Mohonk Mountain House
The fall foliage at Mohonk Mountain House. (Mohonk Mountain House)
By Evan Bleier / November 19, 2019 10:03 am

This is Concierge Confidential, a series in which we learn about a city’s best-kept secrets from people who specialize in exactly that: long-serving concierges from the swankiest hotels in town.

Located just 90 minutes outside of New York City, New Paltz is one of the most popular Upstate pastures for nature-deprived New Yorkers.

With a population just north of 14,000, New Paltz has the culinary offerings of a much larger city thanks to its proximity to the Culinary Institute of America, with plenty of alums deciding to stick around the area and open up shop after graduation. Also a college town that serves as a commuter city for some New Yorkers, New Paltz is an appealing option for a weekend getaway or for anyone seeking a longer stay in the heartland of the Hudson Valley.

As for what to do when you get there?

To answer that question, we turned to Alex Sherwood, the director of hotel operations at Mohonk Mountain House, a sprawling Victorian resort located within 40,000 acres of forest that’s been in operation in the Shawangunk Mountains for 150 years.

Sherwood also doubles as Mohonk’s “endurance concierge”: he first came aboard as an intern after finishing up his career as a collegiate long-distance runner, and frequently leads guests on trail runs near the property.

“While starting to work here at Mohonk, I was ultimately chasing the goal of trying to qualify for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials,” Sherwood says. “What was unique was, I just moved to a property that had 85 miles worth of carriage roads and trails. In chasing that Olympic dream, that morphed into moving away from being just a pure runner to the sport of triathlon.”

Mohonk Mountain House

While training at the Mountain House to compete in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, Sherwood became familiar with the area’s best running trails, bike routes and swimming holes. That led to guests asking Sherwood for advice, hence the honorary title.

“I’m in a fortunate spot where I can either assist people in figuring out a workout or where they might want to go in detail. Sometimes I get to go with them,” he says. “I’ve built a lot of cool relationships with guests who come back year over year.”

As skilled as Sherwood is at telling guests where to go on Mohonk’s property, he’s equally adept at advising them on where to go off of it. Here’s his advice on everything to do next time you’re in the area.

InsideHook: What’s the best place to go for a chill date night?
Alex Sherwood: I guess there’s sort of two ways to go. There’s a cidery called Twin Star that took over an old apple orchard. So they have a cidery, but then behind that they have an outdoor open-air pavilion wood-fired pizzas and burgers. There’s a cool little spot where they’ve got live music that’s next to one of the irrigation ponds that looks west at the Shawangunks. I think most everybody I’ve ever seen there has had themselves a pretty good time.

What’s the best place to go for a more adventurous date?
For a more adventure-y type of date, you’d want to stop at a place called Rock and Snow, which is a climbing store in town, first. Then I’d head out to the cliffs themselves for rock climbing. The majority of the rock climbing happens at a place called the Mohonk Preserve. It’s one of the biggest climbing destinations east of the Mississippi. After you finish climbing on those cliffs, you can drop right down the hill and there’s a restaurant there called the Mountain Brauhaus. It’s a family-owned German restaurant that is amazing. You can sit out front while you’re waiting for a table and stare up at the cliffs where you just were climbing. Don’t try to get in there pretty much from September to November on a Saturday or a Sunday because the wait time could be three hours. It’s just that packed.”

What’s the best brewery in the area?
Hands down, no question about it, Yard Owl Brewery. It’s owned by husband and wife James and Michelle Walsh. They also own a coffee shop called Mudd Puddle in the heart of New Paltz. That’s where everyone meets, and brings their dogs and hangs out. But the brewery itself sits just outside of it and it’s like no other experience you’ll have. There’s a big warehouse-type space where they brew the beers, but they also do their own pickling as well and they’ve always got music going. It’s like a family situation where all these hip New Paltz folks are there with their kids. The backyard is what’s referred to as the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. So you’ve got a lot of people who’ll hike or ride their bicycles in. Yard Owl is the kind of place you want to go and hang out.

