Thursday, February 7, 2013

Never Underestimate the Power of the Chihuahua: Lost Dog Cafe

We all have them.  Our good luck charms; whether they're four-leaf clovers, rabbits' feet or right-side up horseshoes.  A recent Internet search of good luck charms produced a wide array of allegedly lucky animals.  However, no where in the search results was there mention of the Chihuahua.

We are sure that is not going to change the minds of business partners, Marie McKenna and Elizabeth ("Liz") Hughes, owners of the Lost Dog Cafe.

Back "in the day", they were in an all-female band called The Derangelles in NYC; playing such iconic clubs such as CBGB, The Bitter End and Speakeasy.  To make ends meet, these young Binghamton natives began working in restaurants; Liz starting out as a prep cook and Marie as a waitress.  With hard work, determination and, in Marie's case some understanding restaurant owners, they both became accomplished as a chef and "master of hospitality"; respectively.  In Marie's case, it is a long story; but suffice it to say we are grateful that she has mastered the art of opening a wine bottle.

Both women soon developed a strong love of cafes and what they came to represent during more than a decade living in NYC.  Cafes were places to meet up with friends; celebrating great moments; or simply places to go when they were bored.

Eventually the two moved back to their hometown of Binghamton.  They quickly discovered there was not a place with that comfortable, cafe-like feel.  Not to be deterred  the two; along with Carla Bruce and Ravi Prakash who believed in their vision, set off on what was to be long, hard and rewarding journey for all.  

On October 24, 1994 in an old garage on Main Street in Binghamton, Marie and Liz opened the doors to the Lost Dog Cafe for the very first time.  

Now, this is where the Chihuahua comes in.  Liz had a 2 1/2 pound Chihuahua named Clarese who had a habit of getting lost during some of Liz's previous visits to Binghamton.  Clarese would be missing any where from a few hours to several weeks; each time showing up where she belonged.  Marie and Liz both took this as an omen and sign of good luck; hence, the name - Lost Dog Cafe.

Opening night was a success.  In that old garage, there were over 200 people sitting at tables, on the floor and on couches; a majority of whom simply gravitated toward the hub of activity on an otherwise darkened thoroughfare.  Their popularity continued to grow.

In April, 1997 the Lost Dog Cafe moved to the old cigar factory building on Water Street.  They were morphing from a simple cafe into a real restaurant.  There weren't many restaurants downtown at the time and they wanted to create a place where bands could perform, art could be hung and more customers could be served.  They were able to strike the perfect balance between the small bohemian cafe from that old garage into a larger, more spacious restaurant with a full bar.

When the Binghamton area was hit with two catastrophic floods, Marie, Liz and their entire staff pitched in to help out those directly affected.   Not only were they able to maintain an even keel during those events; when the restaurant was directly affected by a catastrophic water main break in the space above, Marie, Liz and their entire staff brought the Lost Dog Cafe back without skipping a beat.  Never once during any of these events, was the image of the Chihuahua out of sight.  

Most recently, they opened the Lost Dog Cocktail Lounge expanding into a newly vacated adjacent space which affords them the opportunity to showcase both local and visiting musicians while providing a welcoming, relaxing atmosphere for their customers.

The ever present image of the Chihuahua continues to look down on the daily and nightly goings on in both spaces.  It makes one wonder why anyone would underestimate the power of the Chihuahua.  We know Marie and Liz never have.

Lost Dog Cafe / Lost Dog Cocktail Lounge, 222 Water Street, Binghamton NY 
Facebook page links:  Lost Dog Cafe    Lost Dog Cocktail Lounge

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