CATSKILL MOUNTAINS, New York — After four months of quarantine, I was ready for an escape. The very sight of my dusty suitcase gave me butterflies. But in looking for a weekend getaway, my criteria was a little different this summer. I typically love a hotel stay with a lively lobby, in a city filled with trendy restaurants, with the chance to meet locals and travelers along the way.
This time I wanted space and, ideally, little social interaction with other guests. I was dreaming of being surrounded by mountains, flowing water, and the simple joy of trees, dirt, and fresh air. I wanted a weekend with no cell service, no scary CNN headlines, and a mental escape from it all.
I had originally planned to stay at Urban Cowboy Lodge last March. The latest opening from self-proclaimed accidental hoteliers Lyon Porter and his wife, Jersey Banks, whose hotel brand began with a bed and breakfast in Brooklyn and now includes two additional properties in Nashville. At their new Catskills property, they took the bones of the former 19th-century Alpine Inn, run by a German-Bavarian family, and turned it into a rustic-chic mountain escape that evokes nostalgia for American hunting lodges. Porter's whimsical, maximalist style that defines the Urban Cowboy brand is on full display in mixed textiles, vibrant painted patterns, found and repurposed pieces, and natural elements woven throughout. The inn's history as a lively vacation retreat lives on: The Swiss-German chalet style lends a playfulness and warmth that is heightened by Porter's designs. Especially his talent for a well-positioned bathtub.
Fast-forward to late July, as New York is emerging from lockdown and entering a promising stage where hotels could once again turn the lights on and welcome guests. I could wait an entire year before eating out at a restaurant, boarding a flight, or riding the subway. But bathing in a clawfoot tub with a spicy margarita in hand and the drapes on a forest-facing window drawn wide open — this I could not wait for.
So one summer Friday afternoon, my boyfriend and I left Brooklyn and headed east on NY-28 toward Woodstock, Phoenicia, and the other dreamy, quaint towns of upstate New York. It's an easy, beautiful drive, crossing over the Hudson River into the Catskill Mountains.
My bliss upon arriving at Urban Cowboy Lodge was like none other. This place is pure summer vacationland.
The property's cluster of wooden lodges and cabins sits high atop a steep hill of rolling green grass, the Esopus Creek flowing below and makeshift campfire areas at the ready for roasting marshmallows. It's so charming and almost laughably reminiscent of a summer camp that I felt the property might have magical powers against coronavirus.
But in all seriousness, the hotel has strict safety protocols to ensure guests and staff are safe and remain healthy. I completed the check-in process via email before I arrived, and my temperature was taken with a touchless thermometer when I picked up my key from the main lodge. I noticed a prominent sign reading "mask yo' ass." As a reward for my low, 97.7 temperature, I was offered a free welcome drink of my choice. A creature of habit in the summertime, I opted for a chilled glass of rosé.
I checked into my Alpine Bathing Suite, one of eight in the dual-level cabin uphill from the main lodge. A few in-room touches had been removed for extra precautions, such as wool Pendleton blankets and mini bar items, but the rustic glamour remained. A well-worn leather chair was perfectly positioned in front of the warming potbelly stove. The clawfoot tub glistened as the centerpiece of the room. The large outdoor deck was fitted with wooden rocking chairs and a view of the mountains. Yes, we could settle in here.
Set on 68 sprawling acres in Big Indian Wilderness, Urban Cowboy Lodge enjoys a high ratio of space to guest rooms, with only 28 rooms spread out among five buildings, and expansive, open-air communal spaces that lead to natural hideaways of hiking trails and an on-site swimming hole. The living room in the main lodge is currently closed; the dining room and restaurant have been redesigned as a pop-up market stocked with snacks (fresh pastries, fruit, yogurts, picnic essentials) and amenities (lawn games, s'mores kits, and salt soaks and scrubs for the tubs). A cooler is regularly refilled with canned cocktails, beer, and wine. The bar remains open for mixed cocktails until 10 p.m. This summer, the best Covid-friendly amenity is the Roberta's Pizza truck parked outside, serving fresh pies (Friday through Sunday, 1-8 p.m.) and an egg-sandwich bar for guests on Saturday mornings.
The weekend unfolded exactly as I had dreamed for my first post-quarantine adventure. We woke up to a thermos of freshly brewed Stumptown coffee outside our door, fuel for an early hike up to Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain, both a five-minute drive from the Lodge. The rest of the day flowed: lunch at nearby Woodstock Brewing, a late-afternoon dip in the swimming hole, and sunset on the deck of the main lodge with a spritz in hand while I waited for a white pizza with hot honey to come out of the wood-fired oven. After watching the sun set behind the mountains, we retreated to our cabin for a soak in the tub, gazing at the canopy of stars above. The sound of guests mingling by the campfire was a warm reminder of the spontaneous and effortless connections I make when I travel. While I was glad we were alone, I was excited to make new friends around s'mores the next night.
"'Be here now' is the whole mantra up here," Lyon Porter tells me, while bragging that the hotel's best amenity is its lack of cell phone service. "It's about being present while you're here. Listening to the river, going down to the watering hole, watching the stars from your bathtub. It’s what you’ve come to the mountains for."
And during the pandemic, Urban Cowboy Lodge is taking advantage of another amenity that the world has come to appreciate and desire the most during these past few months: the great outdoors. "The outdoor space has been a saving grace for us. It was always meant to be a return-to-nature resort, and somewhere in the midst of this, that has become even more special and valuable. There’s a therapeutic nature here that’s even more present during Covid."
While the communal ethos evoked in the hotel's slogan — "arrive as strangers, leave as friends" — is practiced differently in the time of social distancing, the hotel's free-spirited morale continues to encourage connection among guests.
"The core essence of the communal aspect is still alive," says Phil Hospod, who partnered with Jersey and Lyon to develop Urban Cowboy. "We're all social creatures by nature, and fostering a stage for people who want to connect with other people safely is very important to us."
Lyon adds: "If you want to have no interaction, you can do that. Or you can hang out by the bonfire until 3 a.m. It’s a choose-your-own adventure moment."
It's a strange time for travelers, with different comfort levels, desires, and anxieties. But what Urban Cowboy Lodge continues to instill is a sense of normalcy found in the simplicity of reconnecting with nature and having fun once again. Through its remarkably optimistic and lighthearted hospitality, the Lodge provide an escape from the world — even for a few days — and a profound sense of happiness at a time when I needed it most.
Rooms at Urban Cowboy Lodge start at $225. The hotel is open from Thursday to Sunday, with a two-night minimum. Click here for reservations or contact the Fathom Concierge and we can book your trip for you.