The Painted Village in the Sky

“You haven’t skied in ten years?”

“I can’t believe you skied Hunter Mountain before Windham. Windham is much shorter and easier trails. Hunter’s tough.”

The locally brewed moonshine was somehow making me more aware of my sore ski body, as opposed to numbing it, and our Airbnb hosts had just returned home from what very clearly had been a good night out at the Hunter Mountain Resort bar, Van Winkles.

“So, you guys met Frankie?”

Does anyone who visits Hunter, NY not meet Frankie? You gotta meet Frankie.

The pub where Frankie works as a bartender and hosts rowdy karaoke nights.

Frankie is not a woman, although I wish that he was for the sake of this blog. The thing is, I feel that he is someone worth talking about in regards to anyone planning a visit to Hunter.

Frankie is The Man of Hunter. Frankie is a guy in his mid-60’s who works as the town’s bartender and après-ski DJ, going by the name Frankie Okie. Frankie is a total legend in the town. He will appear out of nowhere and then offer to drive you home from MacGregor’s in the middle of his bartending shift if the owner, Ralph, isn’t around to notice and it’s not too crowded. (Ralph is the guy who makes the cider-flavored moonshine in his kitchen.) For the three days that we were upstate in Hunter, NY, we somehow ran into Frankie for at least a few minutes each day.

Frankie was the first person my boyfriend and I met after stepping off the bus into a dark, empty gas station parking lot and wandering into the first place we could find a beer and some food. He was also the last person we spoke to before wandering down the icy road leading us back to our bus and away from the fairly tame, mostly middle-aged crowd at the après-ski party that Frankie Okie had just DJ’d.

Après-ski? Mais oui, s’il vous plaît!

“Yeah, he said he dropped you guys off here?” Heather, our airbnb host chuckled. “What are the odds?”

It seems pretty likely, I thought, considering he seems to be everywhere all at once in this town. 

Frankie did drop us off at our mountainside airbnb cabin. Technically. What really happened was that it was too dark for us to read the address so he drove up around a bend in the road where the numbers suddenly dipped too low, trekked up a snowy driveway where we found a dark, seemingly abandoned house next to a mansion of a chalet, and then dropped us off in the middle of the street because he had to get back to the bar.

“It’s okay, we’ll figure it out! Thanks so much for the ride!”

And off he went. Disappeared as quickly as he had materialized before our eyes at MacGregor’s. Luckily, he actually did drop us off right at the foot of the cabin’s driveway. We had been looking on the wrong side of the street because my phone’s GPS told us it would be on the left-hand side of the road, which it most certainly was not.

“We weren’t entirely sure if you guys were even here yet. I only knew because I saw some footprints in the snow on the driveway this morning.”

A lot of very mysterious, but explainable, things happen in Hunter, NY.

It might just be the Catskills; the name of the region itself sounds eery and mysterious. The Catskills. It sounds like the setting for a horror movie where a couple decides to go skiing for the first time in ten years, hitches a ride from a 60 year old phantom bartender/DJ, and drinks moonshine with a couple that has just returned upstate to drink the blood of young airbnb guests in a quiet cabin after spending 15 years living in Charleston.

Don’t worry. We’re safe. It’s upstate New York. And our Airbnb host gave us discounted tickets to go snow tubing because she’s working for the resort for the season while living in Hunter and she felt bad for leaving marks on our necks. (Seriously, if you are going to Hunter this winter stay at this airbnb here if you like moonshine, black labs, and snow activities).

Yes, my ski gear was five sizes too large. And yes, that is a Gryffindor scarf from Harry Potter World. Please, judge me.

After a night of Frankie Okie, a day of skiing, falling on ice, and having fake snow blown into our faces because it had rained the day before (Frankie offered us goggles only after we’d gone skiing), we drunkenly wandered into the German food paradise Jägerberg Beer Hall & Alpine Tavern for beer and a Wurst Platter topped with sauerkraut. I highly recommend this place!

So, moonshine. German food. 60 year old DJ’s.

Man, I love Hunter Mountain.

Me, in oversized clothes, covered in fake snow. Can this trip get any weirder?

Finally, on our last day in Hunter, after using the tubing tickets and failing to sneak into the resort’s heated pool and hot tubs, we left our bags with the resort’s concierge and hopped into the sole taxi in town called Smiley’s and ventured ten minutes east down NY-23A to Tannersville AKA The Painted Village in the Sky.

The Cream of Broccoli soup and the Afternoon Coffee at Last Chance Antiques & Cheese Cafe.

