Walk around Hudson, the “New Orleans of the North”

A view of Hudson (photo by Dion Ogust)

A view of Hudson (photo by Dion Ogust)

Modern Hudson has been all about Warren Street, its long main thoroughfare that stretches from an escarpment overlooking the Hudson River to a small hill a mile or so to the east, on which a reservoir sits – along with great views of the distant Taconic Hills and Berkshire Mountains. But in many ways, it’s changing now, to equal centers down past the train station, where city folks come and go – many for the events at the burgeoning Basilica Hudson – as well as to Columbia Street, once known for its brothels, where nightclubs are proliferating, along with Marina Abramovic’s idea of a world-class museum.

That means that it’s also changing back to its past in many ways, including the huge amounts of renovation going on in the small Quaker-founded city’s central, ward-dominated core. And it’s splitting, in other ways, as many of Hudson’s older families start to look up Route 9 as its new base of operations.

Hudson, though, is a great walking place, no matter how you look at it – as evidenced by its ArtsWalk during the first two weekends in October, or increasingly, any Saturday night, year-round, when galleries and shops tend to stay open late, the restaurants become reservations-only and a host of nightclubs and bars earn Hudson its new reputation as the New Orleans of the North.

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But where to start a walk? I have three areas from which I like to begin exploring the core of this former whaling nexus, each leading to the others. There’s the waterfront, where one can park near the train station and start uphill or jumpstart one’s explorations at the Promenade, located at the base of Warren Street, which overlooks the river and mountains. There’s the park up at Seventh Street, where an actual train moves slowly through town a couple of times each day, and one can get an eye for the old theater/Community Tennis Center where Abramovic and über-architect Rem Koolhaas are planning their landing. Then there’s a quiet, off-central spot that I enjoy, near the historic domed county courthouse being renovated, on Union and Fourth or Fifth Streets in the midst of a neighborhood of classic Victorian and Empire-era homes, as well as the old Quaker Meeting House dating back to Hudson’s 18th-century roots.

For simplicity’s sake, how about we start at the top and work down? The park here has a pleasant fountain; municipal parking not far down Columbia Street from the huge Community Tennis building that will be the performing arts museum; a great falafel restaurant and, across the park, new West Indian fare, along with the old St. Charles Hotel.

Head south to Warren and you might as well saunter up the hill a bit further, past a mini-Restaurant Row that includes Wunderbar (German fare and a lively bar), Wasabi (Japanese), Crimson Sparrow (one of several million-dollar eatery investments making news in downstate foodie circles), Bonfiglio Bakery (open most days and famous for its wild mushroom toast/bread) and Rev, one of several high-end coffee spots in town to keep you upbeat for your day of wandering.

WGXC-FM, the young community radio station whose offices are across the street from Abramovic’s building, has a running promo piece: about “stopping to have coffee with your coffee,” capturing the ethos of this caffeinated-by-day town.

On the east side of the uptown park is a renovated old-style diner, Grazin’, that serves high-end locavore burgers and fries, great wine choices and salads: a real treat. Plus there are Animalkind, a unique animal shelter beloved by Hudsonians, and a growing number of fine dress shops featuring local fashions.

From here on down the seven long blocks of Warren, you’ll find a heady mix of top-end antiques shops that draw a New York City designer-heavy clientele, new fashion shops, high-end makeup and spa products stores and more restaurants, several to each block. Stair Galleries, between Sixth and Fifth, is a toney auction house that often features works by modern masters; Le Gamin is a great daytime-only French bistro; then there are the stalwarts Mexican Radio, Mother Earth and Baba Louie’s Pizza.

Between Fourth and Fifth Streets is Spotty Dog, a combination designer beer bar/coffeeshop/bookshop and music venue – with art supplies. Two more coffeeshops, Swallow and Nolita, with fine pastries, complete the block. Along with the old red-brick 1805 jail comes City Hall and later a theater and then a printing shop, now slated for renovation into an alternative school.

There’s great architecture everywhere you look, including narrow 19th-century firehouses (as Spotty Dog once was), vintage storefronts given over to hipster design companies and old bank buildings that were featured in the 1950s film noir, The Odds against Tomorrow, starring Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan (in which they manage to blow up the entire city). The old Hudson Opera House, which runs art shows and special events while under renovation in the 300 block of Warren, is a treasure that dates back to the mid-19th century. The galleries – from stalwart Carrie Haddad in the 600 block and up-and-comer John Davis in several locations to Limner down near the lower end of Warren – are filled with the region’s top artists, as more clamor to work and show in the many new museumlike studio, exhibition and performance spaces opening around town in old school and factory buildings.