Assignment:
Hudson

The colorful streets and vibrant artists of the Empire State’s coolest town north of Gotham are palpable.
pictures and words by SEAN McALINDIN

I understood the assignment. We’ve all read these stories before. Let’s take a stroll around a quaint, little town and write about how perfect it is. Anytown, USA. You’re going to have the best day there. I promise.

Well, this story’s a little bit different. I’m not supposed to be here. Truth be told, I came here by accident. I had it all. A wife. A beautiful daughter. A good job. Great friends. It was a California dream—now that I think about it. But divorce, the global pandemic and a shifting housing market blew that all to pieces and my ex moved here on a whim to start over. So, my connection with Hudson is complex, to say the least. Yet, like any relationship, if you keep coming back, it grows with time. Much like the city of Hudson itself, my story here is one of reinvention.

But there’s time for that later. First, let’s talk history.

HUDSON’S COLORFUL HISTORY

According to City Historian Linda Fenoff, Hudson has the distinction of being the first city to be incorporated after the official founding of the US. But the idea of this “little seaport far from the sea” started even before the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783. In fact, a group of seafaring people from Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and New Bedford, RI were convinced that, regardless of the war’s outcome, their exposed location along the Eastern Seaboard would make them vulnerable to future British attacks. They, like me, decided it was time to move.

Whaling brothers, Thomas and Seth Jenkins, found an ideal location some 120 miles up the Hudson River beneath a high bluff that created a natural harbor on both sides. The site was soon settled by folks from the New England isles and quickly developed into a busy port with lively wharves, shipbuilding warehouses and famous distilleries. Such was its renown that in 1797, Hudson came just one vote short of becoming the capital of New York. This iconic era came to an end when the last whaling ship sailed from Hudson in 1819. By 1850, construction of the railroad from New York to Albany transected the mouth of the bay, cutting off the harbors to ships.

Ever the chameleon, Hudson next became a factory town, attracting waves of migrants to labor in its ironworks and foundries, as well as its notorious gambling houses and brothels. Wealthy business owners and merchants built fine houses on Allen Street during the Victorian period. By 1930, Hudson had reached its peak of population of 12,337 residents.

In 1975, the last cement plant shut down and, like so many cities in the Northeast, Hudson languished once more. Storefronts on Warren Street were boarded up. Commercial and residential buildings throughout the city were converted into low-income housing. The city’s historic charm dimmed amid a haze of aimlessness and neglect.

It wasn’t until the 21st century–and especially since 2020–that Hudson once again redefined itself, this time with help from an influx of (NY) city-wise arrivals drawn by the town’s authentic, gritty character and indisputably pristine location. Antique dealers paved the way for the entrepreneurs, chefs, fashion designers, artists and writers, and now Hudson has the highest percentage of self-employed people of any city in the state.

Some call it “Brooklyn North” and on weekends, Warren Street is buzzing with food, drink, music, art, impossibly good-looking people and a distinctly hip, happening vibe. I guess what I’m trying to say is this place is supposed to be cool. And, yeah, it is that. But, as always, reality is all in one’s perspective. And though it took me a while, I’ve now seen the ins and outs of this place–the good, the bad and the ugly–within the city and through my reflection in it. You see, Hudson and I continue to reinvent ourselves as often as necessary.

So, if I had 24 hours to experience it for the first time, all over again, once and for all, here’s what I’d definitely do. Probably.

SATURDAY

12:20pm » I step off the Amtrak train onto one of the most picturesque train station platforms in New York State. Across the tracks, the majestic Hudson River drifts downstream. The iconic Catskill Mountains frame the background like a landscape portrait you’ve seen many times before. In fact, during the height of Hudson River School, the vista of South Bay was the most painted landscape of the time. I’m feeling a bit peckish after the idyllic train ride upriver, so I stroll into
Kitty’s market and café right across Front Street for some provisions. If you’re looking for something more substantial, Half Moon Pizza (named after Henry Hudson’s famous ship Half Moon) and the classy, yet rustic Wm. Farmer & Sons are just a block north.

