Catskills Corner: Ten of the Best Part 2
See part 1 below
4) The Roxbury Motel, Public Lounge, the town of Roxbury.
It’s long been a dream for Posie and I to spend a night or two at the Roxbury Motel, near Plattekill Mountain. But it’s not something we would do, say, for a ski weekend, with the family, not when we live only 45 minutes away and our kids are happier at home. So when my mother offered to child-sit while visiting to give us a night away, we seized our chance.
The Roxbury is an old motel, converted around five years ago into the grooviest pad this side of Austin Powers, the Partridge Family and I Dream of Jeanie. I choose those references deliberately, as there’s a room based on each of those TV shows/movies, and many more besides: the room we stayed in is entitled The Psychedelic Swirl. (“Chris played Hendrix music on his Ipod while painting this wall,” reads the on-line blurb.)
The attention to detail hardly ends there. Bathrooms are packed with high-end toiletries, complete with zip-lock bags to take home those you’ve opened but not finished (what a simple yet rare touch); beds are super-duper comfortable and come with more pillows that you could throw a cat at; the furniture is almost uniformly (environmentally unfriendly but hipster cool) bright platic; there’s a central 450-DVD library to choose from to maximize use of your own 42-inch TV screen; all rooms have fridges; there’s wine for sale by the bottle (we brought our own, natch); and the so-called continental breakfast is a treat both for health fanatics (e.g. flax granola and high-end Japanese teas) and sugar junkies (coffee cake, pastries and copious jams) alike. There’s also a spa, though being there just the one night we figured it wasn’t worth the $20 surcharge.
About the only thing the Roxbury doesn’t have is a bar or restaurant… which is why it seemed way beyond coincidence that, almost as soon as the motel opened its doors in it colorful new guise back in 04, an almost equally colorful cocktail bar called Public Lounge opened for business all of ten feet away. (Okay, I lie, it may be as far as ten yards away. Regardless, it’s next door.) Changing hands in 2007 (the original owners were weekenders, a definite recipe for a workload meltdown), it’s now run by a lovely couple of women who have semi-fictionalized the bar’s herstory with lots of lesbian lore, and ramped up the food offerings to the point that motel visitors rarely need to head as far as Main Street (all of 100 yards up the road) to the local trattoria, adequate though it may be.
Thrilled with the prospect of such vibrant energy either side of a motel car park, Posie and I spent our brief respite enjoying a lifestyle that had seemed all too easy back when we were young and free if not exactly single, the kind of lifestyle that presents itself as a tantalizingly distant fantasy once you have a couple of kids under your belt – especially one, like Noel, who has required so much hands-on attention. This was, believe it or not, Posie’s first night without him since he was born in December 2004, and it was a struggle to get her to relinquish the attachment even for this 24 hours.
The village of Roxbury has some lovely old buildings “from the most humble Greek revival to the most elaborate late Victorian,” and also an absolutely stunning public park, Kirskide Park, originally paid for, as was much of the town, by Helen Gould, daughter of Roxbury’s own rail baron, Jay Gould. (Things are never, however, quite as egalitarian as they seem; for a history of the park’s previously private status, its downfall and its eventual turning over to the village and resurrection as a public space, read this.) As Kirkside currently stands, there are several Adirondack-style lattice wooden bridges, a free-flowing creek with waterfalls, a full-sized, perfectly marked out football – yes, soccer! – pitch (field!) and a gazebo to boot. The local K-12 school, a fine-looking church and a residential home all back on to it; lucky people.
Roxbury’s main street is suffering from empty store fronts like everywhere else in America, but as the local literature notes, the town’s location off the beaten path means that it’s never quite fallen victim to fashions, so while business is not necessarily booming, there appears to be a deeper residential commitment – and arts scene – than in many other neighboring areas. (Apart from the patronage of the Gould family, it also helps Roxbury’s reputation that it was the birthplace of the great naturalist John Burroughs.)