After wandering around Tannersville ogling at the colors and stuffing our faces for lunch at the highly recommended (by literally everyone we asked, and was described as “a nicer Cracker Barrel”) Last Chance Antiques & Cheese Cafe, I stopped in front of the most vibrant pharmacy I’ve ever seen. When I read the word “pharmacy” I immediately thought, oh, we don’t want to go in there. Then I saw a sign outside that read, “The Painted Village in the Sky.” It seemed to have a lot of information about the town, but the yard was an ice rink leading up to it, so I never read it. I was hoping to find out more information inside the colorful house-shaped pharmacy.

From the quick spurt of information we were given about the pharmacy, it’s a fairly normal town pharmacy, but because there are no wholesome food grocery stores in town, this haven has become the holistic answer to staying healthy while living in the Catskills.

Wellness Rx Pharmacy

Inside the pharmacy, we met a woman named Dr. Abigail Podrecca who was very open to sharing details about the pharmacy with us, even though she wasn’t a pharmacist. After a short exchange of words about the uniqueness of this particular pharmacy, Abigail told us to have a nice day and disappeared up a staircase near the pharmacy’s front door.

Dr. Abigail Podrecca

Dr. Abigail Podrecca is an Oriental Medicine Practitioner, having spent years in China studying the art of acupuncture, reiki, and cupping. She is also a woman who has lived quite a life, and at age 72, is truly living for herself and her loved ones and spends time with her horses whenever possible. Her business is called East Wind Acupuncture Center (located above the Wellness Rx Pharmacy in Tannersville), and she’s even treated actor extraordinaire Uma Thurman (and had playdates with her kids at her pool!). So if Uma Thurman trusts her with acupuncture, I do too.

Abigail’s life is insanely interesting. She remembers the Woodstock era well and used to be a singer, dating a pianist who toured with very famous musicians. She described her partner as a “deployment dodger.” When her partner was drafted into the military, they fled to London, where she started studying acupuncture. It was in Europe that they learned Jimmy Carter had released her partner from the draft, keeping him out of Vietnam. She studied Oriental Medicine in China, then revisited the continent to visit her son years later, staying in hostels along the way. So, no, hostels are not only meant for twenty-something wanderlusters on a budget.

Dr. Abigail Podrecca
Look how cozy!

Pro tip if you’re looking for a good time to visit the Catskills this summer: The HITS Saugerties Series happens May 22nd-September 8th and I’ve been informed that there are A LOT of female horse jumpers who will be competing in the Rolex Million Dollar Jump Off. In the meantime, you can find Abigail at her home in the Catskills jumping with her horses in the comfort of her own backyard. Let me remind you that she is 72. She says the secret to staying upright long into our lives is cupping therapy, which is also in her practice. Cupping therapy uses suction cups along the individual’s spine to act as a vacuum to promote the flow of energy to help soothe muscle pain, stiffness, migraines, and even anxiety. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to try it out during this trip, but if you visit the Catskills and give it a try, please let me know how it goes!

After parting ways with Abigail, it wasn’t long before we stumbled upon another female-led business managed by a wonderful woman named Emily. The Catskill Mountain Country Store has two locations in the Catskills, one in Tannersville and the other in Windham. As soon as you walk in you find yourself among a celestial abundance of fudge, cookies, coffee, honeys, jams, ironically labeled mugs… you name it. Plus, the store doubles as a cafe so you never have to leave! The decor is charming and adorable, and even includes an old fashioned ice cream counter. It’s the perfect little rest stop away from all of your outdoor mountain adventures any season of the year.

Emily, The Catskill Mountain Country Store’s manager.

After just a short introduction to Emily, it was time to hop back in the Smiley’s taxi van and return to Hunter Mountain. We had just enough time to check out the après-ski scene before getting on the bus, and who do we run into? None other than Frankie Okie himself! We caught him on a break from DJing, but we were also able to see the end of his set before the live band started playing. Everything seemed to fall right into place from the moment we stumbled off of a bus and into a place we hadn’t yet explored. We went from being complete strangers to being treated like locals within our first moments in Hunter. Maybe it’s a small town thing, or maybe there’s something in the water that makes these people genuinely welcoming. I definitely plan to return, hopefully sooner rather than later. Cheers! xo

All photos by Joe Fusco © 2/18/19

My top places to visit in Hunter, NY:

Ronnie MacGregor’s Pub

Van Winkles Restaurant & Bar

Hunter Mountain Ski Resort

Scottie’s Summit Lodge Cafe (at the top of the mountain!)

Jägerberg Beer Hall & Alpine Tavern

Last Chance Antiques & Cheese Cafe

Bones and Stones

Wellness Rx Pharmacy

Catskill Mountain Country Store & Restaurant

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