Every New Yorker needs an out. Fathom's Daniel Schwartz found his on hiking trails, green-energy farms, and open roads two hours north of the city in The Catskills.
THE CATSKILLS, New York – The Arnold House and North Branch Inn, two sibling hotels in Sullivan County, are designed for country living with urban comforts set against the flora and fauna of the Catskill Mountains. In the time it takes to travel by train from Queens to Brooklyn and back, New Yorkers can pull off a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The Arnold House
The two hotels are passion projects of Sims Foster, a local boy and senior vice president of restaurants, bars, and nightlife for Commune Hotels (Thompson and Joie de Vivre), and his wife, Kirsten Harlow Foster, an economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The Arnold House, the first-born, opened in August 2014 with nine rooms, a three-room garden suite, a small spa, a restaurant, and a BBQ barn event space. The property is located on seven acres of forest on Shandelee Mountain, just outside the small town of Livingston Manor on a stretch of spaced-out small homes and farmland. The setting is cozy, communal, and wonderfully remote yet well positioned for hiking, swimming, fishing, breweries, and visitor-friendly farms.
Inside, mid-century cabin decor and updated urban design sit side-by-side. In the sun room, skylights, incandescent light bulbs, and old-school fans look down on vintage furniture sourced from antique stores and design shops like Global Home (with Jeffersonville and Flatiron locations), bird-printed ornaments, a wood-burning stove and fireplace, and lots of lumber. Wool throws, fresh-baked cookies, board games, and the absence of TVs inform the evening itinerary.
Outside, the BBQ barn, open and all string lights, hosts live music, bonfires, and celebrations in good weather. Wooden chairs in the field behind the hotel, and farther down by the property pond, beckon guests to count constellations in the Catskill sky.
Breakfast is served in the sun room, and, weather permitting, on the patio deck that overlooks the property. The Tavern bar and restaurant serves lunch and dinner. The menu incorporates local ingredients into large portions of pub fare, like grilled romaine with bacon and pickled shallot, Beaverkill trout, and St. Louis-style ribs that literally fell off the bone. The bar has TVs tuned to the games, local beers, and barrel-aged cocktails. Warm-wood walls with taxidermy, pool tables, and a jukebox add to the country vibe.
Upstairs, nine rooms sit in close proximity. White noise machines in the hallways provide privacy. Rooms are cozy, with natural cork floors, vintage furniture, and hourglass nap timers. My girlfriend and I stayed in room nine, which has a king-sized bed, great morning light, and views of rear woodland. Bathrooms are small with throwback pink interiors, a cute shower that can't fit two, Sferra towels, and Malin and Goetz toiletries. Rates start at $139 per night.
The Arnold House rents an off-site lake house for four that comes with boats, fishing poles, and a charcoal grill. They also offer packages around special events like their ice fishing derby with open oyster and vodka bar and a ramp picking weekend, which includes a foraging field trip, ramp pasta and pickling classes, and a ramp dinner.
The clientele ranges from urban folk looking for a dose of the outdoors and international guests interested in the upstate scene to locals, sometimes farmers, stopping in for dinner, drinks, and entertainment. This makes for a melting pot of good conversation. The Arnold House is perfect for a fresh-air escape from the city in a rural environment with strong community feels. It's not perfect for a luxury getaway or for those who don't understand the value of unplugging.
North Branch Inn
After a day at Arnold House, we drove fifteen minutes to the sleepy hamlet of North Branch and our next destination, North Branch Inn. Built in 1868 as a bed and breakfast, the two-story townhouse was refurbished in 2015 but maintains its old-fashioned vibe. The inn has five bedrooms, a 35-seat family-style restaurant, and a handsome wood bar that according to the former owners was carved for the 1939 World's Fair. (Sims is still fact-checking that.) Very charmingly, the hotel has an antique, two-lane bowling alley next to the kitchen with out-of-the-box pins from the 1950s. Sims and Kirsten, who frequently work from the dining room, plan to expand into the house and post office across the street, adding a library, cafe and bakery, a common area with wood-burning stoves, and fifteen more rooms by September 2016.
