Art & Adventure in the Catskills

the graham & co

Drive two hours north of New York City and find yourself nestled in the idyllic Catskill mountains.

Vogue wrote a piece on this region last year, and I was intrigued by how a ski/summer getaway destination turned notorious hippie haunt, has transitioned into more modern times.

From the peculiar billboards dotting Rt. 28, it seems the bohemian generation, for the most part, has stuck around, but with the influx of a younger, more urban population, it could also be described as a more mountainous and green Williamsburg. 

While there are several small towns throughout the Catskills with plenty to offer, with just an overnight stay Walter and I chose to anchor our exploring in Phoenicia, NY, but traveled within an hour to explore different points of interest. 

Stay:

catskills

The Graham & Co. is a former motel turned boutique hotel with a minimalist design. It’s set at the foot of Hunter Mountain (fun fact: where my high school ski team practiced), just two blocks from Phoenicia’s downtown. 

The tiny (cozy?) rooms offer complimentary Wi-Fi, but encourage unplugging by eliminating TVs. Free Irving Farm coffee and fruit is available in the lobby, and in the warmer months, it’s converted to an open air room with a few picnic tables.

graham and co

Some rooms offer kitchenettes, and for the budget conscious, there are a few bunk bed rooms with shared bathrooms.

Upon check in, we were offered two cans of beer on the house, explored the outdoor pool, lawn game area, fire pit (where movies are shown on select weekend days, but you can find s’mores nightly), and the three walled common room stocked with board games, seating areas, and a fireplace. Parking, bike rentals, and all outdoor activities are free for guests.

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As I will explain later, we were so wiped out (literally, well, at least I was) from tubing that we, unfortunately, missed the community experience of the hotel, so I highly suggest pacing yourself throughout the day.

My one big complaint about the hotel is the style of doors and windows in the deluxe rooms. As high maintenance as it is, I require pitch black sleeping conditions, and even with my trusty eye mask that I never leave home without, a strange ambient orange glow penetrated through the frosted panels that were charming earlier in the day, and quite a nuisance at night.

Eat:

catskills

From our room, it was about 40 paces (really) to Tavern 214, an independently owned farm to table bistro. The tavern-esque dining room (open for dinner only) has a more upscale feel, while the relaxed seating on the porch was a perfect choice for our mellow holiday.

On the menu is new American cuisine classics like burgers, lobster mac and cheese, and – my favorite dish of the night – the filet mignon Philly cheesesteak. The beer and wine list features many local varieties, and the atmosphere and service made us feel calm and well taken care of. The menu prices are a bit high, but consider the fact that if you stay at The Graham & Co. you will not spend a dime on getting there.  

catskills

For breakfast, we traveled a few miles down the road to the highly recommended Phoenicia Diner. The atmosphere is a nod to vintage diners, with a brighter, cleaner appearance, full bar at night, and a more creative/New Yorker friendly menu.

Hearty breakfast options are served all day, most in mini cast iron skillets. Walter and I both chose a local smoked trout variety (his an egg and cheese scramble, mine an upstate version of lox and cream cheese).

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the trout, and after noticing the supplier listed on the menu board, I proposed stopping there to take some home, but sadly, the shop is closed on Mondays.

American Glory BBQ

American Glory specializes in wood smoked BBQ and classic, stick-to-your-ribs, American comfort foods. However, for the health conscious diners, there are plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options on the menu. Whether you choose to dine alfresco (like we did) on the cozy, enclosed porch overlooking a babbling brook, or venture inside to hear local music acts, American Glory is a great choice for a weekend out, as long as you don’t skip dessert.

Adventure:
tubing
Since Phoenicia is (almost) famous for its summer/fall river tubing, that was our first activity upon arrival. Besides boat tubing many years ago (and it doesn’t really count), I am a tube neophyte.

It was this lack of knowledge that made me snicker (internally) when the safety instructor informed us about the possibility of falling out the tube. I also wasn’t sure what class 2 rapids really meant, so I boarded the bus blissfully unaware of the possible hazards.

My suggestion is to bring nothing with you. There are strange open air “lockers” available (basically a trailer with one person handling the distribution of items), so leave your keys, wallet, and sunnies (unless you don’t care if they don’t return with you), and wear a bathing suit with some breathable clothes over (the water is rather cold).

tubing

I had a lot of fun, but it seems the rocks had it in for me and I was thrown from my raft two times, and was wedged between a few large boulders for what seemed like a long time until a kind gentlemen behind me helped get my tube back into the flowing rapids.

It took about an hour and half to finish, and along the way I noticed I wasn’t the only one ejected over a few steep spots, and several people had to stand up to clear the shallow areas.

We arrived right where we began (no bus necessary this time), and after a very short walk back to our hotel, we proceeded to sleep for a few hours. Who knew tubing was such a workout?

catskills hike

Our last athletic endeavor was a hike on one of the several trails located 30 minutes or less from downtown Phoenicia. 

The menus at the Phoenician Diner detailed a few of the best ones, and given our exhaustion and time constraint (we wanted to arrive home at a reasonable hour) we chose to hike at Giant Ledge. It’s a steep climb, but one of the most amazing views I’ve seen in a very long time.

Our hike took about two and half hours roundtrip (including our gazing time at the ledge), but if you’re looking for a bigger challenge, you can continue on to Panther Mountain and bump up the hike time to four hours.

hike catskills

giant ledge hike

Arts:

Storm King Arts Center

Set on 500 acres of rolling green hills, you’d be remiss to skip the Storm King Art Center. Known worldwide for being one of the best sculpture parks, Storm King has been in operation for over 50 years. Pack a picnic, and plan to spend several hours here exploring the vast landscape and indoor art center.

Another indoor/outdoor gem is the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. Leader of the highly regarded Hudson River School, Thomas Cole’s unique landscape works are displayed around his former residence, Cedar Grove, built in the 1815. 
piano performance museum
If you have a gift for the ivories (or not), head to the Piano Performance Museum. The Catskill Mountain Foundation’s museum showcases the history of pianos, without the velvet ropes or glass found in most historical museums. Try your hand at any one of the pianos collected from over the past four centuries in both Europe and America. If you’re musically challenged, ask the helpful staff to play you a tune. They usually oblige. 
Onto the cutest arts performance, the National Dance Institute (NDI) Mountaintop Summer Residency. Over the course of two weeks in July, children aged 9-13 practice their skills and perform an annual recital for their parents and the local community. The show was incredibly uplifting, fun, and yes, adorable, and if you’re in town for it, you should definitely attend. 
 
sugar maples arts center
Sugar Maples Center for Creative Arts is located in the scenic hamlet of Maplecrest. Its mission is to create a center for the study of studio arts, and to offer a beautiful mountain setting for artist retreats. The center offers housing, and a rotating roster of art professionals leading workshops in ceramics. Although I am not gifted in pottery, we had the opportunity to stay at the center overnight, and chat with the workshop artists.
The two gentleman leading the weekend, Randy Brodnax and Don Ellis are two of the most respected and entertaining ceramic instructors working today. They have incredible energy and passion in their teaching and all with amazing humor that reaches students on many different levels. The students seemed relaxed, and happy with their newfound skills and confidence gained from the weekend, so if pottery is your calling, this a great opportunity.
For more information about the region, the arts community, and more visit Discover the Catskills .

 

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