Day Trip: Rhinebeck, NY – The Berkshire Edge

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There was no clear evacuation plan. No idea when or how we’d get out of it. The flashing lights, pulsing sounds, and poorly rendered graphics were just too much to resist. The finality of the “Game Over” warnings meant nothing to us. We had quarters. Many of them. Aligned to the dashboard. The other players, including the little redhead, knew it was our machine. They gave us space.

Pinball Iron Maiden at Megabrain Comics and Arcade. Photo Andrew Blechman

We made our rounds, snapping flippers and joysticks – outwitting Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde amid tasty pellets; swing from the vines to save Donkey Kong from Mario; and light up as many bells as possible on the Iron Maiden pinball machine.

“People should come here,” says my teenage daughter Lillie, looking over our final quarters. “This place is awesome. I would tell people to come here.

Despite its popularity, the village of Rhinebeck isn’t really known for its backroom arcade at Megabrain, , Rhinebeck’s black-owned comic book shop that relies on a dedicated clientele. Rather, it is usually associated with several hundred years of American history, ranging from the Dutch settlement in the Hudson Valley to the Revolutionary War, FDR’s fondness for the city and beyond. Today, Rhinebeck is a favorite of transplanted New Yorkers and visitors alike, who revel in its quaint-to-groovy independent shops, restaurants and cultural offerings, as well as the area’s natural beauty.

the majestic Beekman Weapons, the nation’s oldest continuously operated inn, pretty much sums up Rhinebeck’s historical relevance as a crossroads in American history. George Washington indeed slept there, as did Benedict Arnold and Alexander Hamilton (Aaron Burr – boo! – mainly frequented a nearby establishment that eventually burned down). It was there that Benjamin Harrison (not to be confused with his grandfather William Henry Harrison) and his running mate, Rhinebeck local Levi Morton, learned they had been nominated by the Republican National Convention (they were elected but quickly forgotten, their administration being reserved by Grover Cleveland). And it was at the Beekman Arms that FDR concluded each campaign for governor and president by addressing supporters from the porch of the inn.

FDR’s fondness for Rhinebeck likely evolved from closeness –his house in Hyde Park is ten miles downriver. As president, FDR took a particular interest in renovating the post office in the nearby village of Beekman Arms. He insisted that the building reflects the historic Dutch architectural vernacular of the region; hence the fieldstone walls and steeply pitched roof. Inside, the frescoed walls of the Post Office are well worth a special visit. If you look closely, there’s even a skinny, naked man enjoying a refreshing swim with his factory colleagues.

But it wasn’t the lure of the story, despite a racy mural, that lured my teenager from another Space Invaders game. This honor goes to Aba’s falafels in the street. Great Barrington locals may remember the ever-crowded Falafe of AbaI stand at the local farmer’s market. The Israeli couple now have a restaurant that closes at 3:30 p.m. in downtown Rhinebeck. Almost everything is made on site, even the pickles and the hot cilantro-garlic sauce (the pitas come from an Israeli baker in New York). The restaurant is vegan and, apart from the pitas, gluten-free. Falafels are simply irresistible: crispy on the outside, soft and crumbly on the inside. The sandwiches were more than enough . . . but that didn’t stop us from ordering a “seven for seven” (seven falafels for $7). Pushing flippers is more of an aerobic workout than many realize.

Have dinner by the side of the street at Cinnamon’s. Enjoy Picture Rhinebeck

Other Rhinebeck favorites include: Terrapine (located in a former church with a varied menu and a cozy, family-friendly bar); Cinnamon (authentic Indian with a Sri Lankan twist); bias (modern Irish cuisine; the name means food in Gaelic); bread alone (popular café with homemade pastries and sandwiches); Gigi’s Trattoria (for “mediterranean local Hudson Valley” – order the Skizza!); Foster’s Coach House (local mainstay of comfort food with deliciously retro yet authentic decor); Amsterdam (raised from farm to table); and The Little Bistro (Upscale continental with a bistro twist). Smoked BBQ, Aroi Thaiand Osaka (for sushi) are still others.

