Big Indian, New York’s Urban Cowboy Lodge counters the bustling metropolis found just two and half hours south with the warm charm of a respite that’s at once familiar and unchartered. Expanding upon a sort of design universe built from their previous openings—Urban Cowboy Brooklyn and Nashville and The Dive Motel & Swim Club in Nashville—proprietors Lyon Porter and Jersey Banks use this ’40s-era “vacationland” (a title bestowed upon the land by the owners before them) as the foundation for a fire-burning, vinyl-spinning and eye-catching escape from modern life. Beyond this sanctuary is 36,000 acres of wilderness.
“The family [who owned the property] was an old German, Bavarian family. Over three generations they kept adding; they added that little ski hut. There’s pictures where snow was up above the roof and people were skiing off the roof,” Porter tells us. “He would cook, and she would run the place,” he says, continuing the property’s origin story. “She checked you in in the office smoking cigarettes, and you could come for a week or two weeks. There was dancing. This was a Borscht Belt resort. There’s a romance to that, the last upswing of the Catskills.”
The history of the property as a lively vacation retreat lends a warmth that is only accentuated by Porter’s designs. Mixing textiles, painted patterns, natural and fabricated elements, found, repurposed and brand-new pieces, he creates a cohesive design language that’s so unique, it can only be attributed to the Urban Cowboy hotels.
Porter admits that the built-in interior elements of the original lodge were not within their scope, but he did see potential in plenty of furniture. He had several handmade wood pieces refurbished and outfitted each with patterned wool cushions. A shin-height table with accompanying miniature stools, original to the property, serve as the perfect setting for sitting around the stone-built fireplace.
“They’d been adding to this property for 100 years, building and building and tinkering with it,” Phil Hospod, Phil Hospod, a partner in the Lodge (and a developer who has worked on Freehand, LINE, and NoMad hotels) tells CH. “Now it’s our turn to renovate what we’ve got and keep moving the legacy forward. This is the sort of project that’s never over. We’re going to keep perfecting it, keep adding to it.”
The Urban Cowboy Lodge’s sprawling, 68-acre property comprises 28 rooms in total, with many more to be added once their “glamping” lots are installed for the summer months. The rooms are divided between the central building—home to the lobby, living room, den, restaurant, bar, dance floor, and forthcoming penthouse suite—and the Walden and the Alpine cabins. The Walden sits downhill from the hub, closer to the Esopus creek. The Alpine, on the other hand, is located further up into the mountain, albeit only by a few hundred feet. Beyond there, the Lodge’s property line extends another few dozen acres until it meets an overlook, where the government sanctioned Big Indian Wilderness begins.
“You can sort of see how it shoots up,” Porter says, pointing in the direction of the Catskill Mountains. “We have 68 acres that shoot from river to river and straight up. If you hike for three hours, you get to the top and there’s a tiny little sign that says Big Indian Wilderness. Then there’s 36,000 acres behind that. There are 600 bears. If you look at the Catskills as a big target, and if you were to hit dead-center bullseye, you’re standing in it right now. That’s the largest protected State Forest within driving distance of New York City, which is really why you feel just a little bit gently calmed from the pace of the city.”
As with most of the Catskills, the property sits beyond the reach of cellular service. “It’s our best amenity,” Porter jokes. Of course, the fact that your device doesn’t work or regularly update (unless you connect to the Lodge’s complimentary high-speed WiFi) acts as a natural relaxer.
Inside the lobby area, the property’s creative director, Nate Fish, encourages guests to join in on a rotating schedule of activations. On the Friday before the Lodge’s official opening, for example, Fish was host (and DJ) for a Wu-Tang cocktail hour before a Slow Dance and Romance hour. On Saturday, he led an Old Time Radio Cocktail Hour wherein guests huddled around the fire to listen to an episode of the 1950s radio storytelling show X Minus One. Then, Reggae Bingo (the traditional game backed by reggae records) commenced.
This sort of familial energy permeates the property—through the staff, the design, and the decor. Using a design language that toys with the high (opulent patterns, colors, materials and plenty of luxe touches) and finds balances in the low (oddities and plenty of repurposed natural elements), Porter makes the property feel lived in, almost inherited, but luxurious and true to the intentions he set for the space.
“Design-wise this has been so fun for me,” Porter says. “When I designed Urban Cowboy Brooklyn, I built a log cabin in the back because I couldn’t afford a Catskills place and a townhouse in New York at the same time. I love this kind of stuff; patterns on patterns on patterns is kind of what we’re known for. It’s been fun going down the rabbit hole.” That rabbit hole included sourcing headboards and fireplace mantles from a local woodworker affectionately nicknamed “Twig Daddy” and hand-painted sheets of wallpaper from another nearby artisan.
“I hand-picked every single found object here—from this chair to every little thing,” Porter says, referencing objects all throughout the property’s public spaces. “I like to kind of tell a story through that. I think there’s a romance to these things, and it’s [a way of] repurposing. It’s not getting everything in on a crate and making sure it fits perfectly. It’s more about communicating. I just know a piece when I see it. I know that that’s gonna fit.”
“All of these things have their own kind of unique story, and if something speaks to me I’ll buy it. Then I try to figure out where it goes, but I keep tweaking it and keep doing it so it’s almost an ongoing thing. It’s my passion. It’s my art, and what I love to do,” Porter continues. “There’s an energy to found objects that I find elicits an emotion and makes me feel comfortable. Someone loved these things. Someone made these things. They weren’t mass-produced.”
The Dining Room, the Lodge’s excellent in-house, and waste-free, restaurant helmed by Tara Norvell, serves most meals family-style but offers guests the opportunity to order from the prix fixe menu. Delectable dishes that employ local ingredients and adhere to seasonality dot both menus. The bar leaves room for locals to mingle with out-of-towners. The downstairs den will be used to house events and private parties or as an escape from the ruckus of upstairs—where the rotating roster of dance parties and bingo games are held. In the summer, their spa, hot tubs, Estonian sauna and swimming pool will all open. Until then, the freestanding tubs found in most rooms will do the trick—and open-air decks offer moments of relaxation beside a fire or under a blanket.
“At the end of the day I’m always about the actual feeling you get when you walk into a space, and what is the emotion like?” Hospod says. “That’s the most important part of hospitality: the emotional element. It takes an incredible amount of effort to get that done, but it’s not just this material or that color palette.”
“It’s also the people you meet,” Porter finishes, gesturing toward the Lodge’s bar and living room where guests huddle around Fish as he DJs, while others congregate on the couch with other staff members, sharing stories and learning how to tend to a fire.
The Urban Cowboy Lodge officially opened 1 March and is now taking reservations for the rest of the year.
Hero image by Ben Fitchett for Urban Cowboy, all others courtesy of Urban Cowboy