One hundred years ago, Mr. George W. Perkins opened the doors of the Bear Mountain Inn, a woodland retreat just inside Bear Mountain State Park. He wanted the place to welcome not only the wealthy, such as the Rockefellers, but travelers of more modest means as well. The inn served as a rustic playground for those looking for a respite from urban living. Its ski jump and toboggan runs awakened souls caught in the winter blues. Its open land won over professional sports teams, such as the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Giants, pulling customers in to marvel as they practiced. Its seemingly endless hiking trails and summer activities highlighted the beauty of the valley: “In the ’20s,” says Bear Mountain Inn historian Susan Smith, “they brought in what they called amusements: twirling cups and bumper cars.” And in the midst of it all, the day-trippers of the Palisades Interstate Park and the inn were surrounded by food.
The inn began as a modest lunchroom, accommodating park visitors traveling by train, Hudson River steamboat and car. Outside, guests could be found picnicking with their bagged lunches or splurging on a steaming hot dog and fizzy Crush soda at one of the many stands around the site. Despite the stands fading from existence over the years, dining inside the Bear Mountain Inn has remained a constant.
Perkins’s vision was reflected in the design of his building as well. “The ground floor would be your average Joe; a hot dog and a cup of coffee,” says Smith. “The second floor was white tablecloths, white gloves and à la carte dining.” For years, much of the upstairs menu included foods such as sliced meats and roasted local root vegetables. “There were huge farms in Rockland County at that time,” says Terry Hekker, whose father ran the inn for nearly 25 years (1941-1966). “My father had to go into the market a couple times a week, [he] served thousands of people. People knew that that was the Golden Age of the Bear Mountain Inn.”
In order to keep up with food trends, the Bear Mountain Inn has undergone several renovations to update its dining options, most recently hibernating for almost seven years starting in 2005. If you look at the new menu of Restaurant 1915, the second-floor formal restaurant that still stands today, you will find items that embrace the ingredients of the region. It’s a move meant to entice fans of the farm-to-fork movement, according to Smith. An annual Oktoberfest event, complete with craft breweries, draws the beer enthusiasts.
Alicia Diamond, Managing Director of the Bear Mountain Inn is apt to look forward, but also wants to honor some of the older traditions, “We’re possibly bringing back the old smorgasbords and we’re planning on reviving some of the Christmas festivities this year, such as the gingerbread houses.”
But embedded in the Bear Mountain Inn is something more than just 100 years of food; it is a well-seasoned touchstone of the valley, continuing to shine its light among the elites, as well as your average thrill seekers. —Katie Fenton
Bear Mountain Inn
3020 Seven Lakes Drive, Tomkins Cove