12:40pm » I turn onto the main drag–Warren Street–by a giant Black Lives Matter mural painted in pastel colors on the pavement. The letters were outlined by artists Chris Freeman and Baju Wijono before being completed by local volunteers. Hudson is a distinctly diverse city and well-organized community that prides itself on inclusion, equity and the protection of universal human rights. I’m proud to send my daughter to Hudson public schools.

12:50pm » Simply put, Warren Street is the lifeline of the city. Up and down the street, antique dealers, art galleries, posh restaurants, trendy bars, contemporary clothing stores and perfect coffee shops come to life every morning.

I peek inside Hudson Hall, New York’s older surviving theater that hosts performing arts programs to serve the community, before making the first necessary stop: The Spotty Dog Books & Ale. It’s the best place to find out what’s happening around town and meet some local lifeforms. I grab a pint at the bar, peruse a curated selection of current literature and chat up some folks around me.

“You’ve got to stick with the locals here to find out,” says The Replacements, Guns N’ Roses and Soul Asylum bassist Tommy Stinson who moved here in 2011. “It evolves quickly, but there’s a really great sense of community.”

1:00pm » Across the street, I poke my head into Second Show, one of the more affordable antique stores on the block. There are treasures untold hidden between these old brick walls.

When I’ve seen all I want to see, I pop into John Doe’s Record Shoppe for some more dive-deep browsing. “I’m the only shop that’s still on Warren Street from 22 years ago,” says shopkeeper Dan Seward. “I guess we’re good at what we do.”

I spend the next hour wandering the storefronts, popping into beautiful arts spaces including Carrie Haddad and Time and Space Limited. I buy a stylish jacket for my pretend girlfriend from local designer Nikki Chasin and a marvelous bowler hat for myself at Hudson Clothier. I could spend the whole afternoon shopping here (ha!), but as I browse through Indonesian knick-knacks at Tradewinds, I feel a pang.

John Doe’s Record Shoppe

2:25pm » The weekly Hudson Farmer’s Market has already wound down as I walk uptown for lunch. Today, it’s Café Mutton where Chef Shaina Loew-Banayan’s menu is refreshingly simple. Carefully-curated sandwich and soup orders are taken at a counter and seating is firstcome, first-served.

The exquisite Le Perche and classic Rivertown Tavern are two more popular local picks for nosh. Fortunately, everything’s within a 10–20-minute walk, so you can take your pick.

After devouring country pâté with whole grain mustard and cornichons (as we do in Columbia County) I stop by Mel the Bakery for a loaf and Talbott & Arding Cheese for some artisan Manchego and goat cheese. I’ll need it for the next stop on my journey.

4:10pm » I grab an Uber to Olana State Historic Site. The impressive estate overlooking the Hudson River was once home to legendary painter Frederic Edwin Church, one of the major figures of the Hudson River School. I wander the bucolic grounds and tour his extravagant house awash in 19th century charm and categorically breathtaking views. A trail through the woods leads down to the Hudson River Skywalk, a scenic walkway that connects Olana to the Thomas Cole National Historic Site across the river in the Village of Catskill via the Rip Van Winkle Bridge.

Both artists drew inspiration from this magnificent landscape that remains remarkably unchanged. With sweeping views of the Hudson River Valley and the Catskill Mountains, I’m transported (much like Rip) to another world kept deftly alive within our collective American unconscious.

6pm » I’m dropped off on 4th and Warren in front of First Presbyterian Church. Centered in the heart of Hudson, this open house of worship welcomes people from all walks of life. Like many a wanderer before us, it was a sanctuary for my family when we first arrived here. If you put notes in the box, the people will pray for you. I always found that helpful. Every Saturday afternoon at six, The Melting Pot brings free homemade soup and regional music to the steps of the church for no charge. It just so happens to have some of the finest natural acoustics along Warren Street and support goes towards helping preserve this lodestar of the Hudson community.

Tonight, acoustic maven Phil Roebuck is playing, and he’s got already got a group of random strangers singing along to sailing tunes from the 19th century while slurping on warm, carrot-ginger soup. Does it get any better than that?

6:30pm » I could sing all night long, but I’m in the mood for a drink. I step into Isaan Thai Star for a watermelon mojito made special by restauranteur and local musician, Andy McArdle. As I sip on the fabulous concoction, my friends arrive while incredible jazz pianist and New School professor Armen Donelian performs his weekly set.

