Living in any urban area means that leaving it is something of an accomplishment, even if all that entails is taking a convenient train into the Hudson Valley from Manhattan. “It is SO good to get out of the city,” you’ll caption your Instagram of a range of hills daubed in autumnal reds and oranges. Friends will Like it, and post emoji redolent of jealousy. The air is so much cleaner, isn’t it? And there’s none of the awful noise of bars and packed coffee shops and concert venues.
Here’s a secret: nature is fine, but it’s not that great, and it gets even worse as fall moves into winter. That’s why adventures outside of the city need to be planned carefully to take advantage not only of the escapist quality of a day trip, but also the convenience we love of living in the city.
Another hot tip: you can go to upstate New York, feel like you’re leaving the confines of your miserable, apartment-bound life, and yet have all of these things. You can pretend you’re making a salubrious journey to your dacha and still drink fancy coffee and listen to live noise music, if that’s your thing.
The answer is Hudson. Not Sir Henry Hudson, the 17th century British explorer who is the region’s namesake (and who incidentally was cast off his ship with his sons in Hudson Bay during a 1611 mutiny and never heard from again), but Hudson the city, which was originally settled by the Dutch in 1662. It’s a stately two miles of pre-Civil War row houses in which the storefronts are occupied by plenty of antiques vendors, as befitting the area, but also an increasing contingent of design stores, art galleries, coffee shops, and bars.
Hudson’s vibe is less countryside than it is Brooklyn, exported. One website tags it with the slogan of “upstate’s downtown.” From this description, it should be abundantly clear whether you will enjoy Hudson or find it unbearably twee and excessively artisanal. Yet it has an untouched sense of history and gravity that Brooklyn tends to lack. There are no luxury brand boutiques here — yet.
Hudson is easily reachable by Amtrak. Tickets tend to be expensive, but if you’re not venturing out into the woods, why bring a car? It’s all walkable. Your first stop is Moto Coffee, the descendant of Hudson’s previous cafe mainstay, Swallow. Moto is more maximalist than the cleanly Nordic Swallow was, but it’s got great coffee, an entire waffle menu, and a back room where a branding firm nests amidst leather goods, motorcycle gear, and a projection movie screen.
After Moto, meander along the streets and dip into shops at will to pick up any geometric candle holders or handmade ceramics you might need. Head down toward the waterfront and catch a shuttle to the only remotely outdoorsy stop on this itinerary, Olana, an Orientalist fantasy of an estate in the hills above Hudson built by painter Frederic Edwin Church in the late 19th century. The view from the castle is almost literally a painting from the Hudson River School, but don’t worry — you don’t have to walk through it.
Once back in town, swing by the Basilica, a river warehouse-turned-performance space, which often hosts exhibitions as well as bands whose Williamsburg shows sell out immediately. And as a substitute for the city’s art museums, try Retrospective Gallery, a collaboration between inveterate New York art dealers Zach Feuer and Joel Mesler. The gallery program tends toward unintimidating slacker-cool, so it’s always fun.
For a break from all that non-hiking, head to Spotty Dog Books & Ale, an airy space full of dark wood in the denser part of Hudson’s downtown. Spotty Dog is a combination bookstore and bar that’s better than many examples of either of those establishments individually. Where else can you pick up the latest Elena Ferrante book and get a glass of Italian wine to go with it?
For all its many businesses and a growing young population around the region, Hudson is still quiet at night, especially during the winter. Make sure to stock up on at-home (or in this case, AirBnB) provisions. Talbott & Arding provides snacks and Hudson Wine Merchants presents an approachable selection of wines from uncommon regions or lesser-known grapes.
But all of this is a prelude to dinner. Fish & Game, housed in an unassuming structure on a side street, books reservations weeks in advance, and only serves dinner Thursday through Sunday. Even the clubby bar-lounge area, which serves a limited menu on very low tables, is likely to be packed.
The restaurant’s menu is composed of now-familiar Americana — different forms of belly, complex purees of root vegetables, bitter salads, and delicately handled fish. But it’s comforting that Fish & Game has a closer relationship to its food sources than its city equivalents, since Hudson’s surrounding hills are by default more fertile than, say, the Gowanus Canal. It’s difficult to feel like leaving the dining room’s center-facing slab tables, but take coffee in the bar anyway and sneak a peek into the kitchen.
Retreat to your rooms, open the wine acquired previously, and that’s it — you have completed an upstate sojourn without having to put on boots. If you really must experience nature or whatever, there’s a city park right along the Hudson river that’s pretty nice where you can look out and glimpse the necklace of lights from towns running down the water back south toward Manhattan. But why bother?
Photos by Wikipedia / Daniel Case