Just as fashion has a funny way of coming back around, so, too, do vacation destinations. The Catskills—famous as the pastoral playground of New Yorkers from the 1920s through the ’60s, and as the setting for Borscht Belt comedy and Dirty Dancing, fell very out of vogue in the ’70s.
Recently, though, the region is back in style thanks to a new cadre of creative young city transplants drawn to the Catskills for its scenic setting, slower pace and opportunities for development, resulting in visit-worthy boutique hotels, restaurants, homegrown stores and distilleries.
Most of the action is happening in the western Catskills, about a two-hour drive south of Albany, in the quintessential American small towns of Narrowsburg and Callicoon on the Delaware River, and Livingston Manor just to the east. Former hospitality executive Sims Foster and his wife, former US Treasury Department advisor Kirsten Harlow Foster, are at the forefront of those driving the change.
The couple runs Foster Supply Hospitality, an ever-growing collection of hip hotels and restaurants whose newest and most upscale property, Kenoza Hall, opened in early June and is a 15-minute drive from Callicoon. A boarding house in the 19th century, the 22-room property sits on a grassy hill above a lake and is decked out with wooden writing desks, soft velvet chairs and antique paintings.
Their 55 acres include walking trails, gardens, a pool, a hot tub and a barrel-shaped sauna. There’s also a spa offering massages and facials, a movement studio with aerial yoga classes and a lakefront restaurant where diners can leisurely enjoy French fare created with local ingredients.
Back in the town of Callicoon, wine store cum tapas bar Callicoon Wine Merchant has a large outdoor garden where travelers can imbibe on small-producer organic wines and tuck into seasonally inspired small plates while listening to live music. A few blocks away, Catskill Provisions, open since Memorial Day, is a 4,000 square-foot tasting room in Callicoon’s former firehouse. Owner Claire Marin, who moved to the Catskills from Manhattan, runs with a pollinator-friendly theme—both the tasty gin and whiskey she distills utilize local grains and honey, and you can try her raw wildflower honey either on its own or drizzled over local cheeses such as Tonjes Farm Dairy mozzarella. A short walk away, Spruce Home Goods is a classic country store selling flowers, pies, local eggs, and knickknacks such as earthy water jugs, soap holders and ceramic mugs.
A half-hour north, Livingston Manor, with one main thoroughfare and a bohemian feel, has its own lineup of treasures. Malaysian-born Ninze Chen, a former Queens resident and graphic designer, owns Long Weekend, a large and airy vintage furniture and home goods store with modernist furniture and funky ceramics.
Van Smokey, open since July 4th, is a smokehouse and butcher shop offering classic steaks, game such as venison and elk, and in-house smoked meats; owner Jeff Prybolsky also turns out a killer smoked jalapeno hot sauce and succulent applewood-smoked cremini mushroom jerky.
On the arts front, the nonprofit Catskill Art Society has contemporary art exhibitions throughout the year. The society plans to celebrate its expansion next year by showcasing pieces from renowned American artists James Turrell and Sol Lewitt.
The Foster’s other standout—the nationally acclaimed dining experience at The DeBruce hotel—sits about nine minutes outside town. Here, diners are in store for an inventive nine-course tasting menu that constantly changes. In July, executive chef Eric Leveillee served up dishes such as grilled scallops with preserved ramp paste and aged beef with fermented plum.
North of Livingston Manor and Callicoon, Narrowsburg completes the Western Catskills trifecta. The Velvet Maple, a home goods and accessories store, is a can’t-miss here. Owner Alessandra Lavarone travels the world sourcing merchandise—her finds this year have included leather wallets from Cape Town and colorful embroidered towels from Sayulita, in Mexico.
Next door, Sunny’s Pop, owned by actor Mark Ruffalo’s wife Sunny, sells attention-getting items such as neon clouds and modernist bamboo daybeds, while The Laundrette serves pork meatballs over vermicelli and wood-fired pizza that has crowds lining up; pepperoni with black olives is a house favorite.
When it comes time to hang your hat, the four-room Moon River Inn is a posh yet affordable option. Situated in the heart of Narrowsburg, it has a lovely terrace with firepits overlooking the Delaware River. This is the perfect spot to cap off your day exploring the Catskills—owner Celeste Evans even provides graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows that’ll have you coming back for s’more.