Let’s say it’s 1850 and you’re a New York-dwelling artist type. When the summer heat starts stifling your creativity (no window AC units back then; barely even ice), it’s time to decamp to the Catskills, where you can take in the rugged mountains and cooling waterways, while mingling with other bohemian folk. To house these holiday makers—which later included middle-class families and then wellness seekers, believing fresh air cured tuberculosis—farmers began renting out their spare rooms to boarders, who soon arrived in droves, cementing the region’s first tourism boom.
Kenoza Hall, a two-hour drive northwest of New York City, was one such boarding house. It reopened in 2020—one of dozens of new hotels in the region, which is experiencing something of a hospitality boom. The impressively restored, white clapboard house sits on more than 55 acres of lakefront land, surrounded by the Catskill Mountains. Much like the original Armbrust House, as the hotel was called in 1907, Kenoza Hall offers guests relief from city stresses with boating and swimming on the lake and walks on mountain trails. Though I’m pretty sure the 19th-century version didn’t offer a complimentary cocktail on arrival or aerial yoga each Wednesday.
A contemporary take on a bygone-era accommodations
Channelling the property’s history, the decor throughout is an unfussy and modern reinterpretation of Victorian-era design…so, less quatrefoils, more air conditioning. The parlor and sitting rooms are dotted with antique treasures: books, maps, and a checkers board potentially too fancy to actually play with. Plus, there’s plenty of velvet chaises to recline on with a cocktail or a book on a rainy afternoon.
The guest rooms continue the early 20th-century aesthetic. The hardwood flooring is original, and the oil paintings and custom wallpaper pay homage to the era. The furniture is custom-built, like the wonderfully comfortable sleigh beds or Davenport-esque writing desks.
There are 22 rooms in all, each with its own special touches—some have clawfoot soaking tubs, others have private decks; the spacious Rooftop Guest Suite has both. If a soaking tub ranks high on your wish list, request one when you make your booking. But there is a hot tub (we’ll get to that later) which is basically the same thing except you probably shouldn’t be naked.
Fine dining and finer cocktails
Tucked into an internal room in the oldest part of the building, the bar is moodily lit and a suitably serious spot for the consumption of serious cocktails. The restaurant, just beyond, is bright and beautifully old school, from the silver breakfast serving platters to the white table clothes and pastoral paintings on the walls. The food matches the atmosphere, classics with modern presentations. They serve Oysters Rockefeller, Duck à l’Orange, and Tournedos Rossini, a decadent French dish that stacks a filet mignon atop a slice of foie gras pan fried in butter.
Decadent doesn’t quite go far enough to describe the dining experience here. As such, it’s unlikely you’ll eat every meal at Kenoza Hall, though you certainly can. But it feels like a special occasion restaurant when you want to take a table on the patio looking over the lake and spend some time chatting to the charming sommelier, Cedar, about just the right wine to pair with your crab cakes. Fortunately, while hotel may feel remote, you’re only a 15-minute drive to the many restaurants in Sullivan County. Head to Callicoon Wine Merchant for tapas and natural wine. Then there’s the Norwegian take on American comfort food at Henning’s Local.
More 21st-century amenities
If you’re doing it right, you’ll spend most of your time in Kenoza Hall’s pool, spa, and gardens. The pool is perfectly cool, the hot tub does everything you need (bubbles; heat; excellent scenery), and the vintage striped two-person sun chairs—apparently classic German “Strandkorbs” for soaking up the sun—are a feat of poolside engineering.
Meanwhile, Hemlock Spa offers treatments in homage to the area’s early Swiss and German settlers, rooted in ideas of naturopathy and hydrotherapy: a Fig Milk and Argan Oil Body Scrub ($145) or a Deep Tissue Massage using pine oil ($165). Any service includes access to the Kneipp-inspired Hydrotherapy Circuit, which involves alternating between the heat of the wood-barrel sauna and an ice-cold plunge tank. Apparently it’s relaxing, but I was too busy drinking rosé by the pool, so I’ll take others’ words for it.
There’s also a movement studio where they offer a daily schedule of free activities from classic yoga to sound meditation—and the aforementioned aerial silks—as well as a “morgan lauf,” a morning group walk through the property’s pretty trails. You can explore these on your own time, too, and it’s worth it for the fields of wildflowers and rabble of butterflies they attract. (Yes, “rabble” is the collective noun for butterflies.)
Whatever you do, don’t miss the lake—not that you could if you wanted to, it’s in full view. Pick up a life jacket at reception and head out to glide through the lily pads on a canoe or kayak (and if you’re like me, take the opportunity to ogle the plentiful lakeside property porn).
Should boating not be your bag, simply swim off the dock or pull up a deck chair and deep chill. For all its fancy touches and thoughtfulness and the pleasing low-key luxury of the whole property, it’s floating in the lake at dusk, while fish nibble your toes, that offers the greatest retreat from the stresses of real life.
Kenoza Hall, 5762 NY State Route 52 Kenoza Lake, NY, rooms from $499/night