Look, we all love the fields full of flowers, forests full of foliage and the many natural wonders the Hudson Valley has to offer, and if one really wants to get away from the greenery and city up, the world’s greatest metropolis and its infinitely diverse delights is just a train or bus or car ride away.
But there are times when it’s nice to drive to a familiar (or unfamiliar) burg, park the car, stretch the legs and get to know a place on the sidewalk level. What follows is an idiosyncratic rundown of some of the best places in the area to do just that — hang out, stroll and soak in the local flavor.
Poughkeepsie most definitely has a lot of places where one wouldn’t want to walk causally. The city’s homicide rate is approaching Newburgh’s; a walk up Main Street, once home to the mother of all failed 1970s downtown revival attempts, the Main Mall, is a decidedly mixed bag of blight and boon, most safely seen in broad daylight. While Potown gets a bad rap, there is the section centered around Vassar College on the southeastern end of town. Thriving off the college’s presence like strange organisms thrive around volcanic vents on the sea floor, the blocks of Raymond Avenue bounded by Collegeview Avenue and Main Street keep alive a number of interesting and quality things one wouldn’t expect to find in a city withPoughkeepsie’s proletarian provincial reputation.
Come hungry — there’s a small world of places to eat, ranging from Jamaican to Vietnamese (there used to be two Vietnamese places in the ’hood, but one of them has recently been taken over by the latest entry into the expanding Molé Molé Mexican food empire) to Chinese to Middle Eastern to South Asian. Especially of note are Babycakes Café, reasonably priced and innovative, and Twisted Soul, which fuses Argentine and Oriental food concepts together in a delicious Hegelian synthesis. If you want to sit on the street and watch the traffic go by, All Shook Up Café and Juice Bar has a few outside tables to go with its 1950s nostalgia. Also of note, at the corner of Raymond and Collegeview is the Juliet Café. Once a movie theater, pizza and billiards are now what’s playing. While the surrounding neighborhood consists of quiet residential streets withPoughkeepsie’s best homes, one of the region’s best walking environments,VassarCollegeitself, beckons and is as good a place as any to work off the calories taken on.
Also fueled by a college is, of course, the village of New Paltz. Ah, New Paltz. Despite the SUNY system’s decades-long effort to rehabilitate the college’s reputation (even going so far to build a dorm to attempt to obliterate the memory of the campus’ fabled “tripping fields”) the hazy aura of cannabinoid slacker grunginess has proven difficult to expunge. To be fair, there is much new and nice about New Paltz — the Gilded Otter’s brews and food contend with the valley’s best, and the Water Street Market does a good job of separating itself from the legions of vagabondish college-age kids whom, like generations past, park themselves on the stoops of Main Street’s various businesses waiting for inspiration or handouts to happen. New Paltz is nice when it is not besieged with the young and drunk; try it out during the day when school is not in session. (Or, if you want to relive your salad days, throw yourself into the melee on a weekend night.) Truly, if you are in the mood for total unreconstructed unpretentious earthiness, or to just relive the sheer delight of drinking lots of cheap domestic beer, Snug’s cannot be beaten. College-y hangouts like Bacchus and P&G’s are much mellower when the kids are in class or still asleep. The Main Street Bistro, as it has for years, does one hell of a brunch.
Some note should be made of New Paltz’s neighbor to the north, Rosendale. Long regarded as a place where New Paltz people fled to when they grew weary of being kept up to all hours by boozy revelers carousing their way back from the bars, Rosendale is small-scale, pretty much beginning and ending with Main Street. There are some interesting galleries and shops alongMainand the Rosendale Café does vegetarian and vegan food so well that the meat is not missed, or really even thought about. Oskar de Balbastre, a carnophile through and through, remarks that the fare there is good enough to make one want to “sell your soul to seitan.” While the hamlet’s trestle’s thunder has been stolen somewhat by the Walkway Over the Hudson, it’s still an interesting and scenic stroll. Now run by a community collective, the Rosendale Theatre shows an interesting and varied assortment of movies and events and is a good place to rest up and see something completely different.