The trendy “ruralization” of the urbanista psyche, surely only spurred on by the HipsterAmish mafia (with its plethora of Brooklyn storefronts creatively incorporating the word “farm”), has shown no signs of abatement. Indeed, your once Marc Jacobs adorned, gallery-hopping magazine editor friend may well these days be shopping in earnest for…tractor parts.
And that tractor may be powering a lifestyle being cultivated a couple of hours north of Manhattan, in the Catskills – the mountainous region recently decisively regaining the bohemian cred it enjoyed back in the ’60s and ’70s.
On a recent trip we had no intention of chasing down the intel on where celebs were gathering for their craft-beer-and-pork-belly-bao fix these days – but rather indulging the area’s timeless, incorruptible charms. You don’t have to look hard to spot precisely the sort of captivating eccentricities that should be associated with such a place – including picking up handcrafted eco-lite soy candles in the same place where you can score a really serious looking handmade hunting knife.
Here’s what we did.
We’ll get this one out of the way, since it’s not really much of a secret. But NY State has put a lot of effort into modernizing the area’s ski facilities, and it shows. Hunter has always been the marquee mountain up here; Windham offers a bit more low-key, civilized experience; and Belleayre draws women’s-march-size crowds – lots of excitable little tykes among them. But the scenery and views are literally breathtaking. In the spring and summer, obviously, hiking and biking opportunities abound.
Windham Mountain Resort
There’s no town named Tuscany in Tuscany, but the Catskills actually do have a town called Catskill. Its Main Street is everything you could possibly hope it to be – including the Country Store whose owner might just have closed up shop and popped out to the bank in the middle of business hours (how very Pottersville). Wonderfully, there’s no Williams Sonoma, there’s no Shake Shack – just an oddball assemblage of antique and second hand shops and the like. The absolute must stops are Magpie Books, and Catskill Mill (created by Etsy founder Rob Kalin).
Washington Irving’s short story legend Rip Van Winkle (a rather unenlightened chap who chose to sleep for 20 years rather than be, um, nagged by his wife) is really big up here. Like, Oprah big. So his name and image are plastered everywhere you look, including this friendly restaurant and brewery. The Angela’s dining room is actually modern, bright and comfortable – and serves up a well-executed menu of Italian classics and American pub grub. But it’s their beer that is genuinely top notch, especially the Otis Red-Wheated Ale and Peek-a-Boo Porter, should you be one to gravitate to the dark stuff. Request a tasting flight of five or six for full effect.
A kitschy cool spot, whose pastel quirkiness is just waiting for a part in a John Waters film (even the bathroom is kinda campy). The burgers are equally as fun, with names like Devil’s Tombstone and Big Daddy, especially paired with a shake or float and key lime pie. We universally thumbed-up the ’90s revival soundtrack. (“Said maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me…”).
The arrival of big city chic is embodied in this stunningly designed hotel. Yet it doesn’t take long to be swept up into its rustic, homey ethos. Rooms are zen minimalism in the warmest way – request one facing Hunter Mountain. And the many-windowed Prospect restaurant takes full advantage of the spectacular vistas, while serving up rapturous fondue Savoyarde, braised short ribs, a heavenly roasted chicken and, well, parsnip ice cream. The stylish Library doubles as a game room – we shot a few rounds of pool before an intoxicated game of Cards Against Humanity. Top that.
One of our fave stops, its Main Street features one of the most insanely fabulous vintage shops ever, the marvelously monikered Out of the Closet – stocking everything from Etro pantsuits to a Louis Vuitton “steamer trunk” coffee table. Up the street is the – of course – eccentric Twin Peaks Coffee & Donuts, attached to which is a room of curiosities (for sale) that decidedly blur the line between camp and really, genuinely weird. We ended our afternoon at the parlor of the Hudson-Chatham Winery, which offers tastings in a dining room of bygone-era elegance.
The name of The Roxbury Motel (in the town of the same name) is a bit deceiving, as it’s not really a motel. Rather, it’s a camp but not too camp boutique hotel, with a penchant for fantabulous retro theatricality. Rooms are extravagantly done up to cleverly chosen themes: Miss Kitty is all bordello red; Maryanne’s Coconut Cream Pies is a nautical nod to the show Gilligan’s Island (with a, um, coconut cream ceiling); the highly recommended Amadeus is a spectacle of 18th-Century baroque pomp; and The Sound of Music is all flouncy-frilly-fun romance. Just next door, we had a great night out at Public, the epitome of a lively local, serving farmer-sized helpings of BBQ ribs, shepherd’s pie and chocolate lava cake. (N.B. The owners of The Roxbury, Greg Henderson and Joseph Massa, are opening plush “villas” just up the road, with jaw-dropping views, sometime this year.)
The Catskills in miniature, a quaint postage stamp of a town. Pop in to Kabinett & Kammer for a dizzying selection of curious curiosities: hit Clementine for top notch vintage finds; Paisley’s Country Gallery for ethnic crafts; then refuel at the cheekily monikered Two Old Tarts restaurant and bakery.
Make an absolute point of stopping here, as it’s one of the genuinely hippest destinations in the region. In summer there’s a big yard and a barn with yet another bar, where all manner of fine weather fun goes on. But in the colder months, hunker-down in the stylish, Brooklynesque dining room and plan to order up a couple of local charcuterie plates, while running through a tasting of their truly sublime ciders. Indeed, from the sweet and spicy Half Wild, to the oaky Catskill, to the earthy, mellow Dry Town, this is what rustic “champagne” tastes like. Highly recommended.
This is a city-worthy distillery in Arkville, which produces excellent apple-based vodkas – notably, a maple-infused creation that is richly satisfying. Go for a tasting, or order from their expertly crafted cocktail menu, enjoyed in a cozy, exposed brick, fireplace-adorned room. The cognoscenti have caught on to it – we randomly ran into a music biz pal from NYC here.
This chic, sophisticated eatery run by former Brooklynites Sohail Zandi and Sara Elbert does absolutely everything right. The dimly-lit dining room is smartly stylish and romantic, all dark woods, rustic chairs and hanging globe lamps. Yet the cool ’60s soundtrack gave it a lively vibe when we visited. The fashionably bedecked staff delivers some of the region’s most creatively turned out modern-comfort-dishes – hand rolled pasta, cast-iron chicken, sunchokes & cauliflower – and it’s all beautifully presented. The olive oil cake may ruin you for all other desserts.
One of the most genuinely picturesque Catskills destinations, it’s notable for the One Grand Books shop, which offers collectible-worthy collections of books chosen by very famous people, including Tom Hanks, Greta Gerwig, Amber Tamblyn, Anthony Bourdain and Trevor Noah. Sunrise Ruffalo also runs a design shop, Sunny’s Pop, in the town.