By Mary Overly Davis
With a stroke of good luck, Maria Ditchek and I are sitting with the charming man about town and owner of Andes Hotel, Derek Curl. We, along with so many Andeans, have been watching the transformation of the former parking lot turned courtyard, and the interior renovations of the dining rooms. Derek graciously agreed to take time out of his very busy schedule to talk about all the happenings. But not to get ahead in his story, we wanted to start at the very beginning: How did a nice Southern gentleman, who could retire anywhere in the world, end up in little Andes, New York?
Derek, a producer of horror movies, had been working about 10 movies over the past twenty years on locations between Kingston and Margaretville. One Sunday, on a rare day off, he decided to take a drive. It would be a pivotal jaunt. As Derek described his sensory perception so many years ago, he grew visibly humbled, and cheerful. He claimed, “The air became clearer, the pastures changed, people changed, the smells were more vibrant.”
Although New Orleans, where Derek spent a large chunk of his life, holds a very special place in his heart, he is from Atlanta, Georgia. Growing up in southern Appalachia, the Catskill Mountains are visually and sensorially familiar to him from his childhood. Living in old southern cities, the architecture of the Greek Revival homes—of old homes—seemed viscerally familiar.
When it was time for him to look for a second home, he looked all around the area, but Andes kept popping back into his mind. He’s never forgotten that special feeling while driving over Palmer Hill. As a long-time resident myself, I too still get an aha moment every time I turn that bend. Lucky for us, eight years ago Derek found the home of his dreams on Fall Clove Road. Thus began his journey of becoming the custodian of a “very old” Greek revival home. Derek immediately established a friendship with farming neighbors, who took him under their wings.
While renovating, the staff at the hotel not only accommodated his sometimes off-schedule dining hours but also gave him a warm place to sleep on the occasional night his house was unfunctional. But it was the front porch that became his social hub. I won’t attempt to list all the people he named, but let’s just say he met everyone.
“Sometimes” he said, “you can feel broken.” Sometimes everyone just “needs some love to get right side up again.” The Andes Hotel, specifically the Tavern, provided Derek the ballast he needed. Like the TV show Cheers, no one eats alone at the Hotel Tavern. Derek thinks the tavern is perfect just the way it is, and has been for generations of Andeans. That is the reason the tavern “escaped” renovation. Derek believes he would have been run out of town!
Settling in Andes, which he believes is the most beautiful Catskill town, feels just right. Derek claims Andes has an authenticity that is rare. The residents take care of their homes, there are several churches in town, a library, the hotel. It has an extraordinary small town feel and Derek wants to “keep it real.”
Derek had no intention of buying a hotel. Running a restaurant, bar and inn was not a life-long dream, nor even a thought or notion in his head. But during Covid lockdown the hotel came on the market and he took the plunge. He had no idea his life would take him to entrepreneurship of the Andes Hotel, but he now feels it is a privilege, and “weird—more than weird!” But Derek claims because Andes has given him so much, he strives—success-fully I may add—to give back to the community. Derek has always given back, especially with his embrace of the holidays. He distributes countless Easter baskets to all the local children, installs a very impressive Christmas tree, and puts on some of the most spectacular fireworks shows this side of the Hudson.
Derek wants to make life better, more joyful, more beautiful for the people of Andes. He strives to create, and maintain, a sense of community, inclusiveness and feeling of safety. He believes children make everything better and wants the hotel complex to be a part of their childhood memories, and stories.
At first, Derek thought he was going to open up a simple little motel and restaurant and let it fly. But, that bubble was burst! There have been unforeseen hurdles; it is an old building with lots of old building issues. It’s several businesses rolled into one, a sometimes chaotic package. He’s learned a lot! For instance, he tried to close during a snowstorm, but he received about thirty phone calls saying he better get down there and open up the bar. In Andes, it’s a tradition to sit out snowstorms in the tavern! When chefs and staff leave him in a bind, Derek just dons an apron and starts cooking. He takes pride in being open when they say it is open. The hotel restaurant and tavern is not easy to run: After all, it is in the middle of nowhere. But when the doors open and all the patrons come walking in the door, one realizes how important being in the service industry is. Derek says, “You learn to be kind, patient, and leave your ego at the door.”
Making changes is never easy, so Derek is doing things slowly. It’s a balancing act. The Hotel is in service to the local community, but also to travelers that come along the trail. In the end, Derek says, “Andeans dictate how the place should be.”
So, toward that end, the changes that have happened, and are on-going as I write, will be the focus of Part 2: Derek Curl Isn’t Going Anywhere.~