Rhinebeck and Kingston, Upstate NY

Marie in Rhinebeck

(December 2020)

A little misty-murky this morning. I was thinking it might just be local weather but the light fog held all the two hour drive Upstate New York to our destination of Kingston. It added to the mild wintry atmosphere though, and was also photogenic!

Our usual, local McDonald’s drive-through to get mcmuffins and a big coffee for Marie, orange juice for me.

I imagine that Upstate looks terrific in autumn, as did New England of course. Although now it’s mostly bare branches and damp air, that also has its own beauty.

We would be staying at a Hampton Inn in Kingston, in a modern area of big chain shops and chain restaurants. Marie set the controls for us to first arrive in Downtown Kingston, and we would be checking in to the hotel later. As we drove down Broadway, on our approach, we were still about a mile or so from Downtown. Still in Kingston though, and the mile-long approach wasn’t that promising; plain, to put it mildly. Downtown, near the Hudson River and Maritime Museum, looked nice. A quaint-ish area, with quite a few shops and eateries. It was so quiet though, despite it being around noon on a Saturday. Most places weren’t open. We needed to use public toilets, or those in a cafe. The public ones near the museum were locked, and the cafes that were open didn’t have toilet facilities either. And there was no vibe or glow to the area; not even any Christmas lights.

Back in the car, we drove to a Kohl’s department store about half a mile away. In part to use the facilities. Kohl’s was packed with Christmas shoppers. Marie found a dead ‘water bug’ in the toilets. Oh dear! It can only get better…

…and it did! Much, much better as you’ll see.

We decided to drive over the bridge to the neighbouring town of Rhinebeck. Rhinebeck was our main destination anyway, with Kingston just a bonus if it turned out to be nice. Rhinebeck is posh and beautiful. Lovely streets full of places to linger, and an enchanting display of tasteful Christmas lights. We loved it, and finally we were warming to the holiday. The town feels very welcoming. We got an eggnog latte and a chocolate banana tart from the popular Bread Alone…

photo by Adam Hardy

…and then found a bench to munch and to people and dog watch. Some bikers passed through, and one had a poodle on the back also clad in a leather jacket, helmet and goggles!

photo by Adam Hardy

We browsed in Oblong Books and Marie bought Hilarie Burton Morgan’s ‘The Rural Diaries’. It’s about her life-changing visit to Rhinebeck, which she visited when a fledgling L.A actress. Her and her family decided to run a farm in Rhinebeck instead! They also bought into Samuel’s Sweet Shop in town, and helped save the shop along with others including the actor Paul Rudd.

photo by Adam Hardy

Marie noticed the Farmers Market would be open tomorrow, so we’d come back!

Next the hotel check in, just over the bridge, and time to shower etc. Marie later drove us to Hoffman House in Uptown Kingston for our dinner reservation. What a contrast Uptown Kingston is from Downtown right now! No disrespect to Downtown, and it’s probably suffering from Covid times (plus we didn’t see it at night, so who knows). But Uptown is gorgeous. Still very quiet, but a lot to do and consume (especially in the eventual post-covid). We walked around a bit, very impressed. Then to the Hoffman, which is a charming old place dating from 1711! Initially we were taken to a small room up a few steps. I never complain about anything – I’m British – but I’m very grateful that Marie complains on behalf of both of us. The room had no windows or Christmas lights, and was not the magical setting we’d hoped for. We said we’d rather wait for a better table. After about twenty minutes we were given a wonderful seating right by a Christmas tree and big old, roaring fireplace. It’s so justifiable to complain when it’s needed! It was a really special atmosphere and the food and drink was outstanding. Marie had a cosmo cocktail, and I a bourbon and blood orange ‘old-fashioned’. We shared a crab rangoon starter from the specials menu, and for mains Marie tried the St. John’s Waldorf chicken; encrusted in some of the ingredients from a Waldorf salad and gorgonzola and then served with polenta. I had the steak au poivre (creamy pepper gravy), with garlic mash. All so good, and we must have had the best part of two hours in there. Very nice waitress, who is mad about funky pens. She showed us her two…I think emu pens, with feather and lights.

The Hoffman, below…

photo by Marie Hardy
photo by Marie
photo by Marie
St. John’s Waldorf chicken, photo by Marie
steak au poivre, photo by Marie

We left a good tip. We try to tip extra well in these tricky times for restaurants.

On the way back to the hotel we bought pineapple, alcoholic seltzer and some Cap’n Lawrence IPA beer for the hotel room for the days ahead.

At the hotel at night, we watched a Holiday episode of the Great British Bake Off on the kindle.

Day 2 –

It’s mid-morning, a nice-ish weather day, and we try the Farmers Market in Rhinebeck. It’s small, but choc-full of enticing, quality stalls. We spent a lot. Firstly we came to a British food van, ‘Brit Breads’! How perfect is that?! We bought a Cornish pastie to share (for those who don’t know, this is a little like an empanada; traditionally coal miners in England and Wales used to take a pastie down the mine for their lunch, and the pastie often has a thick, pastry edge to hold so that in olden days it wouldn’t matter about getting coal smudges on the edge). It’s packed with meat, or sometimes meat and veg or any modern-day combination. This was traditional steak and potato and was very good, even ate cold.

