↓ ↓ ↓ ↓ a history, and foods/hangs/drinks recommendations, edited by JD ↓ ↓ ↓ ↓
WELCOME TO HUDSON
Named after the legendary British explorer Henry Hudson, this mini-city of handsome architecture and Renaissance skies has one of the most storied histories in all of American lore: from the 1705 discovery of a fossilized mastodon on the nearby banks of the Hudson River (the first scientifically documented paleontology excavation in North America) to a once-epic but long-forgotten whaling port founded by an affluent group of 18th century Nantucket whalers, its Industrial Revolution-era waterfront factories, infamous turn-of-the-century red-light district (the Northeast destination for booze, gambling, and sex, circa 1900-1950), and subsequent mid-century decline, the story of Hudson continues in its current incarnation as a reclaimed and revisited 21st century city of lost dreams.
These cycles of construction and decay and renovation and re-decay once prompted former Harper’s Bazaar editor Scott Baldinger to write about Hudson’s “picturesque disassembly, magically unique and at the same time so vulnerable to ‘improvement’... It’s a disconnect between the town as you’re seeing it - the visual evidence of Hudson’s miraculous and continuing preservation - and the gnawing sensation that, despite all the apparent progress, and everyone’s best work and intentions, it is, like Generalissimo Francisco Franco, still dead.”
Though the ‘dead’ part may be changing, Hudson still does seem a bit like Freud’s vision of Rome as an overlapping catalogue of past and present, with the ruins of one era buried under the ruins-in-progress of another. People seeing Hudson for the first time can sense the presence of a secret past, alongside the static, the ruined, the restored, the gussied-up, the newfangled, the just-starting-to-crumble. Spend more than a weekend here and these presences become a tacit fact of life - less keenly felt each passing day and eventually taken for granted.
Even dull places have a history, but Hudson makes its felt to an extreme extent. This is a byproduct of Hudson’s endless cycles of boom-and-bust. The gyrations of Hudson’s fortunes, which seem to reverse every twenty to forty years, resemble nothing so much as a Hannah-Barbara cartoon character clinging to the blades of a frantically rotating windmill.
Hudson flashes both the scars and the glinting relics of past cycles of collapse and refurbishment. To walk down Warren Street is to be confronted with countless traces of past residents’ dreams and schemes, recent or distant, noble or sordid, refined or homely. Here once stood a whorehouse. There, a corrupt mining magnate’s mansion. This puddle on a marble stoop tells the tale of a hundred thousand footsteps. That peeling latex exposes a corner-cutter’s decision not to bother priming the siding.
Hudson has a number of places like this, structures and details that make you stop and look and wonder what was or what could be. There is a uniqueness to this city, easily observed and felt, and perhaps part of its growing appeal is that peculiarity is increasingly rare to stumble upon while navigating the milieu of strip malls and franchises that continue to make American life evermore predictable and forever less interesting. Yet in Hudson, you’ll still find abandoned stretches of overgrown grass between houses. Decaying buildings in the middle of an otherwise bustling block. The house that has a door on the second floor that opens to nowhere. That store with the giant plant in the window.
You’ll also find art galleries and cafes and restaurants serving farm-to-table fare. You’ll see a lot of well-dressed weekenders and premium real estate listings. Everyone’s moving here. People like Marina Abramovic are setting up shop. She bought a crumbling theatre building from 1929 that used to function as an indoor tennis court (it’s up by the park at the top of Warren) and has plans to turn it into a center for performance art. Lot of people hope she just leaves it like it is.
Emerson’s belief that “everything good in nature and the world is in that moment of transition” helps explains Hudson’s power to hold one’s attention, even when it perplexes or vexes. The accumulation of all those traces of past waves of prosperity and gloom, immigration and emigration, building and tearing down and restoring, has a magnetic effect.
Now that Hudson has come roaring back from the edge, the next challenge is how to stay close enough to that precipice without running over it. To avoid becoming just another staid town like Rhinebeck or Lenox, MA, Hudson needs to keep itself on the move: prosperous enough to be viable, dynamic enough to remain intriguing, never progressing so far so fast that it burdens longtime residents or dismays the next wave of artists and innovators.
In its red light days, Hudson had 70 bars. Now it has 70 antiques stores. In between, it had countless boarded up and abandoned storefronts, waiting patiently for their next incarnation. In another generation or two, Hudson will likely play host to another improbable collection of 70 clustered-together somethings. 70 food trucks? 70 outlets? 70 drug stores?
Whatever that next step in Hudson’s evolution may be, it’s not likely something we can - or should want to - predict.
