Why Creatives Are Flocking To The Hudson Valley
Upstate New York (and Hudson in particular) is enjoying a culinary and cultural boom
Warren Street, one of Hudson’s picturesque routes, and home to the Rivertown Lodge. Photograph by Mr Matthew Williams, courtesy of Workstead
“Frankly, I was just burned out,” says Mr Nino Cirabisi on why he moved (part time) from Brooklyn to Hudson, New York. For the last dozen years or so, Mr Cirabisi has been a beloved bartender and owner, consultant and advisor to bars and liquor brands, and a charismatic figure animating the city’s neighbourhoods of Fort Greene, Carroll Gardens and the Lower East Side where he has worked. But in 2017, Mr Cirabisi and his girlfriend, the fashion designer Ms Danielle Ribner, bought a place in Hudson as a retreat, a place to soothe the Manhattan burn-out energy.
Since then, Hudson has become something more than just a safe space for them – something closer to home. This summer, Ms Ribner opened a storefront, her first, for her clothing line, Loup, and the couple is feeling more themselves Upstate than they do in town.
“In the city, I hardly go out,” Ms Ribner says. “It’s such a hassle and can be overwhelming. I actually really enjoy socialising in Hudson. It just seems easier and more sincere. I’ve met some really amazing people and when friends visit, we really get to enjoy our time together.”
The couple didn’t come to this rural river town totally unawares. Mr Cirabisi was familiar with the area, having rented a place nearby for years (in 2015, he and his housemates put together a kind of Upstate cookbook, Twenty Dinners, which they fêted at the restaurant Fish & Game in Hudson), and he knew it to be a good place with good vibes for good eats and great wine. “I think I landed in Hudson because it felt like a kind of New York I’m very romantic about,” he says. “You have this small city surrounded by farmland and nature. It’s quaint. It’s peaceful and relaxing. But then you start to notice people are taking risks, doing what they love, coming to this small city to live how they can’t in the city anymore, maybe. You can be creative; you can be an artist and still afford to live in Hudson. The food scene is a great example of that. It’s a small community of people, and they’re all creating with each other, supporting and contributing to one another’s projects. It’s very alive.”
Fish & Game, Hudson. Photograph by Mr Evan Sung, courtesy of Fish & Game
If the food scene is alive here, the Dr Frankenstein responsible for its awakening is Mr Zak Pelaccio, whose Fish & Game breathed new life into the entire region when the restaurant opened in 2013 (it won him a James Beard Award in 2016). Mr Pelaccio, who was one of the movers and shakers at the centre of New York’s foodie boom at the start of the decade (his food at the now-shuttered Fatty Crab was decadent and delicious beyond belief), says on his website that he “is convinced that the Hudson Valley and the town of Hudson in particular is a natural centre for New York’s intelligentsia, cultural illuminati and glitterati, a cosy urban oasis framed by farmland.”
Having made his own home on farmland in nearby Chatham, NY, and his headquarters in the Hudson Valley, Mr Pelaccio has helped to reestablish Hudson as a new kind of boom town. It’s a far more sustainable and better-eating one to be sure. “My lawyer likes to say it’s a college campus for adults,” Mr Pelaccio tells me, fresh off an inspiration trip to China. And he’s only halfway joking when he describes the two main draws as “alcoholism and atheism”. “Both of which are respectable hobbies, in my opinion,” he says, “and only increase the possibilities for random, uninhibited social interactions.”
When I visit, in the second half of September, the trees in the valley are all still heavily bearded with summer vines, the woods are still dense with undergrowth, and the air has filled with the chill of football weather. Crisp, cool days like this are why Mr Pelaccio relocated here. “When dawn hits, the sky is moody and you think, ‘I may never leave the house,’ but by that second cup of tea, as you slip on your shoes and shuffle outside into the fallen leaves, the sun breaks through and you’re nibbling on rosebuds, haws and apples. You can shed a layer and the reds are on fire and yellows are blinding. You don’t hear any traffic and there are no signs of other humans. I spend time here, still, because, still, I can find this.”
The restaurant at Hotel Kinsley. Photograph courtesy of Hotel Kinsley
Maybe people are more creative here. About a year ago, the writer Mr Tyler Watamanuk moved to Hudson, he says, “for a change of pace and scenery.” Mr Watamanuk works from home, in “a converted studio on a quiet country road,” and commutes to the city when he needs to. “It’s not that I was burnt out on living in New York City,” he says, “but felt like I was ready to start the next chapter of my life. Plus, the space you get up here seems unreal when you’re used to living in tiny crooked apartments.”
The design studio Workstead – which overhauled the great Dewberry hotel in Charleston, as well as the recently opened Rivertown Lodge in Hudson – has opened a studio and showroom on the main street of nearby Warren for similar reasons. “Geographically, the decision made a lot of sense,” says Workstead co-founder Mr Robert Highsmith. “Stefanie [Brechbuehler, his partner in business and life] and I live in a rural farmhouse in Columbia County, within 90 minutes of NYC. Having a workspace and showroom in Hudson allows us to engage in Hudson’s ongoing transformation, to be a part of a smaller creative community, while also maintaining the larger cultural context of the studio in Brooklyn.”
The city of Hudson – a mishmash of Italianate, Georgian, Federalist and just generally ’Murican architecture, built on the spoils of the whaling industry – Mr Highsmith says, “is bustling with creativity and ripe for collaboration… There are a lot of fabricators, antique dealers and fellow designers that we work with to execute some of our interiors projects and lighting collections, making our presence in Hudson even more meaningful.”
Mr Pelaccio has also expanded his presence in the area with the Malaysian-inflected BackBar, which recently hosted a glorious natural wine festival. And he’s also been instrumental in the menu design for the newly opened Hotel Kinsley in nearby Kingston, NY, a project from Mr Taavo Somer, formerly of Freemans Sporting Club, which aims, at least in part, to become a gathering place, nerve centre and lobby area for both the native and visiting populations to the area. “The classic function of a hotel,” Mr Somer says. “Yeah, that was always the goal.”
Applestone Meat Company 24/7 vending machines. Photograph by Ms Jennifer May, courtesy of Applestone Meat Company
The Kinsley is a lovely refurbishment of an old bank building (check-in is in the vault) on a quaint corner of the very walkable pre-Revolution town of Kingston. Mr Somer still has business in NYC (he just opened Ray’s Bar on the Lower East Side with his partners, Messrs Justin Theroux and Carlos Quirarte), but says he feels “far more productive, healthier, and happier,” since he relocated to the area in 2008, when he and his now wife bought a house in Accord. He too has plans for more: “a grab-n-go market called Fare & Main as well as a pizza place called Lola, both in Kingston,” he says.
You really can feel the positive energy, polishing development and encouraging aesthetic improvements being made everywhere in the area. Call it gentrification, perhaps, or even urban flight, but the improvements look amazing to my city-fied eyes: for one, the incredible Japanese-style vending machines at Applestone Meat Company (honestly, this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen), with a dedicated machine each for beef, pork, lamb and odd bits, all open 24 hours. Then, of course, there is the tavern at Rivertown Lodge, with its North African-inspired menu from Mr Gabriele Gulielmetti, the Bon Appétit favourite, Lil’ Deb’s Oasis, a kaleidoscopic Caribbean-style joint, and… well, you start to understand how a New Yorker could lose his way up in these parts and just never make it back.