The Broken Charm of Hudson, New York
I wake up to the long, yearning sound of a cow mooing, followed by a chorus of morning birds gossiping. Being nudged awake by the ambient sounds of nature is a given when you’ve spent the night in a tent in New York’s Hudson Valley.
But this isn’t any old tent. It happens to be furnished with a spacious king-sized bed, wooden floorboards, and all manner of vintage furniture and other curios. Oh, and then there’s the “private bathroom” – a teepee out the back equipped with a rain shower and flushing toilet. Glamping is definitely an accurate description for my chosen overnight dwelling, part of the new Collective Retreats at Liberty Farms, just outside Hudson.
I’ve come up to Hudson for the weekend – a short break from the frenetic life in New York City. For many New Yorkers, this short trip about two hours’ drive north from Manhattan has become a kind of ritual. So much so, that Hudson has earned the nickname of the “Brooklyn of the Hudson Valley” – not only for the caliber of the restaurants and boutiques that line its main street (though they are plentiful), but because a good number of former Brooklynites actually now live here. Beckoned by the simplicity of small-town living and the affordability it offers, a growing community of designers, makers, artists, architects and musicians have made Hudson home.
I arrive on its central thoroughfare, Warren Street, around 9:00 am and the town is still rousing from its slumber. The chilly clutches of the fall morning air set my cheeks aglow as I hunch tightly into the embrace of my coat. Through the stillness, the earnest sound of the train whistle bounces across the landscape, as it does at regular intervals throughout the day in these parts. (For vehicleless New Yorkers, the convenient Amtrak service is added enticement to Hudson – its charming one-room station is a short stroll down the hill from Warren Street.)
For such a small place – the population hovers around 6,500 – Hudson punches well above its weight when it comes to retail offerings. A lot of that, of course, is thanks to the expat Brooklynites who have permanently made it home. Sitting alongside the myriad antiques stores on Warren Street are excellently curated boutiques including ethically made home textile brand Minna, clothing and lifestyle store Mutiny, and design enclave Hawkins New York. There are plenty of bargains to be found, too – vintage garb at The Second Show and Sideshow Clothing, rare tomes at Hudson City Books, and vinyl at John Doe Records. Furniture designers (and ex-New Yorkers) FERN and Chris Lehrecke also have showrooms on the street.
After doing a thorough reconnaissance of my favorite locales, I head away from the main drag for the part I love most about Hudson. The town – equivalent in size to the West Village in NYC – features examples of almost every architectural style in New York State’s history. Wandering its narrow blocks, I find myself stopping every few paces to marvel at the charming buildings, whose styles range from Greek Revival (its opera house is the fourth-oldest surviving theater in the U.S.), to Italianate, Beaux Arts, Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, Federal, Nantucket and Dutch Colonial.
There’s a certain brokenness to Hudson and that’s part of its appeal. Though it has become known as a design hub, its history is checkered – a tale of perpetual boom and bust dating back to the New England whalers and merchants who settled there during the American Revolution. Only a few decades ago, Hudson was known for its debaucherous underbelly fueled by gambling, drugs and prostitution. The weariness of having endured such a past is reflected in the sagging porches, peeling paint and crumbling exteriors of many of its buildings.
Surrounding Hudson is the undulating landscape of the Catskill Mountains that inspired the American art movement known as the Hudson River School of Painting. This juxtaposition of natural beauty and historic grit is what sets Hudson apart from the sanguine charm of other picturesque towns in the area.
Fortunately for those not fond of being at one with nature, luxurious glamping isn’t the only accommodation option in Hudson. The boutique digs at Rivertown Lodge and Wm Farmer & Sons are a nice treat for a weekend getaway, but there are also plenty of adorable (and affordable) Airbnbs. Anyone fond of a tipple should add ÖR Gallery and Tavern to their list, while devout foodies can try to snag a reservation at the James Beard–awarded Fish & Game.
In search of more simple fare, I stop by MOTO – which serves the best coffee in town and also doubles as a motorcycle store – before sourcing some delectable provisions (well, mostly cheese) for the trip home from Talbott & Arding.
As I head back to NYC, I do a quick drive by my other favorite Hudson locale, which sits on a former marsh at the bottom of the hill near the train station. Basilica Hudson, now a cultural and performance space with a glorious roof that resembles a Byzantine basilica, was once a dilapidated old glue factory. Its owners, musician Melissa Auf der Maur and filmmaker Tony Stone, are in their seventh year of programming for the space, which hosts everything from talks by choreographer Twyla Tharp and director John Waters, to movie screenings, literary events and music festivals. But the building itself exudes so much character that I always stop by simply to absorb its presence, even when there’s nothing going on.
Though there’s nothing like my Brooklyn abode, I always feel a tinge of longing as I drive away from Hudson – particularly in fall when the leaves of the Catskill Mountains are at their fiery peak. But there’s one solace I always find: I know I’ll be back soon enough.
This story was originally published by Darling magazine.