We wanted contemporary art, good food, nice vistas, some history, a bit of shopping. The Hudson Valley seemed to fit the bill on all counts as my partner, Jane, and I, traveling from Baltimore to New England, sought a quaint detour last summer. We wanted contemporary art, good food, nice vistas, some history, a bit of shopping. The Hudson Valley seemed to fit the bill on all counts as my partner, Jane, and I, traveling from Baltimore to New England, sought a quaint detour last summer.
There’s not really a consensus on what encompasses the Hudson Valley geographically. Technically it could include all 10 of the counties in New York State along the Hudson River as it runs from Albany to Manhattan, about 150 miles. But the region that interests most people might be half or even a third of that distance. Still, within those smaller borders, there are many contrasts. The west side of the Hudson is more nature-minded and bohemian, with towns like New Paltz, Woodstock, and Saugerties nestled at the foot of the Catskills. The east side features more landmarks like the Vanderbilt Mansion, and compared to their counterparts across the river, the towns—Hyde Park, Rhinebeck, Red Hook, and Hudson—are hipster-ish in a different sort of way. Not in a great way, some longtime residents might say.
The gentrification of the Hudson Valley, ongoing for decades, has accelerated in recent years, mainly due to an influx of refugees from Brooklyn. So much so that the area is now known as “NoBro,” “hipsturbia” and “Williamsburg on the Hudson.” At its most innocuous, this means seeing a lot of tattoos, vintage dresses, big horn-rimmed eyeglasses, man buns and skinny jeans. At its most insidious, it means locals getting priced out and bought out of homes and businesses they have owned for generations, the essence and character of these towns disappearing, negating the possibility of economic, ethnic and sociopolitical diversity.
Tourists tend not to perceive any of this or find it inconvenient to acknowledge while vacationing there. After all, the Brooklynization of the Hudson Valley allows visitors to enjoy a boon of art, farm-to-table restaurants, wineries, cafes and artisanal boutiques, all in a bucolic setting. Indeed, that’s why Jane and I were there, and if not for one restaurant experience, the hipsteria was tolerable, if not agreeable. But we’ll get to that later.
First, we went to the Storm King Art Center in the lower Hudson Valley, a sprawling, beautiful landscape of fields, hills and woods that contains the largest collection of contemporary outdoor sculptures in the country, spread out over 500 acres. It’d be impossible to see more than a fraction of the collection if not for a handy option: bike rentals. Equipped with two beach cruisers, Jane and I wheeled around the property, coming across huge structures of steel girders, tubes and columns that were alternately majestic and playful. For lunch, we picnicked on top of a hill overlooking the park—a lovely way to while away a couple of hours. Heading north on Route 9, we made a quick stop in the village of Rhinebeck, browsing through a quirky five and dime called the A.L. Stickle Variety Store and getting snacks at the Bread Alone bakery and Samuel’s sweet shop. Then, instead of the Vanderbilt Mansion, we elected to go to a smaller historical home, Olana, the estate of the renowned painter Frederic Edwin Church.
We took a tour of his house and studio, a zany Persian-styled villa that holds works by Church and fellow painters of the Hudson River School, along with exotic bric-a-brac and furnishings. The tour was intimate, the group small, the docent terrific.
From there, we went farther north to Hudson, our chosen home base for our two nights in the region. The small city is defined by its long commercial drag, Warren Street, and our boutique hotel, The Barlow, was right in the center of things. Our room was small but wonderfully appointed. We asked the woman at the front desk for restaurant recommendations. We had heard that Ca’Mea, Vico and a third restaurant were good, we told the woman. The first two restaurants were fantastic, she said. They happened to be partners with the hotel, one of several establishments and stores that gave Barlow guests a discount; all we had to do was show our room keycard to get 10 percent off. What about the third place, we asked. “That’s considered good, too. Some people really like it,” she said somewhat mysteriously, implying, perhaps, that she wasn’t among them.
For a pre-dinner drink, we went to a funky bar she’d suggested, the ÖR Gallery and Tavern, which was in a converted auto repair shop, the garage doors rolled up to let in the evening air. Then we ate at Ca’Mea Ristorante, which served top-notch northern Italian food in a romantic ambiance, with an excellent, friendly wait staff. The place was obviously popular with locals, since many of the patrons knew one another.
