Dana Bowen and her husband, Lindsay Bowen, both 49, initially had been looking to buy a roomy outpost away from New York City that could double as a vacation rental. The couple have a Brooklyn apartment, and a small house in the quaint village of Athens, in Greene County, and habitually scouted Catskill and Hudson Valley property listings looking for “the one” — something big enough to host family and friends, and rent out the rest of the time.
But they didn’t want to be innkeepers. Bed-and-breakfasts felt too stodgy, and nothing quite fit what they envisioned: a place with a vibe or infrastructure that felt special, with ample private guest rooms and bathrooms, and enough space for sizable groups to gather.
Like the rest of the world, social distancing wasn’t on their radar until the arrival of Covid-19 when, suddenly, pandemic-induced guidelines for human interaction became sobering edicts of a new reality. For the Bowens, these protocols got them ruminating about buying an upstate motel instead. They weren’t alone.
Bygone roadside motels and bungalow colonies, which have been hiding in plain sight throughout the region, are getting a second chance at becoming tourist destinations. Now, these rentals are primed for visitors craving a chance to be social with strangers, but in moderation.
Starlite Motel in Kerhonkson, in Ulster County, the co-owners, Alix Umen, 57, and Adriana Farmiga, 47, wanted to bring art, culture and a new spin on hospitality to the motel format.
“We’re very community facing,” Ms. Farmiga said. “This is something specifically designed in mind to appreciate and uplift a creative community of artists, makers, farmers, chefs, and musicians.” For guests, that means happenings of every sort. There might be a D.J. spinning, or a team of swimmers entertaining guests with a synchronized ballet. And on Friday nights, even the neighbors turn out for hot vegan comfort bites from a food truck that also operates an on-site bodega during the week.
Catskill destinations, in what is known as the “borscht belt,” were in the business of exuberance. Properties with hundreds of acres. Dining rooms that could seat thousands of people. Endless entertainment featuring stand-up comedians, touring bands and nights full of dining and dancing.