Get to Know the Catskills: Kingston, Phoenicia, Tannersville
Contributor Kyra Shapurji explores the latest crop of Catskills hotels and restaurants as well as a few classic attractions that keep people coming back to the Greater New York region.
The Catskills, the region of Upstate New York west of the Hudson River, can be reached in just over an hour on both Amtrak or Metro North trains or in a few hours by car (the preferred method for getting around these parts). City and suburban folk in need of a weekend jaunt can easily access the outdoors, stroll quaint downtowns teeming with new businesses (including many thoughtful restaurants led by former NYC chefs ), and relax overnight in many new hotels. The easy part is getting there. The hard part is choosing which towns to visit. New to the area? Start with Kingston, Phoenicia, and Tannersville and see why so many urbanites have permanently relocated upstate.
The town of Kingston, segmented into uptown (a national historical district) and downtown (a waterfront with a heavy maritime past) districts, was the first capital of New York. Now it could be considered the capital of craftsmanship, given it plays host to the annual Field + Supply craft fair (expanding to bi-annual for the first time this year), where hundreds of artisans showcase their goods and wares for the weekend. Beyond this popular event, a more permanent version of local entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity lives within The Fuller Building, an old shirt factory that's been converted into a hub of small businesses. Plan ahead to visit Eleven Six, catch a cooking class at The Upstate Table, or try your hand at the pottery wheel in one of l’Impatience Ceramic’s classes. This creative spot sits outside the main walkable streets and flies a bit under the radar, though probably not for long.
If you’re a shopper who favors the boutique kind of retail therapy, you’ll be smitten with the options for home decor, curated European brands of outdoor clothing and vintage looks, as well as a bookshop that invites you to take a seat. Boutiques worth stopping for include Westerlind, Exit Nineteen, and Rough Draft.
Do try the specialty Italian meat sandwich Il Voltrano or the Scrump of the Week pastry at Kingston Bread + Bar; dive into some pies or cacio e pepe from Lola’s Pizza; pop in for a brunch and go the savory route with Restaurant Kinsley’s burger. Saddle up to Chleo’s Wine Bar and stay as long as you like — it’s a noted rule for this cozy spot to take your time to enjoy that aperitif, digestif, or memorable bottle with friends.
If you’re looking for a bit of history, book your overnight (or two) at Hotel Kinsley, a 42-room boutique hotel spread across four historic buildings uptown. Each of the four design-savvy buildings offer a different atmosphere and interior details specific to their century-old nature. Request a luxe suite with a bird’s-eye view of the main thoroughfare in the flagship building, Wall Street, and you’ll check in behind the building’s restored 19th-century bank vault.
Roughly 45 minutes north of Kingston is Phoenicia, technically a hamlet of Ulster County seeped in quarrying and tannery industries. The old Phoenix Tannery is believed have given the town its name, and, as with much of upstate New York, the area was once a Dutch-speaking land that was home to Irish, Scottish, and Dutch immigrants.
If you’ve heard of Phoenicia before, it could be because of the ever-popular Phoenicia Diner. A no-reservations spot with a homey feeling delivers meatloaf sandwiches, queso burgers, and more lunch menu items to fuel a day of hiking and exploring. Since the restaurant is rampant on Instagram, you might find yourself with a bit of wait, and if you’re way past due for breakfast and need a soul-satisfying meal, there’s always Sweet Sue’s. Pancakes are the headliner on this menu: The gluten-filled stack put the restaurant on the map back in the ‘80s. Now helmed by a former Brooklynite (not joking about the NYC exodus), it's a competitive alternative to the Diner, with six different kinds of flapjack stacks. If you’re seeking out an elevated meal, you would be hard-pressed to find one that tops Clay at the recently-opened Wildflower Farms hotel. Named for the on-property clay-rich soil where the plated produce is grown, the menu spans the gamut of fish, meat, and pasta with paired sauces. You’ll spend the most at Clay, but it’s worth it, and if you arrive before sunset, be sure to take some time to revel in expansive wilderness views while sipping your beverage of choice.
If your upstate agenda allows for pockets of time to fill, explore one of the many outdoor trails or try your hand at fishing. Both adventures are offered as guided activities with Catskill Outfitters, a local business that knows the area very well. Have kids in tow? Rail Explorers offers a friendly, low-key tour where the whole family can ride the rails on pedal-powered carts. It’s an eight-mile round trip along the Esopus Creek and it comes equipped with electrical-powered assistance, should your legs need a break.
The Eastwind brand continues its New York hotel expansion with Oliverea Valley. As with all the properties, there’s a comforting ambiance and atmosphere, including a cutting-edge infrared sauna. Other notable details include A-frame lushna cabins, the most addicting focaccia at on-site restaurant Dandelion, accessible trail heads right on property, and a pool for lazy lounging during the summer months.
Known as the painted village in the sky, Tannesrville is situated within the town of Hunter. Given its artistic slogan, the town has embarked on a Paint Program where various historic downtown buildings are painted in multi-colored pastels with cartoon-like pictures on the shutters, an attraction ripe for social media fodder.
The backdrop is Hunter Mountain, with Windham Mountain just to the north. Both offer skiing, hiking, and golfing. One spot not resort-side and worth a visit for an après-ski, a happy hour, or just a dinner out is Last Chance Antiques & Cheese Café. Since 1971, Last Chance has been serving comfort food: more than 100 cheeses, 200 beers, and 50 whiskeys. Word to the wise: Order fondue for the quintessential après ski memory while you take in all the antique ambiance. Another noteworthy joint, Hunter Mountain Brewery, is the spot for a flight of local brews and a half-American and half-Indian menu that legitimately passes the taste test.
If you’re not into staying resort-side, consider a stay at the newly opened Hotel Lilien, an 18-room refurbished Victorian home with eclectic interior décor in close proximity to the slopes. The hotel’s ground floor restaurant and bar turns into a local hangout on weekends complete with a DJ and where hotel staff and guests mingle. You can actually hear the clinking of glasses.
Keep Exploring the Catskills
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