The Briary

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Best reinvented motel in America?

Monday April 23, 2012

We’ve been all aquiver since The Smithsonian magazine declared Great Barrington to be number one on its list of the best small towns in America. Read about it here.

Among the reasons was the town’s cool mix of local focus ­– resistance to Walmart, commitment to locally grown produce – with big city savvy. This cocktail of small town charm and proximity to a major world city is exactly what attracted us to the Berkshires in general and to Great Barrington in particular.

But it wasn’t always thus. Oh no. In the 15 years during which we regularly visited the area from the UK, many locals told us of their memories of Great Barrington as a Hopperesque townscape with tough bars up and down Railroad Street. Before entering, customers were advised to punch themselves on the nose to save someone else the trouble. Considerate.

The sea-change came ten years or so ago when bibbed overalls gave way to Ray-Bans and fur headbands, as New Yorkers were drawn to the charm and easy two-plus hours commute. Over time this brought cooler stores, bars and restaurants, which happily have helped the focus on local. It’s also why we picked Great Barrington to launch our motel-to-hip-small-hotel idea at the Briarcliff. One year in and we’re also number #1 – in Great Barrington, on TripAdvisor – and we just racked up five ‘bubbles’ based on guest reviews. Making us the best hotel in the best town in America. Official.

Get with the fun-guys…

Wednesday April 11, 2012

The Briarcliff Motel

It's a while since we posted, what with the motel being increasingly busy, plus renovation and building filling the spaces in between. Our contractor, bless him – his heart's in the right place but he's messier than a sulky teenager. So with such little time for blogging, why am I digressing? Old habits.

What I really wanted to talk about is culinary and agri-tourism, which are attracting increasing attention around here. And we're doing our bit – immersing ourselves in the fabulous farm to table food culture by eating and drinking as much as possible. All in the interests of research. The food is amazing and so are the people.

Matt, the blessed cheesemonger who owns Rubiners in Great Barrington, imparts passionate knowledge, acerbic wit and wedges of smelly heaven in equal proportions. He's the nicest guy as long as you don't ask him where he keeps the cans of squirty cheese. Through Matt we met Bjorn Somlo, chef owner of Nudel in Lenox and one of the most inventive young cooks anywhere. Bjorn is inspiring, he really is that guy who can take any old leftovers lurking in the corner of your fridge, and turn them into something incredible. We just went to a special beer'n'cheese evening, curated by Matt Rubiner with dishes created by Bjorn, and the food was totally amazing.

Then there's our pal Angela, who we met through another favourite restaurant, Allium in Great Barrington. Angela helps businesses in the farm to table movement 'get out there', because it impassions her. We told her a couple of guest stories: the guys from Brooklyn who came up to go ice-fishing. And the guest who foraged for mushrooms in the woods out back, which was quite 'normal' for someone brought up in the countryside of his native Russia.

This was what started us thinking about how city folk are decompressing by doing the things that country folk have done for centuries in order to stay alive: forage for their own food. Which is why we decided to participate in a series of mushroom foraging weekends during this and next month: If you'd like to learn how to find mushrooms somewhere other than your local supermarket, our package includes bed, breakfast (all home-made and our own small contribution to feeding people better) and one registration to the walk of your choice. Call us for more details.