WHAT TO DO
The activity-of-choice in Hudson is walking around and popping into all the shops and galleries on mile-long Warren Street (start at one end and work your way to the other). Some notables along the way: Flowerkraut, floral studio/sauerkraut shop; 2Note Botanical Perfumery, small-batch beauty, bath, and body care products; Paula Greif, handmade ceramics; Hawkins New York, home and lifestyle shop; Sideshow, vintage clothing shop; and Jon Doe Records, vinyl shop. Also see: the aforementioned 70 antiques shops (and the disorientingly enormous antiques warehouse at 99 S. 3rd St). The Hudson Farmers Market takes place on Saturdays from 9 am - 1 pm (at 6th/Columbia).
Just across the river, the small towns of Athens and Catskill are also worth checking out. On Friday and Saturday evenings (5 pm - 10:30 pm), a ferry takes riders across the river from Hudson to Athens (and back for $12 round trip), where you can lounge on the riverfront patio at The Stewart House or try the highly-acclaimed Outrage IPA at Crossroads Brewery. A ten-minute drive south will take you into Catskill, where Main Street is quickly filling up with great new small businesses like HiLo Cafe, Magpie Bookshop, and House of Tuki.
In terms of outdoor stuff, there are a lot of options. You could cross the river and go for a hike in the Catskills, but for a quick and easy brush with nature, check out High Falls in Philmont. It’s actually not much of a hike at all - more of a 20 minute stroll to Columbia County’s tallest waterfall. Another easy one is Stissing Mountain in Pine Plains, where you climb up an old firetower to get a 360° view of the Catskills and the Hudson Valley.
WHERE TO EAT
With Bonfiglio & Bread gone (but perhaps re-opened in Athens by the time you read this), the brunch (both food and atmosphere) at Rivertown Lodge is the best in town, with a full scope of options from judicious and healthy to totally decadent. The secret is definitely out though, so arrive closer to opening at 10 a.m. to avoid a wait. Alternately, stop into the mercantile at Wm. Farmer & Sons and grab yourself an Irving Farm coffee and some Talbott & Arding baked goods for a no-hassle grab-and-go breakfast. Locals love Tanzy’s for its sweet old staff, cheap pancakes, and unpretentious vibe (think simple staple breakfast served on doilies). Another option is MOTO Coffee, where you can enjoy some gourmet waffles and espresso in a cavernous industrial space that doubles as a motorcycle shop.
For lunch, Relish is always good (but closed Saturdays and Sundays), offering up big salads and hearty sandwiches down near the waterfront. Burger lovers and diner enthusiasts will dig on Grazin’, a farm-to-table burger joint, and the first restaurant in the world to serve up 100% animal-welfare approved burgers (the Clintons ate here recently, for what it’s worth). For a quick snack or takeout, Talbott & Arding’s got sandwiches, soups, salads, and other provisions. Grab some locally-made Jane’s ice cream at Lick to cool off after streetwalking all afternoon.
So, dinner. It’s quite the scene here. You could try Wm. Farmer & Sons, whose ambiance and food are both top notch. Bonus points for taking online reservations. For something on the lighter or more casual side, check out the bar at Rivertown Lodge where you’ll find a perfectly sized menu of snacks and small plates. Other options include Swoon or Aeble, both offering up New American farm-to-table fare; Ca’mea, classic Italian; Baba Louie’s or Oak for pizza; or Mexican Radio for expensive burritos. More adventurous eaters should most definitely try the Vietnamese cuisine at Hudson Food Studio, the tropical comfort food at hip-as-f**k Lil’ Deb’s Oasis, or the Malaysian menu (created by chef Zak Pellacio of Fatty Crab fame) at Backbar.
BARS & NIGHTLIFE
There’s a wide range of bars in Hudson these days - from dives to specialty cocktail bars. Starting at the bottom, Half Moon is Hudson’s #1 dive bar, with pretty regular live music, a pool table, and the best happy hour in town. Hang out on the patio and chat up some of the locals. Spotty Dog is a “novel” concept - a bookshop/craft beer bar. There are a couple couches and chairs for leisurely drinking and reading and occasional live music in the evening. Governor’s Tavern is a new local hang just off Warren Street. Solid beer list and bar snacks. Then there’s ÖR Gallery and Tavern, opening for coffee at 7:30 am and closing “midnightish,” featuring polished concrete floors, arty light fixtures, and a hanging fireplace (just so you know what you’re getting yourself into). Last, for a cocktail to write home about, stop into Backbar, which has a fantastic private patio with plenty of seating. As for breweries, there’s the Hudson Brewing Co. (in the giant antiques warehouse at 99 S. 3rd St) or the excellent, award-winning Suarez Family Brewery a few minutes out of town.