Ulster County is a vacationer’s paradise.
Not that it ever wasn’t, of course. Yet when the era of Borscht Belt resorts died out after the 1980s, the region got just a little bit quieter as vacationers turned to standalone retreats in the region (hey Emerson Resort and Mohonk Mountain House) and nature took hold once more.
Now, resort culture is having a moment once again. This time, it’s happening in Big Indian, a serene hamlet just past Phoenicia with a prime location along the Esopus Creek. It’s within this picturesque wilderness that Urban Cowboy Lodge opened its doors.
A spinoff of the Urban Cowboy hotels in Brooklyn and Nashville, Urban Cowboy Lodge is a collaborative effort between hoteliers Lyon Porter and Jersey Banks and hotel developer Phil Hospod, best known for his work on the Freehand, LINE, and NoMad hotels. While the concept for the lodge – all 68 acres of it – is new, the property most certainly is not. It dates back more than 85 years to when it was The Alpine Inn, a family-owned and operated establishment that sits on a plot of land with roots in the 1890s. It’s smack dab alongside the Big Indian Wilderness, a 36,000-acre protected forest in the heart of the 700,000-acre Catskill Park.
In 2018, the property caught the eyes of Porter and Banks, who had been on the hunt for a venue upstate since opening their Brooklyn location more than five years prior. When Porter received an email about The Alpine Inn from a friend, he knew the setting had potential. So, when Hospod mentioned that they should collaborate over drinks one night, Porter pulled up the real estate listing right away.
It was practically a one-and-done deal from there. After completing a walkthrough of the inn in August 2018, they acquired it in April 2019.
“We knew right away that this property and the land was special,” Hospod enthuses. “You really feel removed from it all and ensconced by nature when you’re on it. No highways. Just the sound of two rivers. That’s really hard to find, and we knew that we wanted that connection to nature to be our strongest experience.”
If the experience at Hospod’s projects and the Urban Cowboy hotels is any indication, then it’s an area in which the trio excel. As evidenced by Banks and Porter’s getaways in Brooklyn and Nashville, respectively, the Urban Cowboy experience isn’t just about finding a place to rest your head. It’s an immersive thing, one to which strangers arrive and, over the course of music, drinks, and late-night conversations, leave as friends.
And it’s here in the Catskills.
Open since spring 2020, Urban Cowboy Lodge is a fully immersive wilderness retreat in Ulster County. Its 68 acres sit primely along the Esopus Creek and overlook the mountainous terrain beyond. In the area, outdoor experiences like fly fishing, hiking, and skiing abound, thanks to the venue’s proximity to the Big Indian Wilderness and Catskill Park.
And that’s just the outside. Inside, meanwhile, the lodge is a study in rustic glamour. With 28 rooms, a freestanding cabin, and a standalone chalet, the retreat is a dream for anyone who craves an escape from city life and the chance to reconnect with nature upstate. The ambiance walks the line between cowboy casual and upscale elegance, thanks to touches like in-room Japanese soaking tubs, magnificently patterned wallpaper, and roaring fireplaces.
With each stay, guests choose their own adventure. Depending on their moods, they can venture out for a hike or a trip to a nearby slope or can simply lounge on their private outdoor deck or luxuriate during a soak in their in-room cedar or copper tub. There’s also an Estonian sauna, with a full spa scheduled to launch in spring. No matter what, the one thing no one will find on the grounds is cell phone service – and that’s on purpose, too.
Yet the rooms, and the escape they provide, are only part of the appeal at Urban Cowboy Lodge. When it comes to dining, no stay at the hotel is complete without dinner and a drink at the onsite restaurant and cocktail bar. Called The Dining Room, the lodge’s eatery has a holistic focus that prioritizes fresh, local produce for each of the three square meals it serves.
Executive Chef Tara Norvell, formerly of Roberta’s in Brooklyn and Okonomi in Williamsburg, leads the kitchen, which aims to be a zero-waste facility. The restaurant isopen to hotel guests and Hudson Valleyites alike for dinner, drinks, or lounging by the bar’s crackling fireplace.
“I’ve always loved the Catskill Mountains and wanted to create an Urban Cowboy here,” says Porter. “It is a very special place where one can truly escape New York City and reconnect with nature. We feel that this is more important now than ever, and we wanted to build a home for all of us in the wilderness.”
Speaking of building, phase one of development focused on the renovation of the inn’s existing units and took about 10 months to complete. Next up, the leadership trio plans to focus on an outdoor live-fire kitchen, spa, hot tub, and outdoor pool for debut. Around that time, the lodge will unveil luxury tents along the stream for guests who crave the chance to sleep under the stars, even if only for a night.
Yet even that is just the beginning. Because Urban Cowboy Lodge sits on an expansive 68 acres, the grounds require constant maintenance and development to keep them in tip-top shape. Luckily, Banks, Hospod, and Porter are up for the challenge.
“My guess is that our work here will never end,” Hospod estimates. “We’ve got 70 acres of wilderness that needs hiking trails, cabins, and a homemade maple tapping system.”
“I look at it as a lifelong challenge and responsibility to be stewards of this land,” Lyon adds. “It is special land that we hope to leave better than we found it when we pass it on to the next generation to enjoy, play, and connect with nature.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Urban Cowboy Lodge operates at limited capacity, with two guests permitted per room and the Dining Room operating as a to-go canteen. Roberta’s pizza is available on weekends. Follow Urban Cowboy Lodge at @UrbanCowboyHotels for updates.