top destinations


Staging a Revival

A Catskills Motel Comes Back to Life
  • The Roxbury

    The Maryann’s Coconut Cream Pie Room at the Roxbury

  • The Roxbury

    The Angel Hair Room

  • The Roxbury

    The Digs Suite

  • The Roxbury

    A bedroom in The Digs

  • The Roxbury

    A fish tank in the shower and the Mayan idol Murphy bed in The Digs

  • The Roxbury

    The Wizard’s Emeralds Room

  • The Roxbury

    The Roxbury

CHEAT SHEET
WHERE

The Catskill Mountains lie about a hundred miles north of New York City, with the Catskill Park proper spanning some 700,000 acres of largely undeveloped forest.

WHY GO

The Catskills have long served as a summer retreat from the cities of the American Northeast, especially New York. Relatively cool summer temperatures and a landscape of rolling, river-sluiced hills make for an inviting reprieve from the heat of the city.

HOW

The Catskills are inextricably linked to American car culture; driving is pretty much the only way to go.

TABLET TIP

If you’re driving from New York, pull off the highway in Mountainville and visit the Storm King Art Center, a spectacular 500-acre sculpture park with works by Andy Goldsworthy, Henry Moore, Richard Sera, Sol Lewitt and many others.

HOTELS

Roxbury, New York —  July, 2013

Long before it became one of the strangest, most fantastical hotels in the United States, the Roxbury was a classic American motor lodge in a quiet mountain town, its neon sign — “MOTEL” — a familiar-looking relic from the heyday of American road travel. By the time Greg Henderson and his partner Joseph Massa bought the building in 2003, that sign had been gone for decades. The town’s former stream of road-tripping visitors had mostly dried up by the end of the 1970s, and the hotel had been converted into an apartment building.

“It was kind of the advent of jet travel and air conditioning that killed the Catskills,” Henderson says. “Prior to that it was a mecca for New York City vacationers.” But if the glamour of jet travel diverted a generation of travelers away from towns like Roxbury, New York, then today’s increasingly dehumanizing flying experience is helping to bring them back. The Catskills, along with many of the mid-century motels that grew out of America’s highway boom, have become cool again. Beyond the obvious appeal of being surrounded by rivers and rolling hills just a few hours from the city, the towns of the region are tinged with nostalgia for the era when America most loved to drive.

Nostalgia is key to the appeal of the Roxbury, too, though at the hotel it’s more a technicolor explosion of pop-culture Americana than some subtle rosy tint. Entering through the lime-green door to one’s room feels like stepping behind the little glass wall of a television set, straight into the world of I Dream of Jeannie, Gilligan’s Island, or one of the many iconic shows and movies that inspire the hotel’s interiors. It all feels deeply familiar to anyone raised on classic American TV (whether first-run or Nick at Nite), a real-life version of some psychic souvenir from TV-land that’s been hibernating deep in the amygdala all along.

One would have to be hopelessly uptight not to enjoy this stuff, but what really makes it work as a hospitality venture is the amount of care that goes into it all, and how, despite all the winking playfulness, there’s something unexpectedly sincere going on. The rooms are extensions of the sorts of spaces Henderson has always wanted to inhabit. In designing the Austin Powers–themed Shagadelic suite, he says, “I was in some ways just recreating my childhood room from the ’70s.”

The Indiana Jones–inspired Digs, the hotel’s newest suite and by far its most extravagant, comes closest to the style of Henderson and Massa’s nearby house, which they’ve decorated in what Henderson calls “a sort of over-the-top Gothic style, with a 15th-century gargoyle chandelier.” Henderson is quick to point out that the Digs’ digs are rather cushier. The new suite, a three-bedroom standalone cottage, features among its “amenities” an Aztec idol whose flame-shooting head lights up the sitting area from inside a coin-strewn fireplace, a hidden cave from which you can peer into the adjacent room through the eye-holes of antique masks, and a glittering gold shower with a fish tank for a wall. And the fish tank really is the coup de grâce. The creatures inside are as bizarre as their surroundings, from a sad-faced lion fish drifting somberly about to a blocky-bodied fellow (a dogfish puffer) who appears to sport a toothy smile.

To bring it all to life, Massa, who worked in set construction in the years when he and Henderson lived in New York City, works with a team of artists and craftspeople assembled over the years — some of them old acquaintances and even former guests. “Take our Maryann’s Coconut Cream Pie room,” Henderson says, “which is like being inside a pie. Joseph somehow immediately knew what I was thinking.” It took six months to build, and the results were pretty impressive, from the meringue-like plaster globs hanging from the ceiling to the pie-shaped bed to the scent of coconut wafting through the room, an experiment in total commitment to a concept. Or as Henderson puts it, “We totally nailed it.”

Mike Parker

Book this story

CHEAT SHEET
WHERE

The Catskill Mountains lie about a hundred miles north of New York City, with the Catskill Park proper spanning some 700,000 acres of largely undeveloped forest.

WHY GO

The Catskills have long served as a summer retreat from the cities of the American Northeast, especially New York. Relatively cool summer temperatures and a landscape of rolling, river-sluiced hills make for an inviting reprieve from the heat of the city.

HOW

The Catskills are inextricably linked to American car culture; driving is pretty much the only way to go.

TABLET TIP

If you’re driving from New York, pull off the highway in Mountainville and visit the Storm King Art Center, a spectacular 500-acre sculpture park with works by Andy Goldsworthy, Henry Moore, Richard Sera, Sol Lewitt and many others.

HOTELS


Want more of this?

Register for our newsletter for great hotel deals & travel inspiration:

Related stories:

 

Copyright © Tablet Inc 2001-2014. All rights reserved.