In 2019, just as Jennifer Donovan was about to sign on a new building on the corner of Maiden Lane and Clinton Avenue to expand her popular Uptown Kingston-based beauty salon, Le Shag, she received game-changing news about the zoning laws. The two-century old building was not permitted to house a beauty salon under existing code. “It was tough,” says Donovan. “I had 24 hours to turn it around. Everyone told me to just walk away, but I had already fallen in love with this beautiful building.”
With just a day to research, Donovan delved into the building’s legal possibilities, discovering, in the process, that it was eligible to be used as a boarding house. Struck with the potential of the new idea, she switched gears to develop a boutique inn, giving rise to the Maiden.
Donovan harbors a lifelong connection to the Hudson Valley, having spent her childhood in Kingston, and studied at SUNY New Paltz. It was there, during her junior year, that she felt inspired to start her own business. With the support of her parents in 2005, Donovan opened Le Shag above Le Canard Enchaine in Kingston at the age of 22. From the start, her plans for her business extended beyond providing beauty and hair services. Le Shag also served as an art gallery and event space.
“For nearly every stylist, no one just does hair,” explains Donovan. “They are musicians, painters, cooks, writers, photographers, and artists. Before all this, Kingston used to have this raunchy, seedy vibe that provided a very creative community. There was a lot of energy for new things. This is where we get our reputation and personality, and have carried that into how we’ve evolved as a community.”
This artistic culture is at the heart of Donovan’s vision for the Maiden, which became fully operational in November 2022. “Because of the team we have at Le Shag,” she describes, “we have this incredible network of artists, painters, musicians, and all types of people from this area. We work with those people to curate different art shows and music events.”
This effort is visible in the interior of the building, whose walls and shelves are filled with paintings, all of which can be purchased by guests. This artwork is curated by painter and Le Shag stylist Kara Eletto, who rotates the artist featured at the Maiden every three months.
The newly renovated building gives a fresh and functional impression, without losing the classic feeling of the c.1825 design. When constructing the space, Donovan studied old deeds from the house to learn about the original family who had lived there. In their honor, two out of the four bedrooms on the top floor of the house are named after the original couple, Douw and Hazel Meyers. These rooms each host a double bed and share a bathroom with The Crew Room, which features a bunk bed with two full-sized mattresses. Donovan’s personal favorite room, The Park Suite, complete with queen bed and ensuite bathroom, sits at the corner of the house and is characterized by four large windows with long draping curtains. This is the most popular room among guests, who can choose to complement their stay with a private driver and concierge services that provide information about the area such as activities, hikes, and restaurants.
While some guests are just looking for a weekend getaway, the Maiden often hosts the artists and musicians who use the downstairs as an event space. “We are well connected with the film community,” describes Donovan. “Sometimes people will come to stay who are filming in the area, and who need this space to do media presentations or meetings. We also have an executive chef who provides catering services.”
The two rooms on the ground floor are frequently rented out for meetings, bridal parties, music events, photoshoots, and meals. The chef Donovan references is none other than Michele Ragussis from the Food Network, who both caters for the Maiden and uses it to host her own events.
For parties that need a little more room to spread out, the basement is equipped with a speakeasy-vibe bar, feet away from the ancient wood stove that served as the original kitchen hearth. During parties and events, the roving pop-up the Catskill Cocktail Club takes over the bar, providing craft drinks for the Maiden’s guests.
Wandering through the halls and rooms, it isn’t difficult to imagine the inviting space as an indispensable resource for its artist based community. “Moving forward, we are going to be bringing in some familiar artists as well as newbies to the area,” says Donovan. “We want to expand our network to reach out to new people and to elevate the community.”