Life on the river blends old and new in hip little Hudson

Email|Print| Text size + By Necee Regis
Globe Correspondent / January 27, 2008

HUDSON - The numbers tell the story: Along this one-mile stretch of Warren Street there are 65 antique dealers, 28 restaurants and cafes, 27 gallery and exhibition spaces, 15 architectural styles, plus gift shops, clothing boutiques, houseware emporiums, thrift shops, junk shops, convenience stores, bookstores, and one vacuum cleaner retailer. Add it all up and you have a good idea of what you'll find on a visit to Hudson.

Warren wasn't always such a bustling street. Not since, say, the 1880s when cotton and knitting mills, brickyards, breweries, and ironworks helped make Hudson's port second only to New York's (125 miles downriver) in trade volume.

"When I arrived there were only 12 other antique shops in town. Everything else on this block was closed except the Chinese restaurant," said Tim Doyle, owner of Doyle Antiques. When he moved from Albany 17 years ago, Doyle and his fellow merchants decorated empty storefronts to make the street seem less abandoned. They don't have to worry about that now.

"When I came here the sidewalks were busted. Now the streets are repaved. I think of Hudson as a convergence center for like-minded people," said Tim Dunleavy, president of the board of Historic Hudson, which promotes the preservation of the city's architectural heritage.

In the waning light of a fall afternoon, Dunleavy was sitting in his shop, Rural Residence, a home store with a 19th-century aesthetic. "The architecture is what draws people to Hudson," he said.

Hudson's long and vibrant history, including economic booms and busts, is reflected in its architecture, which many credit as the force behind its revitalization. Founded in 1783 by New England merchants, Hudson was the third city to be chartered in New York state and the first chartered after the Declaration of Independence.

Walking from the Hudson River up Warren and adjacent streets, one strolls past examples of what's been called a "dictionary of American architectural design." Starting with Nantucket-style saltboxes, one also sees Federal, Greek, Gothic and Egyptian revivals, Italian Villa and Italianate, Second Empire, Stick, Queen Anne, Richardsonian Romanesque, Colonial Revival, Beaux Arts, and last but not least, Arts and Crafts brick homes from the early 20th century.

"Hudson is a great year-round destination. It was economically down for a couple of decades but now its buildings are being restored," said Chris Wagoner.

Wagoner speaks from experience. A music video producer for 20 years, he bought an 1830 Greek Revival home and opened the Union Street Guest House. It has no common areas but offers self-contained suites, all meticulously restored with art, fine furnishings, and kitchenettes.

Wagoner is also renovating buildings adjacent to the main house. His newest labor of love is the Thunderbird Suite, which he describes as "organic modern." The walls alone are worth a visit, as they've been coated with a mix of plaster and paint, sanded, and waxed to a velvety finish.

The nearby Inn at Hudson is an architectural gem. Completed in 1906, this Dutch-Jacobean home was built as a private residence by Albany architect Marcus T. Reynolds. After a recent 20-year stint as a nursing home, it's being lovingly restored to its original glory by Dini Lamot and Windle Davis, two singers from Human Sexual Response, a Boston punk rock/postmodern pop group of the late 1970s and early '80s. (Best known for their hit single "Jackie Onassis." Lamot later became Miss Musty Chiffon, performing cabaret in Provincetown.)

"When we bought the house it was a shell - no plumbing, toilets, sinks, tubs, sconces, or chandeliers. It did have original stained glass by William Lightfoot Price, and elaborate woodwork by the architect," said Lamot.

The inn has been open for two years. Lamot prepares breakfast daily, offering creations such as eggs with tomatillo salsa and breaded fried green tomatoes, all served in the elegant dining room, which sports a plaster frieze of birds, vines, and pears.

Davis, acting part restoration guru and part historian, points out several delicate panels of stained glass whales in the library.

"Nantucket whalers processed whale oil in Hudson. It was a deep-water port where they could hide from paying taxes to the British. You'll see lots of whale images around the town. Also, it was a volatile process, so that's why there's a fire station on every block," he said.

The C.H. Evans firehouse on Warren Street, built around 1890, is home to The Spotty Dog, the place to go for books, ale, and art supplies.

"We're filling all the niches in town," joked one of the owners, Kelley Drahushuk. The long and narrow room, with its original elaborate wood ceiling, was named after her great-great-grandfather, a mayor of Hudson who also ran a brewery. "My uncle, C.H. Evans IV, owns the C.H. Evans Brewing Co. at the Albany Pump Station. In 2003 this building was too small for a modern fire truck, so my uncle bought it and we moved in."

Besides books and art supplies, the bar has eight artisan beers on tap, five from the Evans roster and three "guest beers." You can also get locally baked goods, fair-trade coffee, and confections from the local chocolatier, Vasilow's.

