Everyone (even the most fervent believer in the infallablility of Ithaca, the proud owner of three different colors of Ithaca is Gorges shirts, the cold weather enthusiast who just adores frostbite) sooner or later gets itchy feet. It’s time to leave Ithaca for a few hours, to be somewhere the clocktower doesn’t loom so menacingly from every vantage point. If farmland isn’t your particular thing and you’ve bought all the J Crew you can carry from the Carrousel Mall, there are still a few places you can scope out, provided you have a car or know someone who does. One such place is Trumansburg: 20 minutes up Route 96 North. And the best place to start your new adventure into Trumansburg is the Rongovian Embassy to the USA. It’s probably the top place to get away from Ithaca without leaving the non-student Ithaca atmosphere behind.
The Rongo is a restaurant and live music venue that’s been in business, despite a few changes in management, since before your parents were enjoying their 20s. One such change took place recently, and the embassy celebrated last Friday with a solid line up of just about every local I-Town Records-esque band one could imagine: Jennie Stearns; Mary Lorson; Boy with a Fish; Plastic Nebraska, etc. The names you see all over town. The re-opening show seemed like a good enough reason to hop in the car, so we did.
Trumansburg is an interesting mix of hippie and hick, probably even more so than Ithaca itself, and the Rongo seems to exemplify that curious mix quite well. Whereas Ithaca has had the steady influx of yuppie students increase the population of German cars and polo shirts, T-burg is one-step removed. There you’ll find farmers in diners and a run down P&C, but you’ll also see signs for yoga centers and the fairgrounds where the Grassroots Festival is annually held.
Right in the center of town is the Rongo, the only existing embassy for the fictitious country of Rongovia, whose national cuisine is apparently Mexican-American. Whimsicality aside, the restaurant has a good choice of appetizers, burritos, etc., all with vegetarian options. You can get tofu with anything, which may as well be the Ithaca area’s motto. On the down side, there is no complimentary basket of tortilla chips, as one might assume. Apparently that’s not how they do things in Rongovia. This may not seem like a big deal, but it does make for a somewhat awkward situation when you find out the chips sitting in front of your friend — the ones you’ve been shoving in your mouth like the starving college student you are — were ordered while you went to the bathroom and technically aren’t yours.
As for the atmosphere, the walls are cluttered with local artists, a giant map of Rongovia, and other pieces of art — the rare kind you stumble across at a flea market, but are truly interesting. There are two unobtrusive stage areas with good lighting, and the space boasts quite nice acoustics, especially for mellower folk-country like, for example, Jennie Stearns. The place feels almost like it was hollowed out of giant a tree trunk, but not in a log cabin kind of way. The crowd is mostly post-college age, although there were a few little kiddos running around. It’s a genuinely warm ambiance that’s nice to take in, provided you’re not hungry and in need of a beer, which unfortunately was the case at the re-opening.
Opening nights can be shaky no matter what the venue and are usually not the best times to get a real feel for the place in question, but we all just want to be part of the festivities. We want to say we were there when it began, or 0 wihis case, when it began, again. A few minutes after we arrived, a waitress took our order and told us the kitchen would be closing soon. An hour later, around 10pm, when the one of us who ordered dinner still hadn’t received it, and the there was also still nothing happening on stage besides some tuning, a few of us started wriggling in our seats. Also, as of last Friday, the Rongo’s liquor license was still pending and we unexpectedly found ourselves without access to beer. Somewhere in the Oxford English Dictionary under the word “cranky” there is the definition: “hungry and without beer.”
The music did start and the food did arrive, but unfortunately, half the group, myself included, bailed halfway through the opening set. All places have their off nights, as do the people visiting them. When we got back to Ithaca, we got out of the car and looked at each other, with what-do-we-do-now shrugs. There were parties raging up the street and the local bars were in prime swing, but after the mellow, folky atmosphere of the Rongo (despite that particular night’s shortcomings), the thought of bad dance music and Beast in a keg seemed twice as agitating. We probably should have stayed out in T-burg. Maybe next time.
Archived article by Thea Brown