Throughout this year, Capital Region Living has focused in on cities throughout the Capital Region—Troy, Schenectady and Glens Falls, to name a few—celebrating the best of what each has had to offer. In our final installment of the year, we’re setting our sights southeast to the multi-city Berkshires region. At the end of the day, “Massachusetts” might be hard to spell, but it sure is enjoyable to visit. (Note: Be sure to check on the most up-to-date pandemic-related rules and travel restrictions before booking your trip to The Berkshires!)
The Porches Inn at MASS MoCA
Go retro at The Porches, a boutique inn with a vintage vibe. Rest your bones in restored Victorian row houses across the street from MASS MoCA, the world-class contemporary art museum that has transformed the city of North Adams.
On the edge of nature and just a short walk to Lenox’s upscale restaurant scene, the Yankee Inn is a 1950s motel that has been morphed into a comfy, reasonably priced hotel. After a hike through the winter wonderland of local trails, enjoy the warm in-room fireplace or a restorative soak in a Jacuzzi (amenities vary from room to room).
The Old Inn on the Green
Ready for romance? Say “yes” to The Old Inn on the Green in New Marlborough, where lovebirds can dine in intimate rooms illuminated by flickering candlelight or outside under a heated tent. Want to make it a cozy night in? The inn’s to-go menu features luscious lobster rolls and buckets of buttermilk fried chicken.
Alta Restaurant & Wine Bar
Lenox locals do their fine dining at Alta Restaurant & Wine Bar, where the Mediterranean-inspired cuisine is locally sourced, organic and vegan-friendly. Patrons rave about the seared duck breast in a salty caramel sauce, handmade pasta and enviably robust wine list, with 24 by-the-glass options, as well as pages and pages of both New and Old World vinos. There’s always takeout, too.
Warm your belly with homemade enchiladas and tamales or kick back with a margarita at Coyote Flaco, a family-run Mexican restaurant less than two miles from the Clark Art Institute, in the picturesque village of Williamstown.
Ski’s the Limit
Skiers and snowboarders have multiple mountain-crushing options in the Berkshires. With five downhill resorts—Jiminy Peak, Catamount, Butternut, Bousquet and Berkshire East—there’s no shortage of shredding to be had.
Chocolate Springs Café
Willy Wonka would be proud. At Chocolate Springs Café in Lenox, the brainchild of Euro-style chocolatier Joshua Needleman, satiate your wintertime hot cocoa fix—or just go full Augustus Gloop on everything from passion fruit truffles and chai-spiced bonbons to homemade peanut butter cups. Not to worry, health nuts: vegan and gluten-free options are available, too.
Norman Rockwell Museum
One of America’s most, um, American artists, Norman Rockwell is best known for his extraordinary eye for the ordinary, with many of his best-loved pieces gracing the cover of the long-gone Saturday Evening Post. Find a comprehensive collection of Rockwell’s work at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, including his iconic image of Ruby Bridges (see previous page), the little girl who bravely integrated a Louisiana school in the 1960s. Sensational special exhibitions abound this winter, so be sure to reserve your timed tickets online.
Get To Know…
Blue Q Co-owner Mitch Nash(L), Seth Nash (R)
You’ve seen ’em. Colorful socks, aprons and oven mitts with snarky messages on them like “grumpy old man” and “bad ass woman.” And yes, some four-letter words, too. Those cheeky items, which also include toothbrushes, tote bags and dishtowels, are cooked up by the kooky, creative minds at Blue Q, a 32-year-old company in Pittsfield where brainstorming happens every single day.
“We’ve always been the kind of lippy, irreverent company that wants to put a spin on some truth that’s out there,” says Mitch Nash, who co-owns the business with his brother Seth. “But always in a kind way…we’re careful how we throw those words around.”
At their solar-powered office/warehouse, where sheep “mow” the grass (in season), Mitch and his team dream up 160 new designs each year and work with artists all over the world. Blue Q products are available online (blueq.com) but are mostly sold in independent shops, bookstores and boutiques across the country. Around here, you can find them at places like Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, I Love Books in Delmar and Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs.
The Nash brothers have not only built a successful business, but also helped build out their community. In the Berkshires, Blue Q is one of the largest private employers of individuals with disabilities, and a percentage of sales of its recycled bags supports the Housatonic Valley Association, a clean water watchdog group. The company has also donated more than $1 million to Doctors Without Borders through sales of its socks and kitchen products. “This place is more than a company,” says Nash. “It’s a little island of creativity and culture. It’s the community that really makes it tick.”
Get To Know…
AsiaBarong Gallery Co-owner Bill Talbot
Dragons, elephants and gigantic stone Buddhas in the bucolic Berkshires? On Route 7 in Great Barrington, AsiaBarong Gallery is an irresistible roadside attraction where tourists wonder as they wander through an exotic emporium of Asian artwork, antiques, furniture, garden statues and small items like coins, toys, prayer flags and jewelry. “It’s the largest Pan-Asiatic gallery in America, with displays from most regions and cultures,” says Bill Talbot, who co-owns the import and design business with his wife, Andrea.
You can get lost for hours inside AsiaBarong, where thousands of items fill shelves on two floors, and there are hundreds of signs describing the objects and images for sale. Got questions? Just ask Talbot, who’s been doing this for almost 40 years. “One of the things I do most of the day,” he says, “is tell people about the pieces and the culture.”
It’s not your average side-of-the-road pitstop, though. Serious collectors of Asian art, decorators, architects, museums, owners of second homes in the Berkshires and corporations shop at AsiaBarong not only for its handcrafted sculpture and architectural marvels, but also its marble, granite, wood and cast bronze custom-order pieces. At the time of his Capital Region Living interview, Talbot was preparing to ship a 5,000-pound statue of the Buddhist goddess Kuan Yin to a temple in New Jersey.
How did Talbot end up the purveyor of an Asian art superstore? He has been traveling to Asia since he was a young, adventurous biologist. “I started as a backpacker, going house to house in villages finding things,” he says. Today, he’s connected to a third generation of those artisans and works directly with them: “We have very long, old relationships with families throughout Asia.”
Talbot normally closes the gallery for the fall and winter and travels to Asia, but because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, he had to cancel this year’s trip. It’s been heartbreaking for him, but a boon to travelers in the Berkshires, as AsiaBarong will be open on weekends throughout the colder months. “Luckily,” he says, “we have a huge amount of pieces in storage.”