My other favorite spots for drinks include a funky Malaysian joint behind an antique shop called BackBar, modern craft cocktail hub Padrona, the beautiful courtyard at Red Dot and standby-for-a-reason Wunderbar Bistro. If you’re looking for nearby beer, Union Street and Upper Depot Brewing Company offer freshly batched brews not far from 7th Street Park at the high end of Warren Street.

7:30pm » Dinner beckons, and I’m only in town for the night, so why not do it up? We head to Feast & Floret, an Italian restaurant with a Tuscan flair. Whether it be foraging mushrooms or scouting farms in the area, they source ingredients and products locally whenever they can. It makes sense in a region of bounty like the Hudson Valley. I go for Chicken Milanese with wild arugula and Grana Padano and I’m thoroughly satisfied.

Looking for something more casual? Try La Mision or Camila’s Pizzeria.

8:45pm » Now, it’s time for some live entertainment in Hudson’s hot, tight-knit music scene. It’s off to Park Theater for a concert with singer-storyteller Emily Jeanne Browne. She does a great version of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire.” In the past year, the historic 1921 cinema has been refurbished with a makeover and a new lineup of regional and touring artists. The sound is amazing here–and the elemental energy of the theater even better.

10pm » After the encore, I grab more drinks with strangers at the cozy Governor’s Tavern, before happily humming my way down Warren Street to The Maker Hotel, what is probably the most sophisticated temporary dwelling place in town. This en vogue spot crafts a bespoke, bohemian experience where you’re feel like a hipster with taste to match. One more nightcap in the dark, suggestive, ultrachic lounge transports me to bliss and the comfort of my custom-made sleeping quarters.

Makers Hotel

10:42pm »…zzz…

SUNDAY

6:55am » I believe I sampled half the town fare yesterday, so this morning calls for some strong coffee. My favorite place is Hudson Roastery, mostly because I love the people I meet there. The writers are already hard at work as I walk in. They sip their joe on wooden benches where they scrawl by hand since there’s no Wi-Fi on purpose. Love it.

Supernatural and Moto Coffee are two more great choices for a morning jolt. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of the aforementioned coffee joints.

7:45am » Right across the street, it’s time for breakfast at Grazin’ Farm to Table Diner where they raise the beef on their own farm outside of town. Need I say more?

8:40am » I take a brisk walk over to Oakdale Lake for the outdoor saunas provided by Big Towel Spa all winter long. This is also a fun place to go fishing or take kids swimming in the summer. I hop in a wooden box and get hot and sweaty; then, I jump in the lake. I’m like a new man.

Some other day, I’ll stop by Bodhi for the spa, massage and yoga. Lord knows I need it.

10:10am » Feeling thoroughly rejuvenated, I rent a bike from Hudson Bike Co. and take a morning ride just outside of town to Greenport Conservation Area. I hike through picturesque open meadows to a stunning view of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains. On a longer day, I’d venture out to Art Omi in scenic Ghent for a morning of outdoor sculpture touring.

11:40am » Back in town, it’s almost time to go home. I walk past Victorian mansions on Allen Street. I stop by The Hudson Milliner Art Salon, an industrial-inspired boutique guesthouse that features a collaborative art space in what used to be a hat factory across from the Jenkins Brothers’ brick houses. I pass the Old Masonic Hall built in 1786 and the home of prominent French fashion designer Marine Penvern.

I make my way down towards to the river to Antique Warehouse for one last browse of the treasures and trinkets. I find one hell of belt buckle and my perfect day is near complete. Across the parking lot, I pass Basilica Hudson, a renovated art space owned by Hole and Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf der Maur. Hey, maybe she could be my friend?

12:05pm » If there was more time, I’d stop by Hudson Brewery Co. for some solo shuffleboard. But I’m on a mission to get one more quintessential photo from Promenade Hill Park. I pay my respects to the Statue of Saint Winifred, a Welsh virgin martyr of the 7th century known for her healing powers. In the distance, the picturesque Hudson-Athens Lighthouse beckons me downriver once more.

12:20pm » It’s time to catch my train. See you tomorrow, Hudson, or maybe in the next lifetime. Now where did my pretend girlfriend run off to?