It was pushing 90F as we walked Roxbury’s Main Street late in the afternoon, and I felt like I was out in the desert at at Burning Man, trying to just wait out (or in this case, walk out) the late afternoon sun until cocktail hour came around. We held our patience until 5:30pm, at which we proudly presented ourselves as Public’s first customers for the evening, treating ourselves to relatively familiar cocktails, the wife a margarita, and myself a Flamingo Cosmo, made with Absolute, Triple Sec and Pomegranate juice. This, I said to myself as we sat on the deck of the bar and wondered whether we had the energy to cross the road to the village auction (we did not), is why I gave up spirits for several years: because I could drink them all night. These days I’m a lightweight (or, more accurately, a light welterweight), so I only managed two of them, plus half of a Hope Floats that I didn’t much enjoy (and wasn’t charged for: thanks!), but given the afternoon heat and the general decadence of knocking back cocktails before the sun had set, that was enough. Besides, I followed it with a glass of albarinho (Spanish, but of course) while enjoying a delicate thin-crust pizza made with olive tapenade, roasted peppers, fresh basil and mozzarella. Posie enjoyed the tilapia fish dish; each came in around the highly acceptable ten-dollar mark.
During the three hours we hung out at Public, we chatted with all kinds of people, including a relatively local pianist of some repute, Justin Kolb. We moved inside as the sun set and the bugs came out to play, and watched the bar fill up with Roxbury residents and visitors alike, including families with children, and we may even have watched it empty out again. It was all we could do not to stretch out on the armchairs and couches and go to sleep there. I’m not saying that Public is the greatest little lounge bar in the world but it’s surely the finest of its kind in the Catskills. I would kill for something so cool in Phoenicia or Woodstock… most likely, I’d kill both my bank account and my liver, so it’s probably for the best that Public is so far away.
Anyway, we headed back to our room to make the most of our pick from the DVD library, not realizing that our choice – Giant, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, a teenage Dennis Hopper, a young Gary Busey, and an even younger Sal Mineo – happens to be some 210 minutes long. Worn out by so much exposure to the unseasonable heat, buzzed on atypical cocktails, we took turns falling asleep and waking each other up during the first half until we agreed that part of the fun of being away on our own was the opportunity to fall asleep while watching a 50-year old movie on a big screen TV.
I woke early in the morning and couldn’t help getting up and going for a run on the country roads while the wife dozed on (I know I know: it was meant to be a break) after which we gorged on that ludicrously excessive continental breakfast and then figured we’d have time to finish Giant while packing for the 11am checkout. We didn’t. It was almost 11:30 by the time we gave up and there were still half a dozen scenes left. Great film: I just felt sorry for Rock Hudson, a repressed homosexual in a movie celebrated for breaking down barriers about interracial marriage. One hopes he would be happy to know that his former home state of California is locked in a great moral argument about giving similar rights to gay couples, that several other states have already led the way, and that public lounges in remote villages like Roxbury can be run by an openly out couple.
3) Plattekill Mountain.
Upon checking in on the home front, and being assured that all was well and good with the kids and that we could take the bulk of the day to ourselves, I suggested we cruise our bicycles over to nearby Plattekill, the mom-and-pop ski mountain I love so much for the density of its natural snowfalls. It was a slog getting there, in part because of the hills, and especially because we took a detour to avoid the hills and simply encountered more of them, but I always like the idea of having a destination, and this lived up to hopes. Hunter and Windham and Belleayre, you see, all still have plenty snow on their slopes, mainly because they make so much of it. Plattekill, which makes snow only on one of its pistes, is already free of the white stuff and therefore able to turn itself over immediately to mountain bikers, who we found happily hauling their hefty two-wheelers up the chair lifts to ramble round miles of trails before coming roaring down the black diamonds at back-breaking speeds and intensity. Plattekill doesn’t just cater to mountain bikers, it invites them to camp overnight in the car park, and we saw several who had accepted the offer and pitched tents. I totally understand the ski bum lifestyle, and wish I could be a part of it; this was maybe the first time I’d stumbled upon the mountain bike bum lifestyle, and it seems no less passionate or, for that matter, dangerous. At least skiing we only wear protection on our heads; these guys have almost their entire body encases in armor.
