WHY GO: If the website Etsy was an actual place, it would be Hudson, NY, an artsy town on the Hudson River that has managed to out-Brooklyn Brooklyn in cutesie-pie-ity. Etsy in fact, did open a brick and mortar office here in 2013, following an area resurgence that began over twenty years ago.
In the late 1700’s, Hudson was, inconceivably, a key US whaling port (ergo little whales on street signs). The waterfront stank from whale oil processing while warehouses, wharfs and docks thrummed with activity. Over time, industries came and went, but mostly went, so by the 1960’s Hudson had become a sad, neglected place.
Manhattan antique dealers and interior designers discovered this depressed Hudson River Town in the 1990’s, realizing that for a fraction of what it cost in the city they could purchase a beautiful-boned turn-of-last-century warehouse and set up showrooms for well-heeled clients. The town, gentrified as said clients bought second homes here, earned the nickname NoHo. Now, you’ll find a selection of restaurants helmed by CIA-grads, shops like “Flower Kraut” (she does floral design, he makes the sauerkraut), and charming boutique hotels and inns. There’s lots of quality packed into a very small area, so these recommendations are just the start. Begin here….
Things to Do in Hudson NY
TOUR: Olana. At 19 years old, landscape artist Frederick Church, who went on to become one of the founders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY, was the youngest artist inducted into the National Academy of Design. (That distinction still stands). In the late 1870’s, the prominent artist planned to construct a French Chateau atop this hill overlooking the Hudson River, but a trip to the Middle East changed his mind. As a result, Church commissioned this Persian-style confection as home and studio, living here with his wife Isabel and their children.
Daughter-in-law Sally Goode-Church lived in Olana until she died in 1964, and when the home and its contents were put up for auction, concerned citizens united to save it from the wrecking ball– an early example of Historic Preservation – with the slogan “Must this mansion be destroyed?”
The preservationists prevailed, and now Olana, and its spectacular 250 naturalistically landscaped acres, is open for tours.
Come through front door, where “Welcome” in Arabic is etched into a sunset-colored stained glass panel. Olana’s interior is a feast for the eyes. Church traveled the world and collected artifacts from all over, displaying pre-Columbian art from Mexico in his studio and framing fireplaces with carved teak from India. The “Court Hall” places you in the central courtyard of a Middle-Eastern home, where sunlight streaming through yellow glass casts the room in a honey-colored glow.
The dining room is the only place in the home without windows. The work of Old Masters line the walls. Church wanted guests to travel back in time 400 years and talk about the art over dinner.
Posthumously, Church became one of the most important players in the Hudson River conservation movement. The artist often painted scenes of the river from Olana’s porch studio, and in the 1970’s, one of these paintings was employed in the drive to ban a nuclear power plant within view of here. Protesters used one of Church’s winter landscapes to show exactly how an industrial facility would mar the perfect scene. The ploy worked and the plant was situated elsewhere. You’ll see this painting and many others on a fascinating one hour tour. $9. Open May-Oct Tues-Sun 10-5 (last tour at 4), March and April Fri-Sun 11-4 (last tour at 3).
MEANDER: Warren Street. Window shopping is gratifying, but do stop in to the following places:
VISIT: FRG Design Showroom. Rick Gillette “re-visions” mid-century modern furniture and features cool home accessories like Joshua Howe’s “stone” tables and trays made from extraordinarily thin concrete.
SHOP: Lili and Loo. Prices are not too outrageous at this furniture/gift/home accessories wonderland.
SHOP: Hudson Clothier. Comfy designs, hand knit hats, and great sales.
SEE: Promenade Hill. One of the first parks established in the USA for the viewing of scenic vistas, take the stairs at the foot of Warren St. up to the park overlooking the Hudson River. It’s a stunning vantage point from which to see the 1874 Hudson-Athens Lighthouse with the Catskill Mountains beyond.
DRIVE: OMI International Arts Center. Drive 12 miles and allot one hour to the Storm-King-like 120-acre Fields Sculpture Park at OMI International Arts Center, a leg stretcher with a great pay off. The LEED-Certified Visitor’s Center, built in 2008, is a work of contemporary art in itself, with mushroom-wood paneling and polished concrete floors. Use foot or bike power (bikes available for free near the entrance) to see all 80 sculptures. Open dawn to dusk, café hours Sat and Sun 11-4. free.
