Mountain Dale may be the coolest and weirdest and newest town in the Catskills. Meet the people behind the revitalization project.
CATSKILL MOUNTAINS, New York – Ask anyone if they’ve heard of Mountain Dale and most would swear you were referencing an angsty teenage Netflix drama. Very few know about the sleepy hamlet, part of Fallsburg in Sullivan County, and to no fault at all. Until recently, it was a mere smattering of empty storefronts spanning a main street in the middle of what used to be a thriving part of the Catskills, once home to Borscht Belt resorts, now occupied by Hasids and holdovers from the Woodstock era.
But today, Mountain Dale is showing signs of life. The main street is home to a cute Vietnamese restaurant, a vintage boutique selling bikinis spun out of rabbit hair, an apothecary run by a fashion model, and an outpost of an Asbury Park coffee shop. A handful of other equally quirky businesses round out the first phase of a revitalization project poised to put Mountain Dale on the radar of the cool and curious looking for a weekend escape.
Already, word is getting out. On the Saturday I visited, a schedule of events organized by the town (an autumnal tea tasting, a guided nature walk, a boozy bonfire) attracted a podcaster, a New York Times reporter, a Swiss documentary filmmaker, and a Brooklyn couple who just bought a house nearby, among other locals and early adopters who took the 90 minute drive up from New York City.
Greeting them all was real estate developer and Mountain Dale native Butch Resnick, whose purchase of 31 buildings in the area, most of his hometown, kick-started the revival. In front of camels, alpacas, and a rare bovine at his sprawling Catskills ranch, Resnick tells me it’s “the new breed of artists, the folks who love the fresh air, the people who’d rather spend hundreds here than thousands in the Hamptons to live like a king” that he’s trying to attract. But Resnick, who much prefers baggy jeans to fitted beanies, knew he couldn’t do it on his own.
Enter Nhi Mundy, editor-in-chief of Catskill culture magazine DVEight, chef at Mountain Dale’s only restaurant Bà & Me, and, in the latest of her many roles, town curator. Mundy, who runs two other outposts of her sunny Vietnamese eatery in the greater NY area, was initially approached by her friend Ambika Conroy, who now has a boutique in Mountain Dale, but rejected the idea of opening a location in “a town that doesn’t exist.” After hearing the idea from Resnick himself, Mundy, with her creative background, signed on to help with the town’s marketing, and eventually opened up shop as well.
Drawing on an extensive roster of city and Catskill makers and creatives, she filled Mountain Dale’s storefronts and its well-curated Instagram feed with a ruggedly cool cast of characters. Further vacancies — a bookstore, a boutique, a hotel or complex of artist studios, and a restaurant with top talent (potentially of the Michelin-starred variety) are all in the works — will have her guiding hand.
Mountain Dale may not yet have the bells and whistles other Catskill towns take for granted (like more than one dinner option), but it does have a unique and tightly interwoven network of resident creatives that make it worth exploring. I didn't get the chance to properly meet them all — a few shop owners slipped under my radar; the proprietors of bohemian bungalow colony The Glen Wilde, where I stayed a night, crossed my path just before I turned in — but the ones I hung out with convinced me that this is one peculiar place to keep my eyes on. Here are some of the people I met along the way.
Town Shopkeeper: Ambika Conroy
Brought up in Australia, India, and an ashram in Upstate New York, quirky, kind-eyed, free-spirit Ambika Conroy stocks a well-curated collection of vintage apparel at Ambika Boutique. She also sells her own clothing (hats, gloves, even bikinis) made from Angora rabbit fur sheared from bunnies she raises herself on 103-acre Mama Mountain Farm, which is filled with miniature pigs, chickens, ducks, cats, and dogs. They also hosts guests in a cute camper van where Conroy and her husband first stayed after buying the property at auction.
Garment-making isn’t a new craft for Conroy: She’s been stitching her signature bunny bikinis for fifteen years and ran a storefront on the Lower East Side in Manhattan in 2005. But after sowing roots in the area — she co-founded and ran Outlier Inn, with her then-partner Josh Druckman, and lived in a nearby farmhouse belonging to the family of deceased actor Raúl Juliá, who played Gomez Addams in The Addams Family — the opportunity to have her own main street shop was too good to pass up. Hers, along with Mundy’s Ba & Me across the street, were the first two operations to open in Mountain Dale.
Josh Druckman: Town Innkeeper
When Josh Druckman first landed on the property that would later become Outlier Inn, an out-of-the-ordinary retreat tucked down an unmarked driveway just outside Mountain Dale, it was one house, purchased impulsively during a trip Druckman took to help his grandmother sell the last parcel of a nearby summer camp she used to run in the 1960s and ‘70s. The plan was straightforward: Escape New York City and concentrate on music.
After a handful of acquisitions, Druckman, who once (surprisingly) worked on Wall Street, now finds himself in charge of a woodsy, twelve-acre estate with a geodesic dome that hosts yoga retreats and wellness ceremonies; two tiny houses, a vintage trailer, and a handful of cottages, bungalows, and guest homes; a yarn-producing sheep and alpaca farm; an organic vegetable garden and communal greenhouse; a small clothing boutique; a spring-fed swimming pond and a wood-fired cedar hot tub; and, at the heart of it all, a state-of-the-art recording studio that hosts musicians from around the world, the likes of which have included Solange.