Our bikes are not equipped for such terrain but that was never the point of cycling out that far. Sure enough, though the Plattekill bar wasn’t open (panic!), there was a barbeque going on the deck and a couple of buckets full of cold beers for sale (panic over!). I grabbed a Sam Adams – a real treat for me on a Sunday lunchtime – and as I sat out there soaking up the ludicrously powerful sunshine, I said to myself, This is the way to spend a birthday weekend.
2) The Peekamoose.
My mother – granny – had kindly offered to treat us all to a meal out, ostensibly for my birthday, and so shortly after Posie and I got home, heavily suntanned if not burned too, we headed almost all the way back up Route 28 towards Belleayre and the Peekamoose. Posie and I went there for the first time in February, on President’s Day, the end of a busy ski weekend, where the food was good but it was far too packed for everything to be perfect. On a quiet Sunday in what is typically the “off” season round these parts, the place was much more manageable.
In a scenario not entirely unlike that of the Pipe and Glass in Yorkshire, Peekamoose chef Devin Mills and manager Marybeth Mills met during their various shifts at award-winning restaurants in New York City (e.g. Le Bernadine, Gramercy Tavern, Picholine), and opted to make their first statement as entrepreneurs with a country restaurant-tavern, choosing the Hudson Valley for all obvious reasons of its splendid local ingredients and tourism. The Peekamoose offers two areas to eat in: a tavern, as they call it (with several excellent beers on tap), and the spacious restaurant. There’s also an indoor kids play area, very handy for all the families coming off the ski mountains and a major reason we chose the place (Campbell kindly took Noel there for the second half of the meal); and an outdoor fire pit. Food is good to very good– the gazpacho was perfect for such a hot day, and the ladies in my family enjoyed their fish dishes; the only comment was that the portions of accompanying sauces were small. My vegetable plate was fine, but if I go there a third time, I may ask for something a little more imaginative – or have the portobello burger in the bar. On this occasion, certainly, service was absolutely perfect. We ended it all by allowing Campbell gorge on a big fat chocolate cake dessert for being the best big brother in the world.
The wine list at the Peekamoose is extensive and eclectic, perhaps a little too imaginative for its own good. That or it needs to arrange itself, per the Pipe and Glass, by style, or by region. Mark-up is, despite my original perception, quite healthy, less than double the average retail price. On this night out, we went through a bottle of Sokol-Blasser’s multiple-white-grape blend Evolution #11 (a reminder of the Cotes d’Oakley with which I first wrote about wine at iJamming!), and the guru of Gruner, Nikolaihof’s bio-dynamic Gruner Veltliner ‘Hefeabzug’ from Austria’s Wachau region, a bracing mineral wine of considerable intensity that made a decent match for our varied food. (Given that the law in New York now allows for it, we took the second bottle home to finish.) I realized along the way that, despite it being a “special occasion,” all the biking and riding and hot sun had put me more in the mood for a couple of pints, particularly the Saranac special IPA that I saw too late on the menu. But now that I know how truly lovely the Peekamoose can be, it’s going to be hard to keep driving past it on our way home from Belleayre ski days.
1) Birthday barbeque
We didn’t actually do this on my birthday; I was in the city that day. But the weather had been so glorious for so many days, and we do have kind of a large back yard, and my mum does love barbeques, and it did seem like it would be both easy and fun, and so we invited over one of our best friends and their kids (on a school night!), lit the charcoal, lit up the fire pit as well, opened a very strong bottle of D’Ameillaud Cairanne (from the evidently ripe 2007 vintage), and a luscious Hochar 2002 from Lebanon via Beverley, and had us a roaringly fun Tuesday night outdoors, an evening that ended with all of us gathered round the fire pit, guitars in hand, Joe Strummer style. It’s not that we didn’t have impromptu backyard barbeques back in Brooklyn. But we certainly didn’t have a jungle gym, goalposts, a fire pit and a big ole’ sky full of stars that you could actually see. I loved living in the City (London and New York) for so much of my life. But I feel blessed to be spending my forties up here. Wouldn’t you?