An Insider’s Guide to Columbia County
Posted: December 20, 2017
“Green Acres is the place to be.
Farm livin' is the life for me.
Land spreadin' out so far and wide
Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.
New York is where I'd rather stay.
I get allergic smelling hay.
I just adore a penthouse view.
Dah-ling I love you but give me Park Avenue.”
Anyone who’s seen the bygone television series Green Acres, about an oddly-matched married couple who swapped Manhattan for a rustic farm in the countryside, will remember how Lisa Douglas and her husband Oliver Wendell Douglass (played by Eva Gabor and Eddie Albert), didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye on the perfect location to call ‘home.’ As the opening theme song conveyed: Lisa craved the city, while Oliver was blissfully content with pastoral life.
Today, both might have found sweet satisfaction in Columbia County, an upstate region in the Hudson Valley on the eastern side of the Hudson River, where the bustling city of Hudson and other charming townships pocketed throughout the area are all just minutes from verdant hillsides and sprawling, open fields.
Having grown up there, I know it well. As a young teen, I identified with Lisa. I wanted excitement and stimulus. I dreamed of stepping outside my front door and shouting “Taxi!” like they did in movies. But now that my fantasies of Manhattan have become a reality, I appreciate the virtues of both settings. Occasional visits upstate and deep breaths of country air make urban lifestyle feel sustainable. And these days, with so much happening in Hudson, if I do want a little “excitement” or a fantastic meal besides my father’s home cooking, that’s where I go.
NOTE: What’s below isn’t the definitive guide to Columbia County, but it’s most definitely my guide to Columbia County—with two favorites from the brand’s founders, Matthew and Andrew, who have also found a “green acres” of their own in the area.
The two-hour train ride on Amtrak from New York to Hudson’s quaint station is one I highly recommend—and if you can get a seat on the river-facing side of the train, even better. The views are stunning all year round, but autumn is especially spectacular for its foliage.
For as long as I can remember, locals have commented on Hudson’s steady evolution as more New Yorkers, artists, and creatives moved up to the area. But in the last decade or so, the city’s transformation into a bona fide destination has been a remarkable one. No other street better reflects those changes than Warren Street, Hudson’s main drag, which almost always has some newly-opened restaurant, gallery or shop to check out. Start at the top and work your way down on foot.
To call Swoon a dining institution would be an understatement. This OG on Hudson’s Warren Street has been open since 2004, and even with all the breathless hype attached to some the newer spots in town, chef Jeff Gimmel’s changing menu of farm-to-table cuisine remains one of the city’s best.
This cozy French cafe, with its front bakery counter displaying baskets full of fresh croissants, breads and other goodies, is where you should tuck into on a bleak winter afternoon, when you miss your train and have an hour to kill until the next one. Comfort yourself with a warm bowl of soup by the fireplace, and consider missing the next train, too.
Admittedly I don’t really stay in hotels when I’m upstate, but when the Rivertown Lodge opened in 2015, it became a fast favorite for visitors and locals alike. The cool, white front facade, complete with marquis signage, reflects the building’s past life as a movie theater, while the stylish and welcoming lounge area and bar makes it a sweet spot to get a cocktail any night of the week. The owners also opened their in-house restaurant this year, with a menu that blends accents of north African flavors with seasonal ingredients.
My friend Colu, a cookbook author, who’s been living full-time in Hudson for nearly two years now, introduced me to this charming multi-hyphenate space. It’s a gallery, coffeehouse, cafe and wine bar with a cozy couch area surrounding a Scandinavian-style fireplace—the perfect late-morning stop to curl up and kvetch for a solid hour or three.
Many would say that this attractive, new but old-feeling inn and restaurant—just a three-minute walk from the train station—resembles something straight out of Brooklyn, but that’s not a bad thing. Out-of-towners will love the 13 gorgeous guest rooms and suites spread throughout three adjacent buildings, while locals have quickly adopted the barroom and farm-to-table restaurant a regular hangout of sorts.
This 7,000-square-foot space is no longer a grocery store, but it’s a supermarket, alright. Antiques and art from a diverse collection of dealers span across the eras, from ancient times to the not-so-distant past. Here you’ll find everything from black and white portraits of Andy Warhol, to bronze Buddha statues from Thailand, to mid-century lighting fixtures, all under roof.
There’s an impressive array of offerings on the menu at Bodhi, including facials, acupuncture, and an infrared sauna (there’s also a yoga studio and hair salon on site), but I admit I’ve only ever gotten massages and body work here. Why? Because they’re so damn good, I can’t imagine going for anything else.
Outside of Hudson, Columbia County holds a number of smaller, charming towns and villages worth driving to, including Kinderhook, Ghent, and Chatham. If you’ve got a car, I suggest getting out and exploring. The views along the way are a destination in themselves.
This Germantown restaurant bills itself as a “Columbia County tavern,” which certainly lends itself to the comfortable setting and feeling that you always amongst friends, but given the number of impressive NYC restaurants both co-owners Nick and Sarah Suarez have worked at, the food, while unfussy, is outstanding.
In case it’s not obvious, upstaters can be very literal with their names (see Hudson Supermarket), and The School was indeed once that; formerly the Martin Van Buren school, the building is now the colossal upstate outpost of the Jack Shainman Gallery, with stellar exhibitions and shows that make ample use of the sprawling space.
You might recognize this farm from several of the greenmarkets scattered throughout NYC, but those trucked-in offerings are a fraction of what you’ll find on the actual property. Samascotts’ are the apples I grew up eating, and yet I’ll still find new varieties I’ve never tasted before. You can pick your own, or pick up a ready-to-go bushel and a fresh apple cider donut for the road.
The Flammerie You wouldn’t think you’d have to make reservations for a restaurant in such a quiet-seeming locale, but if you try walking into Kinderhook’s The Flammerie without one, you’d be surprised. The cozy, wood-fired bistro offers up German, and Alsatian-French inspired fare, made with seasonal Hudson Valley ingredients, for a lighter, veggie-filled take on menu items like strudel, schnitzel and smoky, wood-fired flatbreads known as flammkuchen. Make that reservation.
Art Omi From outdoor installations featuring spinning houses, to writer/artist-in-residence programs, Omi International Arts Center is a must-stop for art enthusiasts. The rotating collection of international pieces, in a diverse range of mediums, rivals that of any major arts capital.
FROM MATTHEW AND ANDREW’S LIST
Matthew loves stopping by Bartlett House in Ghent for its delicious brunches and selection of freshly-baked breads to bring home for toasting up on lazy Sunday mornings with the paper and coffee, while Andrew visits nearby Kinderhook Farm for fresh eggs and sustainable meats sourced from grass-fed livestock. For making the perfect cheese and charcuterie board—or simply a satisfying sandwich—Andrew also favors Talbott & Arding Cheese and Provisions on Hudson’s Warren Street.
written by: Laura Neilson