Hudson Valley Hotel Scene, Act 2
The Hudson Valley hasn’t always had the most robust hotel scene, but, contrary to what F. Scott Fitzgerald said (“There are no second acts in American lives”), there appears to be a renaissance of fine hotels that even locals will want to experience. Second acts are all the rage in the Hudson Valley, especially at four Mid-Hudson region inns that have been restored to their Golden Age glory. Each of the inns described here also is blessed with an innovative chef who both appreciates and elevates the bounty of the Hudson Valley.
Overlooking the marshy flats that mark the upper Hudson is the two-street village of Tivoli (Dutchess County). In the early twentieth century, the little village was home to a shirtwaist factory, a gristmill and The Madalin House hotel, a three-story hotel built in 1910 after the original hotel, built in 1839, was destroyed in a fire during the 1909 Fulton Centenary Celebration. The Madalin served as the center of Tivoli’s social scene through much of the twentieth century—even Eleanor Roosevelt stopped by after tennis at the nearby Edgewood Club.
Today, Tivoli is again anchored by the hotel, though the Madalin, closed in 2012, is now known as the Hotel Tivoli. The building, not so much restored as reimagined by New York artists Brice and Helen Marden, has been stripped of its dark, Victorian-style furnishings and brightened up with contemporary light fixtures and artwork by the couple’s friends and contemporaries, including Robert Rauschenberg, Julian Schnabel and Francesco Clemente. Brice even created his own paint color—Brice Gray—for use throughout the hotel. (Its bright, lively tone comes from the cadmium orange mixed in.) The restaurant, The Corner, opens to an outdoor wrap-around porch, a major draw in warmer weather, but the airy dining room is equally light and enchanting. The dreary, old wooden bar was replaced with a show-stopping white marble top streaked with fuchsia and purple.
The Mardens brought in Chef Devon Gilroy, formerly at New York’s Chanterelle and A Voce, to run the restaurant. Gilroy’s interest in Moroccan cuisine is evident in several menu items, including the shrimp tagine with green olives, paprika, cumin, leeks and cilantro. And because he also owns Tivoli Mushrooms, diners at The Corner get to sample exotic fungi in several of Gilroy’s dishes, including the Phoenix mushroom risotto. At the bar, the cocktail recipes are credited to Gilroy’s father, whose East Village bar, Employees Only, has been voted to The World’s 50 Best Bars list for 10 years running. (Tip: Try the Rosehill, a cocktail named for the Mardens’ Hudson Valley estate and made with Pisco Barsol, elderflower liqueur, fresh ginger and apples.)
53 Broadway, Tivoli
(845) 757-2100; hoteltivoli.org
Wm. Farmer and Sons
Upriver a bit, Hudson (Columbia County) got its start in the eighteenth century as a whaling center and trading port and went on to become a major industrial center for cotton, bricks and cement. It also was infamous for the size of its red-light district in the 1920s and ‘30s: Fifteen brothels employing as many as 75 prostitutes were kept busy serving primarily bigwig Albany politicos. More recently, artists, antiques dealers and architecture aficionados from New York City have discovered once-gritty Hudson, and it has become one of the region’s most popular and captivating cities.
At one time or another, several cities along the river have been dubbed “Brooklyn North,” but the cliche seems particularly appropriate when applied to Hudson. So it’s not surprising that a couple of former Brooklynites—William Kirby Farmer, a CIA-trained chef, and his wife Kristan Keck, a set designer—bought a nineteenth-century South Front Street building and transformed it into Wm. Farmer and Sons, an upscale inn/restaurant.
The seven “rustic-chic” rooms in the main building are supplemented by four eloquent guest rooms and a private garden patio in the Hudson Merchant House next door. For longer stays and families, there are four contemporary, apartment-style suites in another building.
The Wm. Farmer and Sons restaurant is bright and comfortable, with a welcoming fireplace and contemporary lighting contrasting with the exposed brick walls and dark wood. Chairs, salvaged from the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, include built-in shelves under the seats (specifically for the cadets’ hats). The kitchen is known for oysters and meats as well as midwestern- and southern-influenced family specialties. The Country Ham Board, for example, is inspired by Kirby’s grandfather, an Ozark banker, who cured hams to give to his best clients; his grandmother Abigail’s buttermilk fried chicken is served with biscuits and sawmill gravy. At the bar, aficionados can enjoy libations based on recipes created by Sasha Petraske, the late founder of New York’s iconic cocktail bar, Milk and Honey.
