Not even a Saturday evening rain dampened the enthusiasm for those who came out to see what’s being planned for The Lodge, located up Country Club Road behind the Woodstock Elementary School. A jazz duo played on the porch; publicist Abbe Aronson greeted those coming with hearty hellos and handed out refrigerator magnets as they left.
Inside the old Havana Club, or what was once the Pinecrest bar and dining rooms, people sampled pulled pork and fingerling potatoes, thin-sliced Italian smoked meats and an upscale mac and cheese. They sipped cocktails and listened as new owners Michael Skurnick of Brooklyn and former Paramount executive Jack Waterman of California showed off elegantly-rendered drawings for a new and expanded mix of lodging cottages and bar/restaurant with a classic Woodstock artist cottage look. Manager/co-owner Brian Parillo introduced the area’s business owners and artists to his new chef, Jon Kornbluth.
“Jack and I have been friends since being born next door to each other in Queens. I fell in love with Woodstock several years back and bought a house in Shokan three years ago, then introduced the area’s beauty, serenity, vibrant arts and music scene to Jack, who was also smitten,” noted Skurnick. “Over the years, we always wanted to do a project together but never found the right one until now.”
Skurnick later described himself as having 35 years of “all around real estate experience” including ownership, development, redevelopment, finance and management in New York City, New Jersey and Long Island. Waterman is a veteran of the media and entertainment business in and around television and film with his partners quick to note how “his strategic vision is crucial to the project — Jack also has some very strong insight about the hospitality business that is proving key to our upgrades going forward.”
Parillo, who will serve as General Manager for the property, concentrating on its day to day operations from hotel occupancy and managing the bar to programming nightly entertainment, worked as a co-producer of The Midnight Rambles at Levon Helm Studios before starting to work at The Lodge several years ago as first a deejay and then a bartender/manager.
It was he who found Skurnick as an investor, who in turn brought in his childhood friend Waterman.
“One of the people who had shown real interest in taking over the place was Sue Taylor of Sweet Sue’s in Phoenicia. She brought in her friend Michael Skurnick, who she knew would be interested in an investment opportunity in the area and could help her evaluate it, but then decided to instead reopen her place in Phoenicia,” Parillo recalled amongst the excited hubbub Saturday night. “Michael immediately saw what a diamond in the rough the property was and the wheels began to spin…He introduced Jack to me.”
We asked the three men about the infamous Hotel Impossible episode that exposed the former Woodstock Lodge as “Rotting Woodstock,” starting off a spiral that included sanctions and cabin closures by the county health department.
“We think that everyone in the Hudson Valley saw that episode,” Skurnick replied with a deep laugh. “Our takeaway from it was that here is a property that could be truly restored to its real majesty — close to town, on beautiful acreage, with a great bar and restaurant business to be augmented. This property should, and will, be an amenity to the Town of Woodstock again. It, along with the revitalization of The Colony, the new Bear Theater, The Barn, and the other great properties springing up around town should make Woodstock a 24 hour town; a place to have a great meal, visit great shops, see interesting art, listen to wonderful live music, relax and stay in a great modernized yet rustic hotel like ours, spread over 6.5 acres. Our proximity to town makes it easy to wake up and do it all over again! “
“All joking aside, we saw the episode as a testament to what not to do and we can’t wait for people to see the new Lodge today and after the renovations are completed next year,” Waterman added. “Our mission statement is that we want to restore this special place back into the culture and lives of Woodstockers and the Woodstock lifestyle.”
As for the leap taken with the hiring of Walker Architecture to draw the complex back from its previous faux-Adirondacks meets Miami look to something more akin to Byrdcliffe and The Maverick, the new owners knew of Les and Jess Walker’s work, and refined aesthetic sense, from the work they’d done for a neighbor of Skurnick’s.
“We knew we wanted to work with a team that had ties to the community,” Skurnick allowed. “Their vision, coupled with Les’ expertise in Tiny Houses and Jess’ hotel experience — and their love for Woodstock and their community — make them the right team for the project.”
How to best sum up that Walker approach?
“While focused on a modern, refined aesthetic, the work of Walker Architecture strives to reference the local vernacular vocabulary, history and culture in a contemporary way,” the firm states clearly on its website. “…The intent is to embody each project with localized character but do so with contemporary techniques enabling the expanded architectural vocabulary available to us today.”
Rounding out the new team at The Lodge, Parillo added, will be Kornbluth, recently manager at Santa Fe Woodstock, whose planning a full opening of the new restaurant in a couple of weeks, and Mary Hill as the property’s inn keeper.
“We frequent all of the other restaurants and establishments like The Bear, Cucina, Red Onion, Bread Alone. We see our property joining the list of well-regarded establishments that offer plenty of options for eating, drinking and enjoying live entertainment,” Skurnick continued, noting that they’d presented preliminary plans to the Woodstock Planning Board in a “pre-sketch” in late Spring, and are set to present full plans to the for review and approval based on suggestions received. “In the past, many people thought the bar was a bit too rowdy, the restaurant a bit too uneven and the rooms simply unwelcoming, if not downright awful. We are going to change all of that. We’ve got big plans, from our cabins to our bar and restaurant to a gorgeous new pool and small spa facility. While The Lodge is a very sound investment, it’s also a labor of love to us. It is a property that, while dear to Woodstock’s past, should be a very important piece of its future.”
Inside the reviving Lodge on July 30, assorted toasts were raised around the rooms.
As local businessman Marc Braunstein noted to his artist wife, Katherine McKenna, “This seems to be just what this town needed.”