The next morning, we had breakfast at Patisserie Lenox, a French pastry shop with good coffee, and strolled up and down Warren Street, dropping into antique stores, boutiques, vintage shops, and art galleries. We grabbed some delicious takeout sandwiches from a specialty food shop called Talbott & Arding, then drove 67 miles south down the Taconic State Parkway, a scenic, uncongested highway, to the town of Beacon, home of the Dia:Beacon, a huge contemporary art museum inside a former Nabisco box-printing plant. We could have spent all afternoon there, looking at works by the likes of Warhol, Serra, Flavin and Heizer. However, we were interrupted by a call from that third restaurant. Earlier that morning, we had decided to cancel the reservation we’d made online a week ago. The person on the phone wanted to confirm our cancellation, then said that reservations cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice were subject to a $40 per person late cancellation fee. We told him we hadn’t been aware of the policy and asked for an exception. This involved two more phone calls with the restaurant host, who consulted with the manager, while we were in the museum. The gist was that if we didn’t show up at the restaurant, $80 would be charged to our credit card.
We weren’t pleased about having to leave the stupendous Dia, but in the end we grudgingly went to the restaurant. When we got there, there were a handful of patrons at the bar and we could see people in the dining room, yet it took almost five minutes before anyone approached us. At last, a young man with big horn-rimmed eyeglasses, tattoos and skinny jeans seated us in the dining room. The building was quite beautiful, but the attitude of the place—it was oh-so-twee, hip on hip, the host and waitress snooty beyond belief. The restaurant, we’d learned, was owned by a chef from—where else?—Brooklyn. We looked at the menu. Entries started at $68. On the bottom were specials for two, priced over $225. We ordered a glass of wine and an appetizer of pasta apiece, which totaled $80, exactly the amount we would have forfeited for the cancellation fee. We paid the bill and got the hell out of there.
The next morning, we got breakfast from Bonfiglio & Bread, a casual bakery that served, quite possibly, the best croissants we’d ever had. They were offered with no attitude whatsoever (even though these owners, too, were from Brooklyn), restoring our faith in the welcoming vibe of the Hudson Valley. Next time we go there for a visit, as we surely will, we’ll just make sure to listen to the locals.
IF YOU GO TO HUDSON
Where to Eat and Drink
Ca’Mea, 333-335 Warren Street, (518) 822-0005; camearestaurant.com. Authentic Italian cuisine with handmade pastas, fresh fish, and local produce. Nice garden dining option.
Vico, 136 Warren Street, (518) 828-6529; vicorestaurant.com. A modern take on traditional Tuscan cuisine in a very casual atmosphere.
Bonfiglio & Bread, 748 Warren Street, 518-822-0277; bonfigliobread.com. Croissants that shouldn’t be missed.
ÖR Gallery and Tavern, 35 S. Third Street, (518) 828-0798; orgalleryandtavern.com. Funky bar in a converted auto repair shop.
Patisserie Lenox, 504 Warren Street, (518) 400-2530; patisserielenox.com. A French pastry shop serving breakfast and lunch.
Talbott & Arding, 323 Warren Street, (518) 828-3558; talbottandarding.com. A specialty food shop with delicious takeout sandwiches.
Where to Sleep
The Barlow, 542 Warren Street, (518) 828-2100; thebarlowhotel.com. A boutique hotel with 16 contemporary rooms inside an Art Deco building. Free parking. Gym in basement.
Rivertown Lodge, 731 Warren Street, (518) 512-0954; rivertownlodge.com. Another relatively new hotel with 27 rooms and a bar/restaurant in a former movie theater.
What to See
Dia:Beacon, 3 Beekman St, Beacon, (845) 440-0100; diaart.org. A huge contemporary art museum inside a former printing plant.
Storm King Art Center, 1 Museum Rd, New Windsor, (845) 534-3115; stormking.org. 500 acres with the largest collection of contemporary outdoor sculptures in the country. Rent bikes to see more.
Olana, 5720 State Route 9G, (518) 828-0135; olana.org. Historical estate of the renowned painter Frederic Edwin Church. Make reservations in advance.