In Search of an Icon

One couple chose their home based on some unusual criteria.

Nearly 20 years ago, while looking for a home in the Hudson Valley, I mentioned a notion to my wife, who was driving.

“I want to live really close to an iconic restaurant,” I said.  “The closer the better.”

“Where did you come up with that idea?” Mireille asked.

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“It just came up,” I replied.  “The Valley is filled with them. I don’t care where it is.”

“All right. Give me two reasons why we would benefit from residing in the shadow of such an establishment.”

“For one, the Hudson Valley, for better or worse, has become Napa Valley east, gastronomically speaking,” I explained. “Visitors used to come up for the natural beauty, water sports, hiking, country inns…now it’s reservations at an iconic restaurant. I don’t want to be a weekend chauffer.”

“You’re overstating things.”

“What if we want to get out of the house, what if we get cabin fever?  It would be a quick hike to a cozy iconic bar.”

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I suggested we take the next exit and see where it leads.

We found ourselves in the charming and unspoiled village of Rhinebeck.

In the center of town, catching the eye like the Smithsonian Museum, was a magnificent old whitewashed inn. The Beekman Arms is purportedly the oldest continuously operated hostelry in the United States, dating back to 1766.

Definite icon resume.

We entered the creaky parlor, where a large flaring hearth attracted swarms of touristic moths. The low ceilinged tavern, sparsely occupied at the time, led to two small period dining rooms. Affixed to the façade of the building was an architecturally discordant but cheerful greenhouse dining room. We did not have time to sample the food for iconic-hood, but we vowed to return

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Upon leaving we noticed, a block north, a two-story red brick building called Foster’s Coach House Tavern. In contrast to the somewhat formal Beekman Arms, popular with out-of-towners, Foster’s was a hangout for locals— and loud ones.  The two dining areas and bar sport an equestrian theme, one with high backed booths popular with families. A celebratory crowd, nearly three deep, swarmed the small bar. Cocktails appeared small until we discovered they were 90 percent booze.

It appeared that many of the clientele were acquainted. There wasn’t a sports jacket in sight. We managed to commandeer a table just as a chorus of “Happy Birthday” filled the room. Next, a large man wearing a hunting vest delivered a passable version of Danny Boy. The owner must have recognized us as newcomers, for a free round of drinks graced our table. We decided to hang around stay for dinner — steamers, garlic shrimp, chicken Parmesan, angus burger — and continue our stroll.

“Iconic enough for you?” asked Mireille.


Epilogue: One week later, we purchased a farmhouse not far from the Beekman Arms and Foster’s, where we lived for 11 years.

A longtime resident of the Hudson Valley, Bryan Miller has worked for numerous newspapers and magazines, and for two years was a national correspondent for the Associated Press. For 10 years, he served as the restaurant critic for the New York Times, dining out 5,123 times. Not counting food trucks.

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