Weekends are the busiest time in Hudson. Day-trippers from New York and antique hunters and designers from afar converge to scour shops. After decades of hard times and neglect, Hudson (population about 7,500) is experiencing an economic upswing. There's also an edginess to the town, revealing a struggle between Hudson's working-class roots and its upscale aspirations - which is part of its appeal. It's not the West Village. Not yet.

There's a variety of styles in the antiques and furniture market: General Antiques specializes in Brittany and Normandy; Doyle sells classical, Asian, and modern; Hedstrom & Judd offers new Swedish furniture as well as antiques and reproductions, prints, and elaborate birdhouses.

If your preference is modernist, Scott Neven single-handedly runs a 6,000-square-foot space with mid-20th-century furniture and objects at Neven and Neven Moderne. It's the place to go for an Eames surfboard coffee table, a Saarinen womb chair and ottoman, or a Nelson file cabinet.

Stair Galleries is a vibrant auction house that also does appraisals and restorations.

Slightly off the main thoroughfare, Ed Keegan and family run Armory Antiques in an impressive 1897 armory where 60 dealers rent space to display their wares.

Sauntering up Warren Street we encountered Lawrence Marshall reclining on a wicker chaise, enjoying a cigarette and coffee.

"All of Warren Street should have lounges," Marshall said in a faux-Blanche DuBois drawl. Marshall and his partner, Robert Soto, operate Hudson House Antiques in an imposing Greek Revival home. Wandering through their shop is like a visit to your eccentric uncle's house, as it's chock-a-block full of American Empire, Gothic, neoclassical, and Renaissance Revival objects.

Galleries and exhibition spaces are also an important part of Hudson's identity. The John Davis Gallery shows contemporary art in a traditional white-walled gallery, as well as in a four-story carriage house from the late 1800s where exhibition areas have cement walls, floors, and an open elevator shaft that is used for installations.

More quality contemporary work can be found at Carrie Haddad Gallery. The first gallery to open on Warren Street back in the early '90s, it showcases painting, sculpture, and photography by established and emerging area artists. At Verdigris, a combination tea shop and art gallery, Kim Bach carries on a family tradition in the footsteps of her mother, an abstract figure painter who also had a tea shop in Utah.

When you're ready to eat, head for Swoon Kitchenbar, where chef Jeffrey Gimmel and his wife, the pastry chef Nina Bachinsky-Gimmel, have created a cozy-hip neighborhood restaurant that's also a fine-dining destination.

The interior is low-key brasserie, with a silver pressed tin ceiling, dark wood wainscoting, mirrors, low amber light, and tiny white antique floor tiles. The food is innovative, fresh, and - the latest culinary buzzword - local. Located as they are in the Hudson Valley, where small dairy, poultry, and vegetable farms and orchards abound, the local part of the equation is easy.

"I ripped seats out of a minivan and go to local farms almost every day. Farmers are getting hip to restaurants and what they are cooking," said Gimmel.

On a recent visit, the house-made charcuterie plate featured salt-cured pork loin rubbed with hot Spanish paprika, duck prosciutto with Middle Eastern spice from salt-cured Hudson Valley duck, and country pate with pork and duck liver.

And save room for dessert. Bachinsky-Gimmel worked in some of Manhattan's finest restaurants, including Union Square Cafe and Le Bernardin. Her concoctions, such as chocolate crème brûlée with espresso ice cream or milk chocolate panna cotta with pear strudel will - ahem - make you swoon.

But that is how many people feel about the town.

"Most people are moving here to get involved in the excitement. There's really something happening. There's so much going on that we never go to New York City," said Davis.

Why would they? Pack your walking shoes and prepare to swoon.

Necee Regis, a freelance writer in Boston and Miami Beach, can be reached at

If You Go

Where to stay

The Inn at Hudson 317 Allen St. 518-822-9322 Restored 1906 mansion. Doubles with bath: $200 first night, $100 each additional night. Shared bath: $100, $75 each additional night Union Street Guest House 349 Union St. 518-828-0958 1830 Greek Revival Style home. In-season doubles $250, off season $100. Suite $400.

Where to eat Swoon Kitchenbar 340 Warren St. 518-822-8938 Contemporary bistro cuisine. Entrees $18.95-$24.95. Le Gamin 609 Warren St. 518-828-2885; French creperie. Breakfast/lunch $5.50-$12.50. What to do Walking tour 518-828-1785 Available at Doyle Antiques 711 Warren St. 518-828-3929 Antiques and decorative arts. Neven & Neven Moderne 616-618 Warren St. 518-828-4214 Mid-20th-century furnishings. Rural Residence 315 Warren St. 518-822-1061 19th-century housewares. Hudson House Antiques 738 Warren St. 518-822-1226 19th-century furniture. General Antiques 527 Warren St. 518-828-5412 Furniture and objects from Brittany and Normandy. Hedstrom & Judd 401 Warren St. 518-671-6131 Swedish antiques. John Davis Gallery 362 1/2 Warren St. 518-828-5907 Contemporary works. Carrie Haddad Gallery 622 Warren St. 518-828-1915 Contemporary art.

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