Last howl: Gypsy Wolf calls it a day

Bill behind the bar. (photos by Dion Ogust)

Bill behind the bar. (photos by Dion Ogust)

There are icons of Woodstock restaurant lore still standing. Lions in the pantheon of eatery such as Joshua’s, remaining in one family for decades; The Bear and Little Bear, stretching back to Albert Grossman’s early days; The Pub has stood for many a beer…uh, year; Sha Wu has been plying his trade forever in one location or another, New World has a couple of decades under its belt…little further out, Tiso’s, my goodness, forever, Catskill Rose, Reservoir Inn, Hickory BBQ, geez, there’s a lot of them. Newcomers have established a deep foothold, Cucina, Red Onion, Catskill Mountain Pizza…

Then there’s the Gypsy Wolf Cantina. Sitting boldly on the Bearsville Flats, its turquoise visage bekoning…turquoise?

“There was this bucket of blood redneck shithole red paint that was on the building bothered me to death,” says Bill Durkin, one of two Gypsy Wolf partners, of the restaurant’s humble beginnings in 1990. “So I said I gotta change that. So I bought the turquoise paint, started painting, and I’m painting it and all of a sudden I hear somebody yell ‘you dirtbag’ and an old Genesee bottle comes whizzing across the parking lot, guy in a pickup yells ‘get outta here with that turquoise paint, you idiot…’ So I thought, that this is what it’s gonna be…”


Yes, they’re pulling up stakes, Durkin and his partner Jorge W. Perez. The Gypsy Wolf will close its doors on December 28 after 25 years. Better head on over for one more Mamacita Vegetarian Combo, or Seafood Burrito, ‘cause that’s all she wrote.

Why is that?

“Time to relax for a little bit, rest and think about it for a while and see what we can do,” says Perez. “Of Course I’m sad. I have mixed feelings in a way. My family lives in California. My father is in El Salvador, and every three, four years I see them for four or five days, so it’s time for me to go and visit for at least a couple of weeks. I’ll be 52 at the end of the year.”

Durkin says he’s not disappearing, either. He’d like to spend more time on projects with his ten year old daughter, Shayne, with whom he put out a book last October. “I’m enthralled with being a dad, I’ve never been a dad. I’m not disappearing,” says Durkin, now 70. “We started up in Manhattan in 1983,” he says of his partnership with Perez, “and that morphed into three restaurants, and then we came here in 1990 and had a quasi understanding that maybe there was a future here, 25 years at best — and coincidentally here we are at the 25th year. And we’re going to take it easy for a while and think about the future and do different things.”

What happens to all the furnishings, all the masks, the sculpture, the paintings?

“This everything that’s in this place is our brand — the menu, the decorations, the sineage, the artwork and it’s going in storage while we contemplate our existence.”

What’s to become of the property?

“I have no idea,” says Durkin. “Miller-Howard bought the property. That’s Miller Associates behind us in what used to be Model Optics. He remodeled that and did a very nice job. And they’re out of space. The other thing about them is that they are the single largest employer in this town and they’re growing by leaps…From day one, almost two years ago when we started talking to them, I can’t imagine you could find a nicer gentleman than Lowell…”

That’s Miller/Howard Investments, Inc. headed by Lowell Miller, who has hit these pages recently as a fine sculptor. He says that he’s not sure what will happen with the building and the land. “We bought the property because we’re expanding the building we already own on Dixon Avenue. The properties have been re-subdivided. We incorporated what was previously on the Gypsy Wolf property,” says Miller. “As of now, I can’t really tell you what will happen. I would expect that it would continue to be a restaurant, rented or owned by somebody.” He says he’d be open to listening to proposals.

Once it was the Watering Troff, a now legendary roadhouse where the old artists, new musicians and the generations-old country Woodstockers came together to drink and brawl, to love and raise hell, play bluegrass and rock n’ roll and generally entertain themselves back before cable television and DWI laws. The Troff closed in the mid 1980s, had a couple of failed reincarnations and was sitting empty by 1990.

“We left the other restaurants to a partnership I was involved in,” says Durkin. “Jorge’s wife was expecting their first child and he had had enough of life in the Bronx. And this,” he gestures to the outdoors, “is very resemblant of El Salvador where Jorge and his wife are from, the hills and the mountains and it appeals to us.

“So we drove past this one winter day and saw this bucket of blood red painted closed up restaurant with a big plywood piece across the window with a big hand painted ‘for lease’ sign painted on it. We went through town and saw a couple more places, Deanies was one, and we decided to come back and look under that plywood sign. We pulled it out a little bit and looked in here, and saw a giant statue of ice behind the bar that was backlit by a blue light. It was from the pipes being frozen and broken and the water was going up so the thing kept growing I suppose…We had no cell phones or access to pay phones, so we went back in town and called his eminence, Russell Roefs, and said, y’know, we’re very interested in this place but you’d better get down here and fix this, there’s like five of six inches of water on the floor…and in his inimitable fashion, he said, pfft, nothing, I’ll be down in a minute and fix that, no problem. And he came down here and we kind of made a deal and began.”

“Two years later, we negotiated with him,” says Perez.

I tell them the story of meeting my wife in 1975, just a few feet from where we were sitting.

“Yes, the last two weeks since the ad in the paper there are many stories coming out,” says Perez. “I proposed to my wife here, I was here when I was seven…”

There are 2 comments

  1. Henry Hornbeck

    It was sad to read of the closing of the Gypsy Wolf. My siblings and children ate there quite often when visiting our mother, Mescal Hornbeck. That was a gathering place that Mescal enjoyed when we would take her out to dinner during our visits when she resided in the Woodstock area from 1971 until her passing on January 19, 2011. We remember the old swimming pool that pre dated the Gypsy Wolf as our children swam there during the 1970’s when Mescal lived in Lake Hill prior to her move to Woodstock to live with Grandmother Olive Toms in the house that Grandfather Fred Toms built at 62 Ohayo Mt. Road during the 1950’s.

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