Marie and the pastie

And a bit later we went pack to get scones, raspberry jam and clotted cream from Brit Breads to devour on a different street bench. In-between we also bought a bottle of a local winery white port (we never knew there was such a thing as white port!), plus a bottle of red wine, and a honey and blackcurrant jam made by a beekeeper. All was from Ray Tousey.

photo by Adam Hardy

Next back to Uptown Kingston to try Keegan Brewery. You might have seen some Keegan ales in various places, especially their stout – Mother Milk – and their Hurricane Kitty. We like the brewery very much. One of our favourite ever, and we’ve been to many. It attracts both the middle-age rocker type, and younger people too. It has some impressive murals outside. Quite a lot of people sat outside. We set a trend by sitting inside, and a lot of others followed. We perched at a high top, and I had a sample flight (or ‘paddle’) of their beers. Marie tried a sip of each. We enjoyed every one, especially the Mother Milk and even the 11% double-chocolate stout which I saved until the end. I expected that to be “head-banging”, bitter and strong but we both found it delicious and very drinkable. Music was classic rock, and as I wrote a couple of postcards home Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ was playing. Most apt!

photo by Adam Hardy
photo by Marie Hardy

A short drive to the main shopping streets of Uptown Kingston next, we looked around consignment shops. I couldn’t quite find a vinyl record I could justify buying, and I know I have treats to come this Christmas. More pottering around the beautiful streets.

photo by Adam Hardy
photo by Adam Hardy

Later in the evening, we enjoyed Indian fine dining at Cinnamon in Rhinebeck. The korma and the unusual Sali Boti – with lamb and apricots – were both very delicious. The latter pretty spicy. The hot toddy cocktail was good, though not as good as other cocktails elsewhere on the trip, and it was overpriced at $14.

gotta have that amazing garlic naan!

Before bed we watched the utterly crazy and hilarious Greg Davies’ comedy stand-up, ‘You Magnificent Beast’.

This particular Hampton Inn gets a lot of criticism because a freight train runs behind the hotel through the day and at night, at intervals. It’s true that it does rattle and hum a lot but it didn’t bother us too much. The hotel is beautifully kept. Uhm, but we would suggest you book a room at the front of the hotel, ideally.

Day 3 –

We bought some New England coffees at Hannafords Supermarket, next to the hotel. There was a snow-sleet mix this morning. Despite the weather – and it wasn’t too bad – we decided to take a look at another town today, Saguerties, seven miles away. We loved Saguerties too. It’s both quaint and very down-to-earth. A real slice of Americana, especially the Main Street. We watch The Voice, the singing competition, and by pure coincidence one of the five finalists – Ian Flanigan – happens to come from here. There were posters everywhere! We liked the Bluestone coffee house very much, and lingered there a while. Music was great: Nick Drake, Tallest Man On Earth etc. And we took lunch at Main Street Mexican restaurant, which was fantastic! A big margarita drink was only $5 on a Monday special and the lunch was the best casual Mexican food I’d personally ever had. Upbeat, Latin music gave it an extra enjoyable edge.

Main Street restaurant, Saugerties

A stop back near the hotel at Hannafords and Dunkin, and then we finished the scones & cream in the room. For our last evening…what to do? Our thoughts were maybe to dine at one of the big, chain restaurants near us like Texas Roadhouse. But more interesting was the option of driving to Rhinebeck, and to Smoky Rock BBQ. Sleet had stopped, so driving over the bridge at night was fine. We went for the barbecue choice! A beautiful, Greek-owned place, they have an alternative kind of outdoor dining: bubbles! Lighting in the front garden is very atmospheric and romantic, with a lot of string lights. They put a small, portable heater inside the bubble. We felt it needs to be warmer though, but we braved it and had a fine evening sharing pastrami, mac and cheese and the most amazing, honeyed and large, crispy sweet potato fries and then followed by cappuccino and a Black Forest cake slice. The hot toddy was one of the best ever. Smoky Rock below…

outdoor dining bubbles!
photo by Adam Hardy
photo by Adam Hardy

And the next day we still had time to fit in lunch at Cracker Barrel on the way home, a last treat of the trip. Best American pancakes anywhere.

Disclaimer: for some photos I’ve used a ‘soft colours’ filter effect, hence a friend mentioning that at times we look as if we’re “in a Hallmark movie”!

Published by heathgrip

An Englishman in New York for around 15 years, I met a wonderful, beautiful, cannily smart and talented girl from Flushing, Queens whilst I was living in Manchester, UK, through the internet in 2005 and we married in Spring 2006! We both have a passion for travel, restaurants, history, music, all kinds of fun events. Who doesn't? I'm an artist and photographer, and also love to write. Anything creative really (you can keep your science and technology!). I've sent journals back home to family and friends for many years and they've often suggested I start a blog with writings pasted from my journals. So here it is!

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