The Strange and Dirty Beauty of Hudson NY
Swallow, a coffee shop located on Warren Street, has either the feel of just opening or just burglarized. It’s a disarming effect – the space is wide open with minimal furniture, the walls a fresh coat of white paint, and there’s a record player swamped in trash at the back playing soft noise, like fire crawling across the floor and around your feet. They serve Stumptown Coffee and the workers act like they don’t give a fuck. On a recent day trip from our home thirty minutes north, my wife got into line and Malcolm Gladwell was three people behind her. Before we left, I asked her if she saw Malcolm Gladwell and she said yes, and asked me if I saw the guy from Grey’s Anatomy, and I said no, was it McDreamy?
I realize this type of coffee shop experience isn’t really interesting to those in Brooklyn or LA or, I don’t know, people who hate coffee people, but what you have to understand is that Hudson is located in upstate New York and country bumpkin as shit. Surrounding the small town are things like lush green mountains, the Hudson river, and a Walmart that sets back from a main road a half mile and appears to sink-in the horizon. To get a better sense of Hudson and what the streets feel like that haven’t been built up by places like Swallow, imagine looking through no-foliage apartments and seeing the chair wrestling scene from Gummo.
Which makes the rise of Hudson as a modern day hipster hangout so bizarre. It’s largely a poor community with poor people (a quarter of the population is below the poverty line) that now have to visually register the skinny jeans of those coming up from the city. I’ve visited Hudson a half dozen times in the past year and each time seen the same thing – yuppies, hipsters, money-lotioned faces, bearded skeletons in black Ray-Bans – walking Warren Street all with the same looks plastered on their faces. A kind of starring up at the sky to see a rocket, but there’s no rocket, and the sky is these old brick buildings. More than once, I’ve heard Hudson called the new Brooklyn, although its vibe is more Buffalo 1995. Two years ago, the New York Times did a feature on Hudson titled “Williamsburg on the Hudson” which makes me feel like I’ve eaten too much fried dough.
A bunch of artists and writers live in Hudson. The publisher and founder of FENCE, Rebecca Wolff, recently moved there. John “Pokémon” Ashbury has a place. Rudolph Wurlitzer lives there with his wife, Lynn Davis, a well known photographer. Philip Glass has a place. Basilica, a community arts space owned by Hudson resident Melissa Auf Der Maur (Hole, Smashing Pumpkins) hosted Grimes last year. Lydia Davis is rumored to live nearby. The list is fairly deep and continues to grow with its most recent transplant, Marina Abramovic, who has purchased, and plans, to create a new dimension of reality with a massive never-been-done-before performance arts place (visitors will have to, brace yourself because holy shit, spend a minimum of six hours in the space).
I like Hudson. It’s an incredibly odd place with a meth-lab Last of the Mohicans vibe. It’s becoming sleeker and less raw, but it still possesses a hard-work grime quality that I admire. Most of the people walking the streets, especially off Warren Street, appear to have deep roots in Hudson. Their faces look anchored to the cement. Those visiting who walk these streets are Disney-tourist noticeable. On a late weekend afternoon, if the weather is good, the main streets, like Warren, are packed shoulder to shoulder with the curious.
My wife and I have considered moving to Hudson, but there’s always something holding us back from it, and we’re not sure why exactly. Maybe it just feels wrong? I don’t know. But the question I’m most intrigued by is if Hudson will make or break. Can a small upstate town like this really become a community of artists and writers resembling some kind of art-house utopia? Has it already? Do you realize that in Hudson NY you can have a perfect cup of coffee at Swallow, buy a book and a beer across the street at the Spotty Dog, and then have the best Mexican food upstate at Mexican Radio ten yards up the street?