DRIVE: Just Drive. I’ve never seen so many beautiful barns in various states of decay.
Best Places to Eat in Hudson NY
There are a few dozen restaurants in Hudson, and not a small number of CIA trained chefs. Everyone in town seems to have their own personal favorites. These are mine – for a start:
EAT/MUSIC: Helsinki Restaurant and Club. Though known mostly as a music venue (coming up, Suzanne Vega and Taj Mahal), the Creole-cookin’ Chef, Hugh Horner, buys locally sourced ingredients for excellent dishes like Low Country Shrimp and Grits ($25), Aunt Theo’s Fried Chicken ($21), and meats cured and smoked in what’s affectionately known as “Atticus” – the wood fired smoker out in the courtyard.
In a refurbished 1800’s industrial building, Helsinki’s decor — utilizing brick walls, rough hewn wood plank ceiling, leather seating, upside-down lampposts (serving as structural supports), local art, and chandeliers – is a delight to the eye. Many people come for the shows, but I’d return on quiet nights for the nearly perfect Roasted Cauliflower and Mushroom Pot Pie ($24), with a dome of delicate puff pastry blanketing creamy vegetarian stew. Desserts include something maple (e.g. Maple Ice –Cream), made from syrup rendered on the owner’s farm in Hillsdale.
READ/DRINK: Spotty Dog. Like to have a cold one while browsing for books? Stop into this microbrewery pub and bookshop rolled into one.
EAT: Locals Recommend – Food Studio for Asian-influenced communal eating, DA/BA for inventive cuisine, Ca’Mea for excellent Italian, Baba Louie’s for artisanal pizza, Café Le Perche for seafood.
Where to Stay in Hudson NY
STAY: Mount Merino Manor. This High-End Luxury Victorian “country house” set on a hundred acre rise is just three miles from downtown Hudson, NY, and a world apart. With off-in-the-distance views of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains, soothing muted-colored walls, sparkle of crystal from overhead lamps, tasteful but not overbearing turn-of-last-century furniture, its a calming refuge from the summer craziness of Warren St.
Built in 1873 for Gustav Sabine, doctor-on-retainer for Hudson River School of Art notable, Frederick Church (who lived next door in his mansion, Olana), Mount Merino remained a private home until it was abandoned in the early 2000’s.
Owner, Rita Birmingham, purchased the property then scrupulously sourced “period piece” furniture and accessories for seven spacious guestrooms. The Deer Room features an inlayed-wood bed and a shower the size of a walk-in closet. Rip’s Room, with a Moroccan-style bed, overlooks the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. But most popular is the third floor Blue Mountain View room, with caramel colored walls, painted wide plank floors, rafter cathedral ceiling, carved sleigh bed, antique writing desk, and large marble bathroom sporting a soaking tub, antique carved wood sink and two-person marble rain shower.
A gourmet breakfast, including fresh-baked goods, locally sourced meats (of course) and egg or French toast dish is served on china and crystal. $195-$425 for rooms and suites, varies with season, includes gourmet, made to order breakfast, soft drinks and snacks 24/7, free wi-fi and parking.
STAY: The Inn At Hudson. Chestnut paneled walls, Mission Era leaded glass windows attributed to William Lighthouse Price; this incomparable four-room Arts and Crafts style B&B provides an opulent experience at a relatively reasonable price. Enormous rooms feature sleigh beds, gas fireplace, and foot-thick walls that make staying here pussy-foot quiet. Sensational, fresh from the hen gourmet breakfast is served in a spectacular oval dining room. Rooms from $175 to $250 per night includes gourmet breakfast.
STAY: Thyme in the Country. This is a few miles out of town, but perfect for “Green” back-to-nature, hypoallergenic folk. If the array of solar panels taking up a good portion of the backyard doesn’t convince you this place is “a bit off the grid,” the happy chickens running around certainly will. With inviting antique-filled rooms and several cozy dens reminiscent of ski lodges of old, Thyme in the Country is so green, every piece of bedding is natural and hypoallergenic, room amenities are organic, and milk for your morning coffee comes from resident cows. Fish in the pond, swim in the salt-filtered pool, take a long hike from the backyard, then head into little Philmont – a mile away – for local food in a repurposed garage; Local 111, and live music at Main Street Public House; with dartboards on walls and peanut shells at your feet. Rooms $165 and $180 per night include organic full breakfast.