Rhinebeck Beckons

Shore Leave: A Weekend in Rhinebeck

I promised my wife, Larysa, I wouldn’t act silly on this trip. But when my old friend Charlie-Boy showed up for the weekend in his usual western attire, I just had to sing “Like a Rhinebeck Cowboy.” Nobody got it.

So I stopped being silly, for the moment at least, and we checked in at our hotel, the historic Beekman Arms & Delamater Inn. Opened in 1766, The Beekman is actually the oldest hotel in America. George Washington slept here, Sinatra drank here and Bon Jovi sang here. Chelsea Clinton even got married here! Housed in a dozen buildings spread around town, it is the undisputed epicenter of Rhinebeck. The main building, The Beekman Arms Inn, is a beautifully landscaped white colonial structure, with a heavy old front door, a charming lobby with a fireplace and a calming oak paneled reading room. It also houses The Tavern, an authentic Revolutionary War era bar and restaurant. The rest of the complex is comprised of charming guesthouses. On weekends in the fall, the whole place is absolutely overflowing with foliage fans.

We decided to grab lunch in the atrium. And that’s when I got to do some schtick I had been waiting an eternity to do. Clam chowder was the soup of the day. New England Clam Chowder. My friend Bob and I both ordered it. The soup came and cooled and we both tasted it. Then I turned to Bob, and in the best Boston accent I could muster, said “Good chowda,’ Baw-by.” Just like JFK in that iconic SNL skit! Bob choked back laughter, and replied “Yea-yah, good chowda.” I know, I broke my promise, but everyone got this one: the guys all laughed, and the gals all rolled their eyes.

The Beekman offers cozy rooms at a reasonable price. Each comes with a free flacon of sherry and a complimentary continental breakfast. Combine that with its uber convenient location, and it has to be your go-to spot for a fun fall weekend in town.

The town of Rhinebeck is tiny and quaint and imminently walkable. Strolling will be your, and everyone else’s, preeminent activity this trip. After lunch, we start exploring.

Larysa, reminded me both that I can’t dance, and of my promise, so I didn’t.

We first discovered Summer Moon, Winter Sun, an eclectic New Age chachka shop. Women adore this place! We spent many hours and much money there. That’s a warning for the cheap guys. From French berets to Tibetan textiles, acupuncture yoga mats to art deco barware, this place has something for everyone. I particularly liked the Buddhist garden statuary. And the Latin Jazz bathing the room! It made me want to dance. But Larysa, reminded me both that I can’t dance, and of my promise, so I didn’t. Seriously, you should go here. If you don’t want to shop, you can view it as a very cool museum, and help yourself to a free squirt of bee’s wax hand lotion on the way out.

Next, we crossed Market Street to A.L. Stickle’s, an old-fashioned variety store. This 70-year-old family business seems to be a time capsule arranged by aisles. Remember that candy you loved as a kid, but haven’t seen since? It’s here. That Barbie travel trunk you wanted in 1976? That’s here, too. The Herbert Hoover photo you saw on “All In The Family?” They’ve got one. Of course, there’s all the practical stuff too, like percolator tops and horseshoe magnets and rubber-tipped bobby pins. So even if you don’t think you need anything at the ‘Five & Dime’ during your trip, you have to experience this place. You just may find something you’ve been looking for for years.

Further up the block, stop at Village Pizza for Jane’s Ice Cream. This local, artisanal product comes in a variety of unique flavors: Kahlua Cappuccino, Salted Caramel Pretzel, Killer Chocolate and lotsa’ others. It’s rich and creamy and wonderful, and on a nice afternoon, there’s nothing better than enjoying some on the benches in front of the store, and people watching.

We next discovered Rhinebeck Wines and Liquors. This very pretty store offers a selection of French wines that would make Papa Hemingway himself proud. Sancerre! Saint-Emilion! Chateauneuf de Pape! Get one for back in the room later.

Next door is The Rhinebeck Hardware Company. Which, naturally, houses the gallery @ Rhinebeck. This cool little art gallery showcases local artists and photographers. I particularly liked the black-and-white photos of rock ‘n’ roll icons from the ’60s. My wife liked the watercolors. And our son liked the wrought iron dude on hammer dulcimer. I’m sure you’ll find something to your liking there, too.

There’s much more. The streets of Rhinebeck are lined with boutiques and jewelry stores and curiosity shops. Restaurants abound. Thai and Texas BBQ, Indian and Italian … seems everything is here. And every activity imaginable is available. Pottery. Biking. Yoga. The movies (Bob and Anne Marie say get the homemade chocolate chip cookies!).

That evening, we had dinner at The Tavern. It struck me as a shadowy old den, and it inspired me to ask for a coach candle in a brass holder. The waiter turned on a light. Then I asked for my beer to be served in a pewter tankard, but I was brought a basic pint glass. Finally, Charlie-Boy and I each asked for an order of the king’s prime rib …and got exactly that. It was perfect.

Even Wendy’s vegan meal got kudos. So I recommend you eat here. But if you are into reenactment, bring your own tricorn.

