by Janine Stankus
On a sunny Saturday in May, the Esopus River runs red from recent rains and the tiny town of Phoenicia, NY is beginning to stir. A fleet of motorcycles rolls onto the one-block main drag while a pair of young men on beach cruisers meanders into town from the opposite end. The custom bicycles are a signature amenity at The Graham & Co. Hotel, a quaint Catskills motor lodge turned hip Brooklyn outpost.
The Graham & Co. Hotel was designed by four NYC creatives who have long-preferred the Catskills to the Hamptons crowd. "There was definitely a fashion contingent of cool kids hanging out up here, but there was really a lack of places to stay," explains Bianca Barattini, whose father is the hotel’s financier and Operations Manager. Barattini has lived in Brooklyn for 12 years and absconds to the Catskills most weekends. Her cohort includes Amanda Bupp, Jeff Madalena (owner of the NYC clothing store Oak) and Jason Gnewikow (creative director at the creative agency Athletics). The friends eventually began envisioning their own idyllic retreat: a rustic-yet-modern alternative to “grandma-ish spots” or expensive resorts.
In January of 2013, they snapped up the former Cobblestone Motel on a three-acre swath surrounded by mountains, sky and river. They went to work remaking the space in The Graham & Co. brand image, incorporating minimalist design elements, rustic furnishings and intriguing barn-sale finds. The main block contains 13 rooms, ranging from cozy singles to deluxe doubles. Some include kitchenettes and each has an iPod-enabled Tivoli radio. “We only had a limited amount of resources, so it was about taking those and making them interesting,” says Barattini “We definitely wanted to keep that classic Catskills vibe.” Six renovated bunk-style rooms open up this weekend and an additional outbuilding will provide even more “hang out” space for guests.
The hotel opened quietly in July of 2013, attracting praise from the design world. Minimal fuss and smart branding has been a recipe for steady demand. “We actually get a lot of international travelers, which is kind of amazing,” says Barattini. “But I would say mostly it’s a Brooklyn family—people wanting to get out of the city.” The open space and modest amenities cultivate a kind of summer camp nostalgia—it’s as if all the kids have cleared out and the counselors have convened to chill. Guests sprawl on the lawn, hang in the hammock and read in Adirondack chairs by the fire-pit. In the summer, according to Barattini, it’s the decked-in pool that really nails it. Reggae music floats from the open check-in/bar/office, where you can buy branded toiletries or big knit mukluks. The bold chalkboard sign that greets guests demands, "Don’t hassle me, I’m local."
Indeed, The Graham & Co. is by now a fixture in Phoenicia, where a cluster of small businesses thrives. “This is a tight community and all the businesses work together to help each other,” says the owner of Mélange Boutique on Main St. Even before Memorial Day, the town is milling. Once summer starts, the small stretch of shops and restaurants is packed with visitors. Most come to ski, hike, fish or ride the Esopus rapids, courtesy of Town Tinker Tube Rental.
According to Barattini, the community has welcomed the business that The Graham and Co. brings to the area. The founders regularly refer guests to spots in town. Favorites include the newly opened Phoenicia Diner, offering fresh local fare, and an eclectic shop that Gnewikow has dubbed The Too Dark Store (“It’s so fashion”). They also frequent The Phoenicia Market, a 39-year-old German deli where sandwiches are well worth the wait (for those still on city-time). "Ah, yes, The Graham & Co.,” owner Margarete repeats, carefully wrapping a cookie. “Lots of young people come in. Happy kids!"
While Phoenicia looks forward to summer crowds, The Graham & Co. is preparing to host its first on-site event. General Manager James Anthony has organized the first annual Phoenicia Flea, which will feature artisans from both NYC and the Hudson Valley. Brooklyn band Widows Peak will contribute airy vocals and jangly guitar stylings to the carefully selected mix. Confirmed vendors include: Brooklyn Oyster Party, Fruition Chocolate, Kingston Wine, Andrew Molleur, Wishbone Letterpress, Hudson Made, Small Room Collective and many more. "Hopefully we can continue doing things like this to bring something to the guests,” says Barattini, "But also to sort of help out the community."
The Phoenicia Flea will take place the weekend of 25-26 July 2014 from 12–8PM. The Graham & Co. Hotel is located at 80 Route 214 in Phoenicia, NY. For more information and reservations visit their website.
Photos by Janine Stankus