Wm. Farmer & Sons
20 S Front St, Hudson
(518) 928-1636; wmfarmerandsons.com
Across the river over the Rip Van Winkle Bridge directly west of Hudson is the sleepy village of Athens (Greene County), where a stunning, Italianate-style former boarding house built in 1883 still graces the waterfront. Now dubbed The Stewart House, the hotel and restaurant reopened in 2018 after dramatic restoration by Lois and Lon Ballinger, former owners of the Webster Hall nightclub in New York’s East Village. (Movie buffs may recognize the Athens building—it portrayed an Albany flophouse in the 1988 movie Ironweed, starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep, based on Albany writer William Kennedy’s 1983 novel. Streep’s character died in a corner room.) Thanks to the renovation, there will be no more flophouse roles in the building’s future. The hotel has nine casually elegant guest rooms, all but two of which have large windows with magnificent river views.
The ca. Tavern 1883 consists of an Art Deco bar and dining room. Murals in both the bar and the dining room were originally hand-painted 25 years ago by well-known muralist Nora Johnson; the Ballingers brought her back to liven them up, and today, they shine again. During the summer, the tavern is reserved for private events and the public action moves to The River Grill, an outdoor space surrounded by weeping willows on the banks of the river. The River Grill has its own dock for people who want to arrive by kayak. There’s a bar and a wood-fired grill where Chef Bob Turner will serve burgers and other grilled fare from Wednesday to Sunday.
Turner also has a robust entertainment program planned, including local music acts performing under the stars. Monday is movie night—food will be provided by local food trucks. On Tuesdays, Turner will showcase a different pop-up menu each week. Any cuisine that begins with T is fair game—Turner mentions Taco, Thai, Thali (Indian) and Toko, a Japanese pop-up inspired by his Japanese pastry chef. But don’t forget Turkish, Taiwanese and Trinidadian, or, for a real challenge, try Tajikistan, Timor-Leste or Tokelau.
2 N Water St, Athens
(518) 444-8317; stewarthouse.com
Once home to iron mines and steelworks, the tiny town of Amenia (Dutchess County) also is home to Troutbeck, a magnificent 18th-century estate that re-opened in late 2017 following masterful restoration by world-renowned designer Alexandra Champalimaud, the vision behind the renovation of such iconic properties as The Dorchester (London) and Raffles (Singapore). Champalimaud completed the Troutbeck project alongside her son, Anthony (a partner in a firm that specializes in restoring buildings of “natural, cultural or historical significance”) and his wife, Charlie. Keeping it all in the family, Alexandra’s husband, private equity investor Bruce Schnitzer, supervised the landscape design.
Troutbeck originally was the residence of the Benton family, who hosted many well-known nineteenth-century literary figures there, including Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The second owners, professor, poet and civil rights activist Joel Spingarn and his wife and fellow activist Amy, also had a prestigious guest list of top-tier, early twentieth century cultural and political notables, including Sinclair Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, President Theodore Roosevelt, and their longtime friend, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. The estate was a nexus for the early civil rights movement—two seminal civil rights conferences were held there, and it is the official birthplace of the NAACP, which Spingarn chaired from 1913 to 1919.
The Champlimauds' approach to restoring the historic property was to do as little as necessary. The result is both comfortable and elegant, with touches of unexpected whimsy (like pink vinyl bar stools that belly up to a copper bar, and a ballroom lit by contemporary copper-and-iron chandeliers). Spread across 45 acres, the estate’s ample rest and recreation spaces include tennis courts, a pool and a fairytale-worthy stone bridge. The enchanting, circa 1916 two-tiered walled garden was built to house Spingarn’s clematis collection. Visitors who find themselves tuckered out from playing tennis, swimming or walking the grounds can nap in one of the 14 hammocks that dot the property.
Four buildings form the main complex that is Troutbeck. The stone Manor House includes 17 guest rooms, along with the restaurant and bar, a seductive wood-paneled library with a commanding limestone fireplace, a sunroom and the ballroom. The eighteenth-century Century Lodge, originally a tavern, has four bedrooms and can be rented as a cottage. It is joined by a common space to the more contemporary Century House; Garden House rooms include patios or balconies with views of the garden.
During the summer, the Pool Grill serves a wickedly good lobster roll with house-made crisps.
515 Leedsville Rd, Amenia
(518) 828-1635; troutbeck.com
(Troutbeck photos by Paul Barbera courtesy Troutbeck)