SEASONING A LANDMARK
After a painstaking restoration, Neil and Alexia Howard opened Colony in Woodstock (formerly the Colony Hotel and then the Colony Cafe) in May, with pub fare and a series of sold-out music events. We talked to Neil about stewarding a legend.
It seems as though you've sought to transcend hippie-era marketing and anchor your look in another era entirely.
An era that suits me perfectly—I've always felt born in the wrong time. My passion for rockabilly in high school led me to early blues and jazz, film noir, and black and white films from the 1930s and `40s.
So it wasn't so much a conscious decision not to market the `60's aesthetic as a hope to predate that moment, just as the physical building does. Give folks a taste of what the town was before 1969—an internationally known artist colony, home to Byrdcliffe and Maverick. The theater that happened and still happens, the visual art, writers, photographers, filmmakers, craftspeople, jewelry makers. I like to think that the restoration of a 1929 classic can help bring that awareness back, and balance out the marketing of the town around the festival iconography, where visitors get out of their cars, see a tie-dye shirt, smell some incense, and think they've "done" Woodstock. I want to add context. Michael Lang insisted on keeping the name "Woodstock" for his festival for a reason.
Your recipe for a great community venue?
Accessibility for local musicians and artists, welcoming vibe, good energy, creative spirit. We'll host screenings, readings, comedy, kids shows, benefits. Open mike Mondays seem to be bringing folks in from all over who are getting to know each other, jamming together—as it should be. We'll be pushing forward with that kind of thing and seeing what resonates.
Have you found yourself adapting your vision to meet with any unexpected discoveries? And what can we expect in the future?
The best discovery is realizing how many people wished the Colony was open and are becoming regulars. It's very encouraging and beautiful to see people's effusive reactions to the refurbishment and the fact that we are open all the time now.
We're hoping to have outdoor seating by next summer; maybe gallery space on the third floor for art openings and smaller events. We have high hopes of becoming a regional Catskills destination, not just a top-notch local music hall.