Have you heard the one about

Image taken by AWA of Village Roma Stage in the Catskills

Accidentally Wes Anderson: Borscht Belt Adventure

Turns out the secret ingredient to borscht is a good punchline, and our friends at Accidentally Wes Anderson brought us along on their Adventure through the Catskills to let us in on the joke. A few things that may or may not be news to you: The Catskills have a lot more history than just hippies, Woodstock and winter sports. If you’re a fan of Midge Maisel, you may already be aware that the area once served as a summer escape for Jewish New Yorkers. More than 1,000 resorts popped up during its peak, and the area became affectionately referred to as “The Borscht Belt.” Unlike its Midwest neighbor “The Bible Belt,” this was a fantasy land of casinos, grand ballrooms and scenic stretches just a few hours drive from Manhattan. In the 50s and 60s the region became a certified comedy boomtown as stages filled with side-splitting vaudeville acts, followed by legends like Mel Brooks, Milton Berle, Joan Rivers, and Jerry Lewis who honed their shticks at the lavish resorts and bungalow colonies alike. Though a steady decline in popularity in the ensuing decades led to the closing of those once hoppin’ joints, the Catskills have recently enjoyed a different kind of community resurgence—one rooted in the region’s arts and history while respecting its past and connecting to its natural beauty. And that, folks, ain’t no joke.

Throughout the many tiny towns and hamlets (which are technically smaller than a village, but a big thing up there) that pepper the region, there is a quip among some residents that everything is “about 45 minutes away.” But weaving along Route 209 to 22 from Kingston to Kerhonkson, through Liberty to Livingston Manor, much of the area as a whole is seeing a resurgence thanks to generational residents and new transplants alike.

Starlite, Star Bright

Image of Starlite Motel in Catskills, NY taken by AWA
Starlite Motel Key Chain on Map taken by AWA
Detail of Starlite Motel, blue book on wooden side table, taken by AWA

Longtime resident Adriana Farmiga and her partner Alix Umen recently purchased the Starlite Motel in Kerhonkson—a roadside mainstay in the region with a neon sign that’s been welcoming faithful clientele since the 1960s. The new owners are applying their 30-plus years of experience in the arts, fashion and design to lovingly renovate and restore the motel back to its better days, when Carl Reiner or Sid Caesar might have been lounging poolside. Besides simply preserving the edifice in a physical sense, they are highly engaged in rekindling the community with local pop-up dinners, musical performances and Borscht Belt era throwback comedy nights. You’ll even find some AWA approved reading material on every bedside table.

The Show Must Go On

Concession stand at Callicoon Theater in Catskills, NY, taken by AWA
Inside Callicoon Theater in the Catskills, NY taken by AWA

On the other side of Sullivan County, in downtown Callicoon, a similar scene is emerging. After planting her own roots in the small hamlet, former Brooklyn theater director, Krissy Smith, purchased the oldest continually operating movie theater in the county—The Callicoon Theater. Krissy aimed to honor the history of this single screen neighborhood institution by continuing its streak, and remaining accessible to all residents. The box office phone line still assures the double entendre “We never sellout”—and Krissy ensures that will be the case by keeping patrons in most of the seats, while keeping the spirit of the old Catskills alive.

Cemented in History

Town & Country Antique Store Front in Catskills, NY, taken by AWA
The Snyder Estate in Rosendale, NY in the Catskills, taken by AWA

As you backtrack along Route 213 through the town of Rosendale, you may hear talk of the bright-brick Snyder Estate and the famed Rosendale Cement plant just around the bend. While “famed cement” doesn’t sound like the makings for a standard attraction, you’re in for a surprise! This is actually where materials for the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the Erie Canal were mined. Small-town industry in the Catskills has provided an immense contribution to some of the most enduring landmarks of the nation. For the past 20 years, the local historical society has been keeping the story alive. They’ve maintained the Widow Jane Mine—the oldest, largest, and last standing mine in the area—and continue to share the 145-year history of cement manufacturing in Ulster County.

Continue the adventure at AccidentallyWesAnderson.com