From here, I drive five minutes to Java Love Coffee Roasters, overlooking White Lake (it’s right near Bradstan), where I sit with Owner Kristine Petrik inhaling that blessed aroma from the coffee roasters. “We started as a mom and mom operation,” smiles Kristine, and, for her, the welcome has been astounding. As many have commented, the transition from successful Borscht Belt era to hard economic times resulted, ironically, in a greater openness: “You have to band together.” For instance, she’s developed a large clientele of Hasidic customers: “They know we’re gay, they know we’re women-run, but they don’t care. We keep pushing down those walls.” It’s this welcoming spirit, combined with great coffee and ever-changing food specials, that creates a refuge from the outside world, a place to relax, see friends, or just be alone. As I’m thinking this, a camera-draped tourist who’s been sitting with her husband on the front porch walks in with her empty cups and declares, in heavily-accented English: “That was America’s best coffee.” Kristine swears she wasn’t a hired actress, but she sure knew how to appear right on cue!
Later that day, I stop in River House, around the curve of the lake (it actually changes names halfway across to Lake Kauneonga), whose specialty is “rebears,” teddy bears made from recycled materials than can be custom fashioned from a favorite sweater or suit. There’s also a great selection of local crafts, from pottery and woodwork to hand-dyed woven cloth. According to Daryl Kroken, who runs the gallery with partner Alex Johnson: “It’s amazing the kind of work going on here. Everybody’s story is a little different, but the common denominator is, this is an amazing place.”
As I begin the drive from Sullivan to Delaware County, I can see what he means. My GPS lady likes to take me on out-of-the-way routes, but when I’m in the Catskills I don’t care. That just means more beauty. I drive by a glassy reservoir, trees perfectly reflected in the still waters. I head down little country lanes overhung with foliage. I pass farms that create a perfect emerald patchwork on the hillsides. When I suddenly face a closed road, I take another one. When I’m feeling utterly lost, I just look around me and smile. This is the Catskills. These things just aren’t a problem.
I arrive at The Roxbury Motel, which spreads across two sides of a street just on the edge of “downtown” Roxbury in kitschy wonder. From the outside it looks pretty standard: a 1960s-era motel and a couple of innocent-looking white buildings across the street. Step inside a room, though, and all that changes, as the room are designed after television shows and movies from (primarily) the 60s. You might choose Amadeus’ Bride, all teal with gold medallions, chandeliers, stage curtains, and glittery gold tile (there’s more glitter in The Roxbury than I’ve ever seen in one place). Enter Tony’s Dancefloor, and you expect John Travolta to boogie out of the closet (pun intended). Go into Fred’s lair, and it’s like you’re head- ing into the Flintstone’s cave. But the crowning achievement, and possibly the gayest hotel room in history, is Genie’s Bottle,” devoted, of course, to I Dream of Jeannie. When you have a couple with former careers as actor and set designer, this is the hotel you get—campy and fun but actually beautifully designed with an amazing attention to detail, top-level amenities, a luscious spa, and a peaceful set- ting looking past the town of Roxbury to the hills.
Breaking news: owners Gregory Henderson and Joseph Massa have bought a property a couple of miles down the road, with a vintage house, extensive grounds, and even a waterfall, Stratton Falls, on the property. They plan to con- vert the property into another hotel with a series of cottages, a swimming pool, and trails around the waterfall (all open to guests of the “regular” Roxbury). It should be spectacular, with a 2017 opening likely, and rooms will carry themes from the trades of bygone days. “So,” I ask Greg, “there won’t be a lot of glitter?” “No, there won’t,” he responds. Pause. Deadpan look. “Well, not a LOT…”
While in Roxbury, take advantage of the Catskills Scenic Trail, a pathway on a former rail bed that runs right from the edge of town through 26 miles of astounding scenery, which you can explore on foot, bicycle, or even horseback. If you’d rather kick back, the Delaware and Ulster Railway has a stop right in town, so hop onto a vintage train car and spend all your time scenery-gulping. You’re within a short drive of ski areas, and, of course, Catskills Park is nearby with 600,000 acres of splendor. It’s also a short hop to the town of Big Indian and the well-regarded restaurant Peekamoose, where you’ll enjoy the cuisine of a couple of veterans of New York City’s finest. Try their house-made pasta, with perhaps some honey-roasted beets to start (we’re not sure whether those should be an appetizer or a dessert!). So many wonders around here.
