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Luxury for Less: NYC
British Airways Highlife
July, 2010

by Mark Jones

Angel told me that New Yorkers, cash-strapped or not, still filter out of the city to the Hamptons, Shelter Island or Fire Island whenever they can. But I wanted to take a more venerable escape route — to the Catskill Mountains.

writers talk about the Catskills at all, which is seldom, it’s usually in connection with the Borscht Belt: the tough testing ground for up-and-coming comedians who test their material and mettle on retired Jewish ladies, who are rarely short of material of their own. But I’m not a stand-up and my destination wasn’t named after an Eastern European soup. Instead, I sped up the Franklin D Roosevelt expressway, and over the George Washington Bridge and pointed the car up the Interstate 86 towards Kingston, at the gateway to the Catskills, and thence to the village of Roxbury.

It was damn quiet. The highway weaved between the curved and grave hills. The railroads that used to bring wealthy New Yorkers fleeing heat and pestilence have long been silent. The railway was killed by the car, and now the cars are going elsewhere. The tourist vehicles have taken the Woodstock turning and fashionable Manhattan is heading to the coast.

Once, there were 1,500 rooms for vacationers in and around Roxbury. Now there’s The Roxbury Motel. But if anything can bring back some gaiety to the hills, it’s this joint.

Roxbury the village is a white clapboard upstate settlement rebuilt by a local boy, 19th-century millionaire and so-called robber baron Jay Gould. It is now wiling away the years in genteel retirement. It’s the kind of ordinary, conservative and respectable American place that film-makers, especially those with weird scripts, love to send their location managers. You can imagine Witches of Eastwick-era Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice cavorting down the main street after some Stepford Wives.

In truth, there’s quite enough outlandish stuff going on within Roxbury the Motel. An accent colour on the doors of acidy lime green is the only clue that something a little different may be going on inside the familiar cream, two-storey motel façade. My room was called Partridge’s Nest, the Partridge in this case being the family that gave its name to the 1970s TV series and the multicoloured bus that ferried them around between teenybopper concerts. So instead of tweed and dead birds in glass cases, you get Mondrian walls and Lego-bricks-on-acid bathrooms. The other neighbours were Samantha from Bewitched and the Flintstones.

Upstairs (you walk underneath an orange feathery giant lollipop chandelier), there are larger suites; and here any restraint on show downstairs — which wasn’t much — entirely disappears. On my second night I got put in a room that pays homage to I Dream of Jeanie. The bathtub is set in candy-coloured tiles (the remaining décor is gold and shocking pink). The wallpaper in the main room, which must have taken an age to track down, would have made the set designers of Austin Powers shake their heads and say ‘too much’.

The owners, Greg and his partner, Joseph Massa, Manhattan émigrés both, are now creating new rooms over the road. Here, by a

bridge that crosses a quiet stream that eventually becomes the Delaware River, are more slices of American history. You will (from August) get to sleep in Tony’s dancefloor (Saturday Night Fever) or in a Coconut Cream Pie (Gilligan’s Island).

The Roxbury is not understated or conservative. Not Borscht Belt; more Kitsch Korner. Only Greg hates the word: to him, kitsch is something plastic and ephemeral. There’s a ton of love, craftsmanship and fine detail in these flights of fancy. The plumbing and beds are immaculate, the toiletries five star and the breakfast as wholesome as any old-style New England mom could make. There’s a bijou little spa. You can get a room for just $90. But as you’ve made it here, it’s worth splashing out. Even then, you are getting a trip into nostalgic American screen heaven for, at most, $300 in high season.

Another room is a homage to Holly Golightly. We did think of calling this series The Golightlys as our own homage to travelling as classily as you can on as much (or as little) as you can afford. We should have the launch party here, underneath a replica of the chandelier Audrey Hepburn gazes at in the Tiffany window, next to the sparkling Tiffanyish tiles and Regency wallpaper. Affordable luxe? Well, here is Fifth Avenue captured in an upstate motel room with woodpeckers in the trees and a farm truck rattling over a wooden bridge.

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