Inside, creaky wooden floors give away guest locations to the kind-hearted staff, who are quick to help with recommendations and eager to make genuine acquaintance. The air smells like butter and seasonings around meal times, a reminder that we are in a cozy old house. Eye contact and conversation are the order of the day, and only WiFi and the occasional man bun break the illusion of pre-industrial living.
Breakfast — a bounty of locally sourced breads, eggs, jams, yogurt, granola, and rotating favorites like grits and pancakes — is served in the parlor or on the porch in good weather. The restaurant and bar room, open for dinner, have a seasonal evening menu of local ingredients, much of it sourced from Sullivan County purveyors, all of it from within New York State.
The rotating menu we ate included warm wheatberry with kale and fried egg, venison with cornbread and slaw, and trout with grits. Chef Erik Hill, previously at Hudson Clearwater and also of The Arnold, works around barriers like the absence of local sugar by dehydrating honey and maple syrup for burnt squash crème brûlée.
The communal dining room hosts community personalities, city folk, the occasional international visitor. The bar pours local beer, cider, and all-American spirits. The open kitchen sits next to the dining room and is a two-counter ordeal, where chefs mix and match ingredients and engage in quick conversation.
The kitchen borders the bowling alley, a salvaged original from the first half of the 20th century. The pins were made at a now defunct manufacturer in Livingston Manor that used to employ Sims' grandfather, and were found, to Sims' pleasant surprise, in storage at a nearby moving company. (It all comes full circle.) Pins are set manually. Bowling balls are returned to the starting point by an old but excitingly useful slide system. The alley is flanked by twelve seats from Radio City Music Hall and converts into a movie room for seriously private screenings. (Yes, it's awesome.)
The rooms here are larger than those at Arnold House, elegantly designed with antique furniture and a heavenly twin or king-sized bed, and soft-colored to take advantage of the natural light. Bathrooms have black and white tiling or wood flooring, Malin and Goetz products, Sferra towels and robes, and a spacious shower that can easily fit two. Windows overlook the sleepy main road and the stream next to the property. Rates start at $199 per night.
North Branch Inn is perfect for those looking for a romantic weekend or a pause from city living who are also comfortable with eye contact and conversation. The inn isn't for those who need action, amenities, and shopping.
Hiking is popular sport in the Catskills, but planning is necessary. The mountain range is massive, service is sketchy, and trail markers are often chipped, rusted, and unreadable. Lisa of Morgan Outdoors in Livingston Manor, whose voice is soft and harmonious in a naturally sedative way, is an expert at recommending trails based on difficulty and timing. She's also a great resource for hand-drawn mountain maps (which were incredibly helpful on my hike), trail condition updates, and professional hiking gear.
Nearby Main Street Farm has high-quality snacks for the hike. The farm store and restaurant has local everything — produce, dried goods, cheeses, coffee, beer (for that mountain high buzz), and delicious sandwiches. A drinking run through Catskill Brewery, Prohibition Distillery, and Roscoe Beer Co., all small craft operations fifteen minutes from one another, is a fitting end-of-day reward for the outdoor effort.
And what's country living without fly fishing, ice fishing, foraging, boating, swimming, and farm visits? They can all be arranged with help from either hotel. Don't miss Imagine Alpacas, a small, privately owned farm in Jeffersonville that is home to prize-winning fluffy alpacas named after characters in Beatles songs.
Apple Pond Farm alone is worth the trek from New York City. The farm is more a community space for progressive thinking, green energy education, and animal love. Owners Dick and Sonja have reduced the farm's energy consumption by 95 percent and welcome conversations on sustainability at their on-site Airbnb, volunteers through WWOOF, and passersbys looking to learn more about farming. They offer lessons in horseback riding, goat milking, cheese making, cider pressing, and pickling, and they open their barns to visitors during animal birthing seasons. (Little baby lambs!)
For a pop of small town charm, Callicoon, built by the Delaware River on the border with Pennsylvania, has colorful old homes and a refurbished single-screen movie theater from the 1940s. Strolling over the road bridge that connects the two states and gazing at the river, or driving across state lines into farm country make for laid-back afternoons. The shopping game in town consists of a year-round Sunday farmers' market that showcases the region's best goods and Callicoon Wine Merchant, which is known for its excellent New York wines, cheeses, and tastings.