Imagine a place where Dorian Gray could go for a five o’clock cocktail and cigar with Don Draper after a long, arduous day wreaking havoc on his portrait. In the same space, the two men might meet up with Jay Gatsby for a sunshine-filled swim in the lake before drying off to socialize away the wee hours of the night with the who’s who at the bar.
It’s a place that oozes easy glamour, that welcomes culture lovers at large, and that never says no to an impromptu shindig. In short, it’s a place that doesn’t exist, much as we might imagine it otherwise.
Or does it?
Henrietta Paris and Matthew Bray would like to believe it does. As the owners of Vanderbilt Lakeside in Philmont, they’re working to bring their unique fusion of comfort, entertainment, and elegance to Columbia County.
“It’s a Victorian lakehouse genre that doesn’t exist,” Paris jokes, when asked to describe the vibe at the guesthouse. Maybe it doesn’t, but she and Bray certainly do a bang-up job of convincing visitors otherwise. To start, there’s the fact that the property is literally right next to Summit Lake. From the back deck, guests can walk the couple of feet to the waterfront to dip their toes or, in the warmer weather, picnic along the bank.
Then there’s the décor. After the couple purchased the historic Victorian abode, which formerly operated as The Vanderbilt House Hotel, at the beginning of 2018, they set to work transforming the previously traditional interior to something that melded the best of old and new world sensibilities. To do so, they pulled from their past. Paris looked to her experiences as a server, bartender, and bar owner in Brooklyn.
After successfully building and operating The Dove Parlour in Greenwich from scratch in 2004 and Night of Joy in Williamsburg in 2011, she knew how to not only concoct a killer cocktail, but also how to design an attractive ambiance and negotiate the ins and outs of business ownership. Bray, meanwhile, racked up his knowledge of the hospitality industry during a decade spent working for Danny Abrams at The Mermaid and JG Melon.
The pair scouted potential locations in upstate New York for more than a year before finally chancing upon the Victorian home of their dreams. After dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s, Paris sold her shares in her New York City businesses and she and Bray packed up their belongings (and their two children) to settle into the Philmont abode.
“When you’re in the beginning stages of starting a business, it’s really creative,” Paris explains of the process. While the property itself was in workable condition (the old owners wrapped their final service on New Year’s Eve 2017), the new owners wanted to put their own mark on the space. Between February and June, they poured their efforts into adding signature touches to every nook and cranny, from antique trunks and glitter walls in the game room to geometric light fixtures and cozy southwestern-inspired blankets in every guestroom.
Speaking of guestrooms, there are eight onsite, each with a private bathroom and the capacity to hold two guests. Three of the rooms have access to a shared balcony that faces the front street, while all come stocked with bathroom amenities from 2Note Hudson and linens from Brooklinen. With guestrooms on the second floor, the first floor is devoted to shared spaces. Upon entering the inn, guests can veer right for the restaurant and bar or left for the game room and back deck.
Each morning, Paris and Bray dish out a complimentary breakfast spread in the game room for overnight guests with all the farm fresh fixings of the Hudson Valley. Early risers are welcome to come down in pajamas and pick up a bowl of granola and yogurt, or maybe a slice of quick bread and a cup of joe, and browse the dozens of books that are scattered throughout the nooks of the room. In the evenings, a nearby stack of games tempts visitors to laugh and linger well into the wee hours of the night.
Then there’s the restaurant. Not just for inn guests, the eatery and onsite bar tempts wanderers who need a getaway from nearby Hudson (only a 15-minute drive away) and locals who want a nice place to “escape” on the weekends. A true delight for food lovers, the menu sings an undeniable siren song with sweet and savory bites like shishito peppers with honey-ginger glaze and Frito pie with duck chili and fixins’ galore.
On Sundays, Chef Ferdinand Ramilo (a Culinary Institute of America grad formerly behind the kitchen at Bocuse) delights with a late morning brunch that brings world flavors like shakshuka, Spanish tortillas, and congee under one roof. Don’t pass up on the “normal” fare, however. The Lakeside Molten Cake, topped with a berry coulis matcha milk crumble and cinnamon-chili salt, is not to be missed.
Then there’s the world-class bar, which serves as something of a laboratory for the creative couple. Offerings change seasonally to play upon the flavors of the Valley, but a handful of signature drinks remain on the menu to give passersby a taste of the bar’s style. Think Moonlit Day with vodka, lemon, and house-made chamomile-honey syrup and Taconic Sour with Taconic Distillery rum and cardamom bitters. Notably, many ingredients are homemade or sourced from Hudson Valley brands. The beer is often local as well, while the wine selections come from boutique brands that prioritize organic, biodynamic, and sulfite-free production.
Going into winter, the bar will undoubtedly be a hopping spot for Hudson Valley visitors at large. Casual Saturday nights see locals savoring gourmet sips and nodding along to a stellar lineup of tunes (think “Bennie and the Jets” meets Upstate). On special occasions, meanwhile, the inn plays host to wedding receptions and even private parties for local brands like Etsy, which has an office in Hudson.
Looking ahead to spring, Paris and Bray hope to plan a few in-house events to add to the destination experience at the guesthouse.
“I’m super excited to be able to go outside again,” says Paris, who looks forward to utilizing the outdoor grill and bar space. When the warmer weather arrives, visitors will be able to sit on the deck for dinner or grab something from the grill and set up a blanket for an impromptu picnic by the lake. If all goes according to plan, Vanderbilt Lakeside may even become a go-to venue for outdoor movie nights and live music.
For now though, the couple are content to cozy up by the lake for their first official Hudson Valley winter. They’re already putting together an après ski package and happy hour specials for upstate weekenders and locals alike.
Of course, they’re always down to chat with guests about where they found their eye-catching décor. That elk head in the game room, for instance? It’s a vintage Craigslist find, courtesy of a Greenpoint taxidermist. The trunks along the wall? They’re holdovers from the couple’s Brooklyn days.
So come on over, grab a seat in the dining room, and ask for whatever the bartender’s feeling that evening. Drink in hand, you can watch the sun set from the deck or open the pack of Cards Against Humanity that’s hiding in the corner. Don Draper might not be there to see you, but we have a feeling he would be proud nevertheless.