Budget Travel Magazine recently selected Saugerties as one of “America’s Top Ten Coolest Small Towns.” The designation was only available to towns with a population under 10,000, which were judged on merits such as availability of good coffee and having more art galleries than delis and dry cleaners. Editor in Chief Nina Wildorf, appearing on CBS Morning News said, “This is not quaint America, this is cool America.”
Yet with friendly folks popping in and out of small shops with ‘19th century facades, the town obviously has not forsaken quaint. Mike Campbell, president of the chamber of commerce, refers to the village as “Mayberry on the Hudson,” after the tiny TV town run by Andy Griffith. Local proprietor Van Bolle, a transplant from Los Angeles who owns Dig Boutique with his wife Daisy, refines the meanings of cool to help reconcile these seemingly opposed viewpoints. “There’s ‘too cool for school,’ cool and then there’s friendly cool. We’re friendly cool.”
Meet me at Partition and Main
New York’s Governor Edmund Andros purchased the land that is now the village of Saugherties on April 27, 1677 from the Esopus Indians for “a blanket, a piece of cloth, a shirt, a loaf of bread, and some coarse fiber.” Residents say property costs have risen ever since. The main shopping and dining area of the Village consists of Partition and Main Streets, which have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1982.
Not only are the streets lined with an historical record of architectural styles of the 19th century, including Victorian, Federal, and Romanesque Revival, but they are now home to a vibrant mix of shops and restaurants.
Eateries old and new
When planning a day or weekend trip to Saugerties, arrive with an empty stomach. The number of quality and eclectic dining options ensures something for every palate and preference. Destination restaurants include Café Tamayo and Miss Lucy’s, both of which have received glowing reviews in the New York Times. Café Tamayo, serving Saugerties for over 20 years, features a prix fixe and a la carte menu created by CIA-trained chef and owner James Tamayo. Miss Lucy’s vintage-apron curtains, original pressed tin ceilings, and large wooden tables belie the cutting edge cuisine—a constantly evolving menu based on fresh and in-season local ingredients. The regionally raised meats are hormone-free and farm-fresh and many of the vegetables and herbs are picked directly from the owners’ garden.
In addition, you can find gourmet gastro-pub faire from The Dutch Tavern and Mediterranean seafood and vegetarian dishes at Fez. Stella’s Station offers a unique combination of ice cream parlor, sports bar, and diner. Love Bites is a tiny restaurant with coffee the locals swoon over and where you can watch the chef prepare your breakfast or grilled sandwich.
For a sweet snack, Saugerties has what you need. Krause’s Chocolates has been making handmade candies and chocolates since 1929. At the newer Lucky Chocolates you can sit at the granite counters and watch your organic chocolate treats made by hand. The store also offers fresh fruit drinks, egg creams, organic ice cream, and fair trade coffees. Owner Rae Stang says she chose to open in Saugerties because, “it’s cool, quirky, and a place where anything is possible.” After tasting her bacon-flavored chocolate, most visitors tend to agree.
From shoes to antiques and books
Shopping is an integral part of a visit to the Village. Mainstays Smith Hardware and Montano’s Shoes anchor Main and Partition. Montano’s, open since 1906, is one of the oldest and largest family run shoe stores in the country, while Smith’s actually allows locals to run tabs. (Maybe this really is Mayberry.)
A visitor could spend an entire day haunting the numerous antique shops and still not make their way through the mazes of merchandise. Central Hotel Antiques owner Harold Swart notes that the majority of treasure hunters are from New York City, but ever since the town has earned the label of “cool” he has noticed an influx of movie prop people buying things for local film shoots. Book lovers can rejoice as Saugerties offers many fine book stores including Our Books, specializing in rare books, and Inquiring Mind, a welcoming coffee café, book seller, and art center. A recent visit found four teenage boys discussing a book. My wife asked me, “How cool must a book store be, and in what kind of town do teenagers spend an afternoon reading?” A woman who over heard us, smiled and said, “This is why I live in Saugerties.”
In some ways, relative newcomer DIG’s trendy fashion boutique embodies what makes Saugerties unique. Owners Van and Daisy Bolle moved from Los Angeles to Saugerties five years ago. They hoped to “bring a sense of style to a funky small town” according to Van.
The Bolle’s approach to customer service reflects many of the town’s merchant’s mindsets and attitudes. Daisy, originally from Woodstock, was a celebrity wardrobe stylist in L.A. “Here, we treat everybody like a celebrity,” says Van. “We really care about making people look and feel good.”
A lighthouse, a beach, and a river
The Saugerties Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse on the Hudson and an iconic symbol of the town. Accessible by boat or a half-mile nature trail, the lighthouse offers stunning vistas of the river and the Esopus Creek, and also operates as a bed and breakfast. The outer public areas are open year-round, sun up to sunset.
The Saugerties Village Beach, at the bottom of Partition Street, is a public beach offering swimming and boat access on the Upper Esopus Creek. Mike Campbell, president of the chamber of commerce, says access to the river and the creek have made the Village among the most popular kayaking destinations in the Hudson Valley.
The Esopus Creek Conservancy is a 210-acre nature preserve with over a mile of coast that can be reached by boat, hike, bike, or car. Cantine Sports Park features 127-acres of sports and recreation, including an Olympic size hockey rink, a skate park, and numerous sports fields. Whether Saugerties is “Mayberry on the Hudson” or an “Upstate Brooklyn” is most likely in the eye, and age, of the beholder.
The fact that it can be considered both is the essence of what makes Saugerties one of the Top Ten Coolest Small Towns In America. There is a sense of pride, an artisanal commitment to quality, and an overwhelming optimism, which will make any visitor realize that whatever cool is, Saugerties has it in spades.
Jim Meyers is a writer living in Kingston.
For another great day trip, take a visit to Marlborough too!