Speaking of wonders, it’s time to head to Woodstock, probably the most heavily touristed town in the area (thanks to that festival that didn’t occur here). It’s just 45 miles southeast of Roxbury, in Ulster County. It’s a visitor’s delight! Do stop in Candlestock, a fab candle store that’s been there over 40 years. Don’t miss Fruition Chocolate, which is creating some of the most interesting hand-crafted chocolates in the region. Stop in for lunch in Joshua’s, a pleasant little café, offering comfort food with a Middle Eastern tilt like the hummus/baba ganouj/stuffed grape leave plate, with some twists like the chicken salad-stuffed artichoke. Wander around town and you’ll find the world’s best flea market, where I spend hours looking at little wooden stools, cast iron pots, and elaborate wall hangings. Stop in Byrdcliffe, where you might find a musical performance happening and can certainly browse the artists’ offerings. I dither over an elegant disk of beautifully grained wood. I really don’t NEED it, but…I buy it. This is the Catskills: why not? As I take my new purchase to the car, I pass an official-looking sign that reads: “On this site stood a local market bankrupted by the monopolistic, make-it-cheaper-in-China, anti-union big-box store where you shop.” See why I love Woodstock?
Woodstock’s “sister town” of Saugerties is a little less touristed but equally fun. I head over to Blue Stone Roasting Co., a sweet little coffee house on Partition Street, where most things of interest are located in Saugerties. It’s a long narrow room with rough wood floors, a roaster at the back, and wooden tables, feeling very laidback and easygoing. Just down Partition Street, I visit Lucky Chocolates, a lesbian-owned business doing some of the best chocolate truffles in the region (well, ok, in the world), with flavors ranging from sour lemon and mango lassi to strawberry/balsamic and gin and tonic. Some use local ingredients, such as the applejack made nearby, or the mint grown by a neighbor. “I know everyone says they make their stuff with love,” says the owner, Rae Stang, “but I really do love this.” They also have a little café where fresh, organic food is served. Whether you stop by for freshly pressed juice, lemonade flavored with mint, pomegranate, or violet, or a full lunch, do pick up some of the beautifully-wrought chocolate truffles. I buy two boxes, six truffles for myself, and six for a friend. Do I dare admit that by the time the weekend is over I’ve polished off all 12?
I have brunch in Love Bites, where I find a buzzy atmosphere and such pleasures as lobster Napoleons or red velvet waffles. Around the corner, I stop in Saugerties Antiques Center, where I’m tempted by a fab copper teakettle, a bronze lamp shaped like a wolf, a set of vintage traffic lights. I admire the wonderful creative wood carving of nearby Layton Scott Designs. I make a return trip to Bluestone. Did that really take all day? Now it’s dinnertime, and a short drive takes me to New World Home Cooking, just outside town and my favorite restaurant in the Catskills. Here, noted Chef Ric Orlando spans the globe with spicy and savory offerings, from his signature blackened string beans (I know, I know, but trust me they’re amazing) to fish steamed in banana leaves, taco specials like smoked shiitake, and a unique plantains foster for dessert. The menu goes from Thailand to Jamaica to Cuba to Italy. In Orlando’s words: “Everything has its place in the balance if it’s delicious.” Trust me, it is.
Pleasantly sated, I retire to my new home at Renwick Clifton House, run by the very friendly couple Eric and Miriam Adams. It’s a gorgeous 1812 house with prime vistas over rolling hills and the Hudson. They’ve named the rooms after the steamers that used to ply the Hudson River (mine is the Clermont). My bed has an elaborately carved headboard, and the room is true to style without being precious. The best thing about it, of course, is the window that opens onto THAT view! It’s more expansive from the house’s deck, but there’s nothing quite like getting up in the morning, stumbling over to the window, and seeing the brightlyhued morning sky reflected in the Hudson. The common areas are comfy and period-friendly but not overly so, with gas fireplaces for those cold Catskills evenings. I love it here.