Town Beautician: Hollie Witchey
Mountain Dale’s apothecary (what’s a Catskill town without one these days?) is called Witchey Handmade, and it’s run by a fashion model named Hollie Witchey, who splits her time between her home in Jeffersonville, where she’s been living since 2010, and New York City, where she still keeps an apartment. She has her own line of organic skincare made from ingredients she grows in her home garden in Jeffersonville, which, before opening her shop on the first floor of a grand old house, she sold at a few area stores and online.
Witchey, who studied nutrition, homeopathy, horticulture, and herbal medicine throughout her modeling career, also prescribes bespoke blends of tea and herbs and other elixirs to help with ailments like stomach problems and trouble sleeping.
Town Gallerists: J. Morgan Puett and Abby Lutz
For artist J. Morgan Puett and designer Abby Lutz, a gallery is not just a gallery, at least where theirs is concerned. A Guide to the Field: Storefront Practices in the Social Realm is a gallery doubling as a retail space that showcases conceptual products that comment on a shared theme. The inaugural exhibition, Encampment, reimagines the domestic goods people will need to rest, cook, clean, and play in the 21st century: a set of recycled soaps, a deck of numerically inspired tarot cards, a wooden coracle (for navigating our ever-more aquatic world), a wardrobe of handmade garments, and, on the more abstract end of the spectrum, a scuba suit fashioned by artist Hope Ginsberg, who leads marine meditations in full diving gear. The collection, which is displayed in a space that mimics an apartment (even the works in the bathroom are for sale), was co-curated by Puett and Lutz and a roster of contemporary artists, who either contributed pre-existing pieces or created new ones to fit the topic.
Puett, who also runs the arts site and nature lodge Mildred’s Lane, and Lutz, a longtime collaborator who previously worked in fashion in NYC and Philadelphia, have long wanted to merge their worlds. “I had been incubating this idea for a long time and didn’t have the wherewithal to do it, but the deal the Resnicks made with the people they brought on was so conducive and philanthropic, we were able to pull the trigger,” said Puett. Their next exhibition, Factory, opening Spring 2019, will revolve around the future of textiles.
Town Barista: Mike Caliendo
Hip Asbury Park coffee shop High Voltage has a new outpost in Mountain Dale. So new, in fact, that the storefront it occupies was empty when I visited. (Its opening was iminent.) Co-owner Mike Caliendo, who was manning a coffee pop-up in the town sculpture park for the day, walked me through the soon-to-be cafe, which has a long bar, outdoor patio, and plenty of much-needed communal space. The food menu takes inspiration from co-owner Sonia Jozajtis’ Polish heritage, and the drinks range from handsome lattes to craft cocktails. When asked about the choice of location for the cafe’s second outpost, Caliendo replied: “Mountain Dale feels like the Brooklyn of the Catskills. Everyone’s a hustler up here, but, in terms of community, we all work together.”
Town Picker and Shopkeep: Denny Brownell
Denny Brownell runs State Land Supply Co., a treasure trove of vintage apparel, dry goods, and well-curated antiques (his collection of American flags, the oldest of which dates from the late 1800s, are his favorite finds). Brownell, who used to helm the Upstate New York travel website Escape Brooklyn, took a chance on Mountain Dale (State Land is his third store and the third one to open in town) after a meeting with Mundy, who wrote about his previous project, The Red Rose Motel in Roscoe, in DVEight. Mountain Dale was more affordable and more exciting than Kingston, his first choice. “To be part of a project from the ground up is awesome, plus I was familiar with other people coming in and opening shops, so I went for it.” He then clarified: "Nobody would open here on their own if it wasn't for Nhi."
Town Pastor: Mike Osterhout
Every now and then, a congregation of roughly a hundred — mostly locals from the western Catskills and devout weekenders from the city — show up for “service” at Church of the Little Green Man (143 Old Glen Wild Rd., Glen Wild; +1-845-434-1918). If the name isn’t an obvious clue, this is no ordinary service. You burn a dollar just to get in. You drink beer or smoke weed in the pews. And you listen to pastor Mike Osterhout give a sermon (often with musical accompaniment) on the topic of the day — history, Trump, immigration, whatever is on his mind.
At first glance, the whole thing smacks of an anarchic cult. Osterhout’s unorthodox conceptual art, which he creates in a former synagogue-turned-studio down the road, is on display throughout the church and its grounds (and in Mountain Dale’s sculpture park). At every service, one person in the community is appointed as a scapegoat, and everyone is allowed to air their grievances directly to them until the next service.
But underneath its sacrilegious overtones, Osterhout’s Church of the Little Green Man — which has been conducting services for more than 30 years, twenty of which have happened mostly in Lower East Side strip clubs — delivers a tried-and-true religious experience. Josh Druckman of Outlier Inn says it best: "It’s community, and the spirituality that community brings.”
Plan Your Trip
Where to Stay
The Glen Wilde, a collection of refurbished mid-century lofted bungalows that date from a time when this area was called the Jewish Alps, makes great use of its eleven acres, with plenty of family-friendly space for lounging, playing, cooking, and communing. (In the winter, the firepits are set ablaze in full force.) Outlier Inn is better for free-spirited couples (the tiny houses, the fluffy alpacas, the cedar hot tub), large groups who want to glamp (or just do yoga) inside the property's geodesic dome, and music makers on a creative retreat (recall the state-of-the-art studio). If both places are booked up, as they are prone to be in warm months, there are tons of Airbnbs in the area.
Mountain Dale is roughly 90 minutes by car from New York City. Conveniently enough, there's also a Coach Short Line bus that runs between Port Authority and main street Mountain Dale.