In nearby Hunter, a hip ski town, young travelers have taken over Scribner’s Catskill Lodge (13 Scribner Hollow Road, Tel: 518- 628-5130. scribnerslodge.com), which has become a destination unto itself. The lodge is responsible for bringing attention to the area when it opened in 2016. Designed by Brooklyn-based Studio Tack, the re-imagined 1960s property fosters community with events, like wellness weekends, outdoor pool parties, and its bar and Whiskey Lounge, proving the Catskills isn’t all about quiet getaways for escape. Be A Goat (beagoat.org), an adventure travel operator for the LGBT community, organizes the popular Gay Ski Day with party bus transportation from NYC.
Two towns over in Roxbury, The Roxbury (2258 County Highway 41, Tel: 607-326-7200. theroxburyexperience.com) was one of the original gay pioneers in the area, thanks to couple Greg Henderson and Joseph Massa, who transformed an old-school motor lodge into a stylish, whimsical hotel. Due to demand in bookings and popularity, The Roxbury recently debuted The Tower Cottages, which includes 8 brandnew accommodations as well as a recently repurposed mansion from a former 1848 estate. Like the rooms at the Roxbury Motel, the Tower Cottages have a unique theme, like “Cinderella’s Gown” with an 18- foot ball gown doubling as a bed canopy and a morphing pumpkin, or Galileo’s Gate with a glass-ceilinged observation deck.
“Our LGBTQ+ guests are so important to us, and many of them consider The Roxbury one of their go-to’s in the Catskills,” says Henderson. “Especially in the LGBTQ+ community, we’re noticing couples of 35 and above who’ve enjoyed the fast pace of destinations like Fire Island and now seek a slower respite.”
Also enticing the LGBT community, especially couples seeking quiet, romantic escapes, is Shandaken Inn (1 Golf Course Road, Tel: 845-280-2828. shandakeninn.com) in Shandaken, New York. The 12-acre inn along Esopus Creek opened in December 2019, beautifully transformed from a famous, 1920s golf clubhouse. Like the crop of new Catskills properties, Shandaken Inn was gutted, renovated, and restored, though the owner approached the design with a classic-meets-rustic elegance. Think luxurious dark woods and white Frette linens, textured wallpaper, ceramic Portico tiles, one-click fireplaces, modern sleeper sofas and rugs. I appreciated the effortless simplicity and seclusion (Shandaken Inn is one of the more remote properties I checked into). All 15 rooms are cozy and intimate, and there’s a main lounge with wood-burning fireplace and a bar, outdoor pool, a fitness room with Peloton bikes, tennis court, outdoor fire pit, and of course, black bears (should you spot one).
It’s places like these that allow me to crack open the book that’s been in my backpack for months, or head outside to stargaze since the clarity is unreal. If you need to connect to civilization, The Clubhouse Restaurant and bar is the stomping ground for locals, second homeowners, as well as other guests, which fosters an eclectic scene.
Shandaken Inn is just a few miles from Phoenicia, a small hamlet that defies expectations of a small hamlet with shops, Phoenicia Playhouse Community Theatre (10 Church Street, Tel: 845-688-2279. phoeniciaplayhouse.com), housed in an 1887 building with live theater and performances, and Brio’s (68 Main Street, Tel: 845-688-5370. brios.net), a dive-y, rough-around-the-edges restaurant that serves the best wood-fired Neapolitan pizza in town. I had three slices touting homemade organic recipes, and they rivaled any great joint in Brooklyn.
A mile away, Phoenicia Diner (5681 NY-28, Tel: 845-688- 9957. phoeniciadiner.com) was recommended by several friends who had been to the Catskills. The Phoenicia isn’t just a diner, it’s a roadside mainstay, loved for its nostalgic atmosphere, which hasn’t changed since the 1980s when it opened. The design is everything I expected for a diner: floor-to-ceiling windows, large booths, fast hearty dishes, but it’s the customers that stood out. They were all in their 20s and 30s, many of whom were gay, dining alone, reading books, drinking coffee. Unlike typical diners, however, fresh ingredients here are sourced from the Catskills and Hudson Valley, and traditional dishes are given an elevated twist, like crispy chicken sandwich with onion-crusted chicken, smoked tomato jam and chipotle aioli.
The best burger in the Catskills can be found in Butterfield at Hasbrouck House (3805 Main Street, Tel: 845-687-0736. hasbrouckhouseny.com) in Stone Ridge New York, close to the famed Woodstock and college town New Paltz. The short-rib and sirloin beef was juicy and seasoned, the cheddar was sharp, and the burger was stacked with crisp iceberg lettuce. It wouldn’t have been a reality if Hasbrouck House didn’t open in 2016, after a major restoration to the 18th century, Dutch Colonial mansion it’s housed in. History resonates not only in the 30 guestrooms in converted buildings (like the main house, carriage house, and stable house, as well as a brand-new, two-story cottage), but also the century-old outdoor pool. Hasbrouck House is set on 50 acres, where a hiking trail leads to a beautiful geese-filled lake, and a fire pit blazing in a sprawling yard truly gives sense of place. I adored my suite in the carriage house, where I had a private outdoor entrance, 3 bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms, a large living area, kitchenette, and an outdoor patio.