10 Things To Love About Red Hook
By Jamie Larson
The Town of Red Hook seems to encapsulate everything we like about Dutchess County and, indeed, all the pleasures of the eastern shore of the Hudson Valley. Pastoral farmlands surround and blend seamlessly into quaint villages that offer some incredibly refined metropolitan attractions while clothed in the relaxed fit of rural comfort. The town is a vibrant cell with two nuclei, the Village of Red Hook and the Village of Tivoli, each unique and each worth a visit.
The Historic Village Diner
Sometimes there’s one place that captures the feel of a village. The first New York diner ever to be put on the National Register of Historic Places, the Village Diner hasn’t changed much since it was fabricated in the 1920s. Old as it may be, it still might as well be the center of town. Everyone in town, and from other places far and wide, meets here and eats here. If you want a table on the weekend, come early or be prepared to wait. Let’s be clear, Red Hook folks don’t just come for nostalgia’s sake. They come for the amazing food. It’s a traditional, long diner menu done perfectly, and sometimes even better.
Tivoli Bays Park
I think we’ve made it clear that Red Hook is bucolic as all get-out but just to drive the point home, walk off your big diner breakfast at Tivoli Bays, where Red Hook meets the Hudson. The trails wind lazily through the woods, past the impressive ruins of a massive barn, and down a hill to a marshy dock on the bay. Watching the tides roll away beneath shade oaks or setting off in a kayak through the lily pads is a wonderfully relaxing way to spend the afternoon.
Is it time for some homemade ice cream? You know it is. Like the diner, Holy Cow is a local celebrity business. The line is long but the ladies behind the counter are experts at sweetly handing over the treats each person craves. There’s something for everyone, from amazing ice cream flavors, frozen yogurt, sundaes and shakes to cookie sandwiches, cakes, frozen bananas and the messy scoop of ice cream in a cupcake wrapper known as an “udder.” The other unspoken tradition of Holy Cow is that nearly everyone eats at the nearby picnic tables or in the parking lot, where you can make a new friend or meet the whole town.
Rusty’s Farm Fresh Eatery
For lunch, head to Rusty’s, where you’ll find great, inventive offerings of all types made with ingredients as local as they come. In the summer, meals are made with produce from the community garden across the street and the flower boxes right out front. The freshness of the ingredients will assuage any guilty feelings about ordering one of the amazing topping-loaded specialty burgers. We’re not sure what’s in the “Rusty’s sauce” but we know we want it on everything.
Kaatsbaan International Dance Center
Tucked away down a winding drive by the river in Tivoli is the much renowned Kaatsbaan Dance Center, located on a 153-acre historic site (the former estate of Eleanor Roosevelt’s grandparents). The dance center’s mission is to provide an inspiring yet affordable year-round home for dancers, choreographers and companies to practice, grow, create, inspire one another and perform. For dance audiences, it’s a hidden jewel that presents national and international dance companies in its 160-seat studio theater, providing an intimate dance experience.
Apple Blossom Day
More than most locales, Red Hook is a truly engaged community. No matter where you go in town, you’ll see families engaged in activities at the library or one of the many parks. Nothing brings the entire town together quite like Apple Blossom Day, coming up soon on May 10. This full-day festival takes over every shop and restaurant as the village welcomes spring, and it reminds everyone of the town’s agricultural roots. What better to rally around than those beautiful buds, with their promise of things to come.
Greig Farms, set equidistant between the two villages, is emblematic of the tight relationship between Red Hook’s community and its farms. The lower level of the main barn houses the town’s vibrant farmers’ market. Backed by a live jazz band, you can shop for local produce, meats, cheeses and artisanal foods that are some of the best in the Hudson Valley (which then, logically, makes them some of the best products on the face of the earth).
Mercato & Luna 61
World-class local ingredients translate directly into world-class fine dining. While there’s a plethora of amazing restaurants in town, the refined Italian-modern delicacies served at Mercato make for a transformational experience. Tucked into a humble residential façade, Mercato serves patrons with the refinement, skill and essence of the best metropolitan restaurants… but this food is sourced from farms within walking distance. And if you’re a vegetarian, a vegan, gluten free or if you just want a sophisticated yet totally meat-free meal, go to Luna 61 in Tivoli. This is one of those places where, crazy as it sounds to some carnivores, you just don’t miss the meat. The dishes produced are such high quality and spiced so expertly, you’ll be addicted after the first bite.
Bard College & The Fisher Center
Bard College, which is ranked as one of the best schools and one of the most beautiful campuses in the country, is a mecca of culture both during the school year — hosting popular and important writers, thinkers and artists — as well as during the summer months when it is home to the Bard Music Festival (this year celebrating Schubert from August 8-17) and Bard SummerScape (running June 27-August 17) with most performances taking place in the breathtaking Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts.
The Black Swan
Your day’s wrapping up and by now you’ve eaten four or five times and done a lot of walking around. It’s time to reward yourself for your good works with a nightcap and some bad behavior. The Black Swan in Tivoli is an icon of the area’s less reserved predilections. A cross between a dive and an historic pub, the Black Swan is the type of local bar that you don’t see much anymore. It’s a charming place to have one too many. Get a ride and enjoy yourself with all the friends you made.