The Rhinecliff Hotel still draws revelers like it always has, beginning in 1854 when it was built to provide simple rooms for wayfarers, and now hosting diners and eventgoers who want to enjoy their little piece of the Hudson River for a while. With its celebratory demeanor – at times a bit quirky, in a good way – this boutique hotel embodies the soul of the hamlet that it’s in and the river that it’s on: full of character and beauty both.
Part of its character is its history, of which certain positive elements remain. I’m told that once upon a time in its rough-and-tumble days, the hamlet of Rhinecliff (within the township of Rhinebeck) boasted nine watering holes on Grinnell Street alone, and “The Hotel” was one of them. More recently, about a decade-and-a-half ago when I first entered its doors, it was a kind of rundown spot, but with a certain homey, laid-back appeal. Local folk and Bard students gathered there for good times that included pool, beer and some live music by a variety of bands (I remember one called Free Beer and Chicken). Some individuals paid modest rents for the simple rooms upstairs. If I remember right, the only thing edible you could get was Beer Nuts: a far cry from the abundance of local gastropub fare available there today.
In 2003, brothers James and David Chapman saw the potential in the faded establishment and decided to buy it and fix it up – a process that took five years of many twists, turns and setbacks, prompting its temporary nickname “Hotel Tyvek,” for the insulating material that covered the large structure for so long. But finally, five years ago, in 2008, it was reborn as a lovely swan, sporting expanses of cheerful yellow siding, a gleaming tin roof and balconies and patios galore outside the dining areas and at each of its nine luxuriously appointed guestrooms.
But fortunately there is lots of the old hotel still in it – physically as well as in its warm and welcoming nature: the original bar (in a new spot), tables made from 200-year-old wood structural beams and the old ice box that previous owner out of which Ed Tybus would pull beers, James Chapman remembers. Most of the floorboards are reclaimed wood, the foundation stones are original and exterior pathways are made of old bricks from the previous chimneys.
In full disclosure, the Rhinecliff is very close to my heart, so I cannot write this piece with my usual impartiality. As a hamlet resident for a dozen years, I whiled away many a pleasant hour (pre-renovation) belly-up to the bar or pool table. And since the renovation, although I haven’t been a hamlet-dweller the last couple of years, I’ve had a rollicking good time at jazz brunches, Robbie Burns Day or just Moms’-night-out gatherings on open-mic nights. A Halloween party, a New Year’s Eve gala with disco and a Beaujolais Nouveau dinner with chanteuse Elaine Rachlin are a few of the annual events. I was honored to serve as a judge at one of their Iron Grad competitions: a tradition that I hope they’ll revive.
Fun as these festive parties are, there is a whole lot more to the Rhinecliff. It’s steps away from the Amtrak station and a five-minute drive to the popular destination of Rhinebeck Village. Storyteller Jonathan Kruk, who performs at some of the inn’s events, calls it “a Mecca for weddings.” The river views and stylish accommodations entice many brides and grooms to have their celebrations there, and so the hotel is busy year-round with nuptial parties; in fine weather, many ceremonies take place on an expanse of lawn behind the building, overlooking the river. For the same reasons it’s a popular spot for many conferences and business retreats, and events from fundraisers to bar/bat mitzvahs to anniversary dinners.