ll update.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at