Is there anywhere else you’d suggest for grabbing a pint?
There’s a tasting room for a brewery there called Arrowwood in New Paltz. They are actually brewing their beer on the other side of the mountain. The actual brewery also has a really cool vibe. , people kind of go out, there’s an open-air pavilion there. Chickens running around at the chicken coop, stuff like that. The tasting space right in New Paltz is a good little location with more of a bar scene.

How about for getting a cocktail?
If you were to hop on the Rail Trail, there’s a restaurant called Garvan’s. If you’re trying to get food in there, you’d better have a reservation. The bar’s a little different. You can get into the bar. The bartender is an Irish guy who got to New Paltz after working in the city. He was working in a couple of different places and everyone kind of fell in love with the guy then he opened up his own restaurant. So when you go to Garvan’s, get ready for hospitality at a whole different level. He knows everybody that walks in the door. Everyone gets a hug, everyone gets a high-five, he stops at every table … The drinks there are pretty remarkable. You can’t go wrong with that one.

Where’s the best place in the area to catch a sunset?
At the Mountain House, there are two places. If you’re not an adventurer, you go out to what’s called the Sunset Porch. There’s a 250-foot long wooden overhanging veranda with rocking chairs. So you get a glass of wine or an amazing cocktail and you can rock in a chair and watch the go down behind the Catskills. If you’re at the Mountain House and want a serene location, I would send you out to a place called Eagle Cliff. It’s this sort of precipice that looks out over the Rondout Valley and toward the Catskills. You’ll potentially be surrounded by eagles, but another common bird you see out there are turkey vultures. They kind of soar and just float there and you’re like eye level with them. It’s pretty special.

Is there anywhere else with great views in the area?
North of New Paltz there’s the town of Rosendale. In the heart of town, there is an old train trestle that has come to life again in the form of the Rail Trail. On it, you can come into this massive, 390-foot-tall train trestle. It brings you out over the river. The cool thing is, it hasn’t hit the numbers where everyone’s getting there because you have to walk a little bit. The closest you can is about half a mile from it. That’s a destination and it’s cool because it puts you in the town of Rosendale as well. New Paltz is kind of crunchy. Rosendale is like that on steroids but there are some really cool restaurants and bars.

Where in town would you recommend?
The Rosendale Café is a primarily vegetarian, sort of vegan option. Really delicious, really cool, very Rosendale. If you’re there in the morning, there’s a bakery called The Alternative Baker. They have this house-made breakfast sandwich that’s a peasant roll with a fried egg, cheddar cheese and mustard. It will absolutely change the way you think of breakfast.

Any other standout vegetarian or vegan options?
It’s going to sound silly, but if you’re in the town of High Falls there is a restaurant there called The Spy. I am not vegetarian, but they have a tofu wing that will, the same way as the breakfast sandwich I was telling you about, blow your mind. It’s bizarre. People come from all around for that.

Where do you go if you’re trying to avoid people from the city?
I would say the Ashokan Reservoir. Not to sound funny, but it is the lifeline for the city because it’s where an overwhelming majority of the water the city drinks comes from. You’re basically at the foot of the Catskills. Post-9/11, the actual dam, has been shut down to vehicle traffic. It’s only pedestrian or bicycle traffic right now. It’s a little bit of work to get out there, but it’s a good way to sort of get away from the hustle and bustle.

When is the best time of year to visit the area?
People love the fall and the summer from mid-June through Labor Day is going to be busy. But I think the two weeks right after Labor Day are probably the most special. The crowds are gone, but the weather’s still great and the lakes are still warm if you wanted to swim. You just have a little bit more space. You don’t have as many people at anything, whether you go out to eat or whether you go to the bar. The other time of year here that’s the total sleeper is the winter season Mid-week in February here at the Mountain House is pretty special.

Is there anywhere else in town that’s a must-visit spot?
Main Street Bistro. If you’re coming to New Paltz, you’re got to go see Doug E. Beans guy who owns it. He used to be the drummer in a band called Murphy’s Law. Being in the Bistro on a Saturday or Sunday for brunch is something that you should do in your lifetime. They’ve got eggs benedict and stuff like that, but the special board always changes. If you get there before 8:00, you get right in. If you’re there like 8:42 or later, forget about it.