After The Tavern, we bar hopped a bit. Just a bit, mind you: Larysa and I do travel with a kid in tow. We first hit Foster’s Coach House Tavern, on the corner of Market and Montgomery. Turned out to be a good first stop. This 1890’s era bar and grill serves big beers at a small bar and has attractions in the room to keep the kids entertained while you drink them. Jockey statues. A statue of a butler who looks vaguely like FDR. And our favorite, a full-size black Brougham Carriage, sans horse, to climb on and sit in and be photographed inside of. Big fun.

Across the street is Terrapin, an absolutely beautiful American restaurant housed in an old church. What a restoration job they did, rendering the place brand new with olive shakes and burgundy trim. And inside, it’s soaring bead-board ceiling and suspended wagon-wheel chandeliers are really chic. A long, undulating red bar and bistro are in the room next to the main dining room, and it’s really happening in there. Too happening for a 9-year-old, so after a quick nightcap, it was off to bed.

See ya’ in the morning Rhinebeck.

The Children’s Hour Is An Hour That’s Not For Children

We slept in on Saturday. Even though activity in town starts very early, we were here for rest. At noon, we drove 20 minutes south on Route 9 to the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site. There we toured the fascinating Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum and, of course, Eleanor and Franklin’s beautiful house, actually named ‘Springwood,’ but known to all simply as Hyde Park. And we learned from Shannon, our guide, that FDR loved his cocktails, and enforced a daily tradition at all his homes, including The White House, that he called ‘The Children’s Hour.’

It was his favorite time of day.

For that hour, FDR put business aside and made gin martinis and told dirty jokes for whoever joined him. He would ask “Tea, or mar-tee-ni?” but only one answer was acceptable. Now, who’s silly? But I firmly believe this tradition helped him save the world’s economy, win WWII, and preserve freedom for us all. You should really spend a few hours there, before cocktails, to learn all about his efforts. Because the world we live in today turns out to be very much his creation. Oh, and to find out what The Snuggery is, was … whatever.

At dinner time, we headed to the Culinary Institute of America. CIA has four full-service restaurants where students prepare meals under expert supervision, in state of the art kitchens, then serve them themselves in some of the most gorgeous rooms imaginable. There’s Ristorante Caterina de Medici, for Italian food; The Bocuse Room, for elegant French fare; American Bounty for … duh, American eats; and The Post Road Brew House for … double duh, craft beer and pub food. Only American Bounty is open on Saturdays, so that’s where we ate. It could not have been better. The brick-vaulted room was lovely, Davika’s service unobtrusive perfection, and the food … well, the food was amazing. All farm to table. All beautiful to look at on the plate. And, from the facial expressions and Mmming of my dinner companions, all just delicious.

We headed back to town and stopped by The Liberty Public House when we got there. Nice bar, lively scene. But the dining room! It’s a veritable cornucopia of Americana! Guess you can’t go everywhere in one weekend, so we’re gonna’ have to go back to Rhinebeck to be in that room for dinner.

I’m Like a Champagne Bubble, Pop, Pop, Pop

Sunday morning is, of course, made for brunch. We had ours at Le Petit Bistro, and we’re glad we did. It features a bustling main room with a long white marble bar and a quiet and comfortable side room of knotty pine ship-lap and birdcage lanterns. The brunch menu is very extensive and very French. And then there are all the specials that Trey explained. We went for German potato pancakes with bacon, and Gorgonzola and leek quiche. And scrambled eggs and sausage and wheat toast and waffles and, of course, croissant. Butter from the Hudson Valley Creamery and house-made strawberry jam. We all shared. Everything was perfect. Even the toast was exceptional. And the music was well chosen. Al Green, Aretha, Archie Bell and “Tighten Up”… all really set a mood. A good mood.

Then, as we were leaving, a popped champagne cork rolled past Larysa and out the door. I insisted we follow its path. It leads toward the corner, by Old Mill Wine and Spirits. But I didn’t know it would do that. No, really. Yet another interesting collection of wines in a good looking room. I couldn’t leave without their wonderful Fleurie.

A popped champagne cork rolled past Larysa and out the door. I insisted we follow its path.

Across the street, Beekman Antiques called to us. Or at least to my wife. This two-story almost burgundy barn holds everything from Star Wars toys to sea chests. I searched through old LIFE magazines the entire time we were there, and when we left, my son announced: “Mommy said we can go pick out a book because we were so good.” Yeah, I had been keeping my promise.

That meant only one thing: Oblong Books and Music. I LOVE THIS PLACE. Just a good old-fashioned bookstore. An expansive and interesting collection. A great children’s section. And CD’s galore. Anne Marie happened upon a coffee table book called “Hemingway’s Paris,” and with that, I was lost on Oblong’s espresso leather couch for the next hour. We left with it and more.

It was getting near time to head home. But not without enjoying Oliver Kita’s hot chocolate first. This pure, raw, rich, thick drink…no, meal, is unreal. You MUST have it. Chef Kita is a CIA graduate with numerous Certificates of Accomplishment in chocolate. And everything in his shop proves he deserves them. But that hot chocolate is a revelation. Don’t you dare add sugar or milk after you leave. Please, enjoy it the way Chef Kita, and God, intended.

We hit the road after that. When we got on the Taconic, I asked Larysa if the trip was over.

“Yeah,” she said. “I guess so.”

“OK,” I replied. And I drove the next 2 hours making up silly song lyrics with our son.