Rhinebeck’s proximity to the Culinary Institute of America may explain why the food offerings are particularly impressive. The Beekman Arms is also a cozy place to dine. And, as times change, so does the Beekman: the revolutionary-era bar apparently has bragging rights for the best margherita in the Hudson Valley (I don’t know what George Washington would do with that little information). And if you’re there on a Sunday, don’t forget the Rhinebeck Farmers Marketone of the best in the region for passionate foodies.

Morgan at Samuel’s confectionery. Photo Andrew Blechman

Given that Lillie and I were a journalist duo, it’s perhaps unsurprising that our next stop was the candy store – in fact, we made two stops there as apparently one visit isn’t enough. Samuel’s confectionery is a Market Street mainstay, filled with retro candy (Twirl Pops, Pop Rocks and Moon Pies) and homemade chocolate delights. The confectionery also has a bit of Hollywood glamour: it’s owned by Paul Rudd (The ant Man), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Walking Dead), and Hilarie Burton (A tree hill). The three friends (Morgan and Burton are married) all have homes in Rhinebeck and stepped in to fund the store when its owner, Ira, died suddenly several years ago.

Grab your own potpourri at Periwinkles. Photo Andrew Blechman

East Market Street is full of trendy independent retail stores. Lillie particularly enjoyed periwinkles with its to-go potpourri, handmade soaps and bath bombs; and the AL Stickle Variety Shop on the other side of the street. Remember variety stores? Stickle’s sells gag gifts, kitchenware, art supplies, moisturizers, lampshades, vintage toys, birdhouses, candles, local honey, and dolls, among other things. Owner Matthew Stickle tells us that when his grandfather Alfred Lee opened the store after World War II, he had over 80 salespeople. “He wanted to offer customers a bit of everything,” says Stickle. “And at the time, many companies only made one item, like Slinky or Playdough.” This was, of course, before the era of conglomerates. We enjoyed our taste of this simpler time as we navigated through the organized chaos. Lillie came out a very satisfied customer with sidewalk chalk and bubble wrap. I bought myself a Neato Rail Twirler (a remake of the classic Whee-lo). Other East Market sailing opportunities included the Land of Oz toy store and winter sun and summer moonwhich offers a stylish collection of international clothing and trinkets.

Two other strong independent presences in Rhinebeck are its premier bookstore, Oblong booksand movie theatre, Upstate Movies. Like much of the village, both date back to a time when bookstore and theater owners personally curated unique and often exceptional offerings. I grew up in a city that had both, but nowadays such independent cultural ventures are rare enough to border on nostalgia.

As in the Berkshires, the surrounding area is full of cycle routes and hiking trails. For the bike, remember to contact Break away Cycles or the Rhinebeck Bike Shop. Two easy hikes with breathtaking panoramas a few minutes from the city center are available to you: Drayton Grant Park in Burger Hill and Ferncliff Forest.

If you’re familiar with Hurlburt Hill in Bartholomew’s Cobble, then Burger Hill will be like you – a welcoming trail on an open grassy hill that culminates in a remarkable panorama of the Hudson Valley. Ferncliff has equally mesmerizing views of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains with the added excitement of an 80ft observation tower that is only 15 years old. If you are ready to climb the 109 steps, you will be treated to an incomparable view. Lillie jumped up; my acrophobia got the better of me halfway.

And if a leisurely walk with great birding and no vertical ascent is your thing, consider Vlei marsh reservefor a very close view of the mighty Hudson nearby at Rhine cliff landinga waterfront park with a public boat launch.

During the hour drive to Great Barrington, Lillie and I think about the things we would like to come back for. A hike up Burger Hill; an outdoor biplane tour at Former Rhinebeck Airfield; the Dutchess County Fair in August; maybe a trip to Hyde Park. . . “I would really like to go back,” says Lillie. “That falafel was amazing.”

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Editor’s Note: Lillie, Andrew’s daughter and travel companion, helped research and write this article. Their dog Gingerbread also came.

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