At first blush, Rhinebeck and Red Hook are just two neighboring towns nestled on the east side of the Hudson River, perhaps most known for restaurants and recent hospitality to Chelsea Clinton. It's true they are both rich in wonderful cuisine. Mercato, Flatiron, Terrapin, Le Petit Bistro, the list goes on. They all benefit from the influx of highly skilled Culinary Institute grads and the proximity to fresh and abundant ingredients from local farms. But food is just one side of the prism that embodies much of what makes these two towns special.
This little enclave in the Hudson Valley has been attracting all sorts of newcomers since the late 1600s. The location directly between Albany and New York City on Albany Post Road (now Route 9) made it a natural stagecoach stop. Inns and stables sprouted up to house the weary travelers. And if the walls of Rhinebeck's Beekman Arms Inn could speak we'd know some extra juicy details behind the scenes of the Revolutionary War. As you duck your head to enter the low-ceilinged tavern room, it's easy to imagine the likes of George Washington and Benedict Arnold knocking back a few.
But many places on the East Coast lay claim to long-standing histories peppered with stories of our forefathers. This community manages the delicate balance of preserving history while sustaining contemporary life. Culture and creativity thrive. And the newcomers are still coming! Artists and writers, merchants and craftsmen, primary residents and weekenders. The person crossing the street is just as likely to be a transplant from Berkeley or Seattle or New Jersey as someone whose family has lived here for generations.
In 1812 Red Hook became a township independent of Rhinebeck by virtue of its growing population, (Happy Bicentennial, Red Hook!) But the adjacent towns, a mere five miles apart, have always been linked in symbiotic partnership. Farmers tend their land in Red Hook and sell their produce or proteins at the markets in Rhinebeck. The agriculture of Red Hook feeds the commerce of Rhinebeck. And the tourism of Rhinebeck helps keep the region commercially alive. These distinctions have become blurred over time, but the two towns are still flip sides of the same coin.
In Red Hook, Gigi's Market on Pitcher Lane serves rustic meals to eat in and prepared food and ingredients to take home. Behind the market a paddock of goats routinely delight young visitors by nibbling feed right out of their hands. In Rhinebeck, Gigi's Trattoria is a more upscale destination with the same great food from a more extensive menu. Cocktails, yes. Goats? No.
Suzanna Hermans lives in Red Hook and co-owns and manages Oblong Books and Music in Rhinebeck. She says it's the perfect combination of "the authentic and rural experience and the more polished, tourist experience." In the face of Amazon.com, Oblong is fighting the good fight and the residents appreciate it. The store sponsors readings and book signings. (Annie Leibovitz was just there in January. See page 14 for a picture from her reading.) Add that to the list of cool things to do on the weekend.
Beyond the restaurants, the retail stores, and even the farms, there is something magical about the particular sisterhood of these two towns. They spark creativity and attract artists. Washington Irving was said to have conjured up Rip Van Winkle while taking in the view of the Catskills from what's now Poet's Walk in Red Hook. Venture to this bucolic park of meandering paths offering stunning views of the Hudson River, the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge and the mountains beyond and you'll understand why.
These communities are finding ways to value and support their local talent. Doug Shippee owns the Rhinebeck Artist's Shop. He says the many illustrators and fine artists who live here help sustain his business. It's a fascinating labyrinth of a store that caters to professionals and dabblers, adults and children. A little time exploring the compelling array of acrylics and canvas will bring out the Picasso in anyone.
Doris Cultraro, a local stained-glass artist, coordinated the Open Studio Tour in Rhinebeck to bring artists and members of the community together. The Dutchess County Art Association sponsors the Rhinebeck Paint Out, an event where painters dot the sidewalks and landscape, working in pleine aire throughout the village. Red Hook CAN (Community Arts Network) partners with the Chamber of Commerce to coordinate "Art POP"—a nomadic gallery of local art shows that pops up in vacant storefronts, helping promote the artists and the available retail space simultaneously. Wing and Clover in Rhinebeck seeks to revive old fashioned handicrafts. The store has everything from sewing kits to printing sponges. You name it, they offer a workshop to teach it.