Want some true Catskills downtime? It doesn’t get much more authentic than the Graham & Co., an “unpretentious but considered” 20-room boutique hotel just three blocks off Phoenicia’s Main Street that features Tivoli radios, kitchenettes, bikes for exploring, a communal den, and “plenty of places to relax with a drink.”
The onetime Cobblestone Inn was purchased and given a deep refresh by a four-person design team with the help of the Barattini family in 2013; the Graham & Co. was taken over by Martin Torres and Joe DiThomas in 2018. “It was like nothing the Catskills had ever seen,” says Torres of the hotel’s beginnings. “It was the first of many boutique hotels that found their way here. And when we bought the Graham in 2018, the family was kind enough to set us up for success.
“We took what they started and continued everything that worked, and tweaked things that didn’t,” he continues. They added the Bungalow: a stand-alone unit with a master bedroom, second bedroom, full kitchen, bathroom with walk-in shower, and a private backyard with a firepit. The couple also improved the infrastructure and began to offer guest experiences. Those experiences, arranged through partnerships with Catskills neighbors, include snowshoe or snow-bike rentals, guided snowshoe and hiking tours, and an aromatherapy workshop with Barbara Mansfield of Phoenicia Soap in which you’ll be guided in creating your own unique scent. Many more experiences are close at hand. Those who arrive at the Graham & Co. via Trailways bus—a scant two blocks from the hotel—will find Phoenicia’s quirky and delicious dining and shopping in easy walking distance. Ski slopes are just 20 miles away.
“We enjoy creating and operating a fun, design-driven boutique space that recognizes the heritage of the Catskills. It’s about creating a feeling of nostalgia by providing one-of-a-kind experiences and services for guests.”
Torres and DiThomas were longtime Catskills trekkers when they upended their lives and re-planted themselves here. “Martin and I have been coming to the Catskills since the mid-nineties,” says DiThomas. “In fact, we stayed at the Cobblestone Inn (now the Graham & Co.) back in 1997.” “I grew up far, far away from the Catskills in El Paso, Texas, in the desert,” says Torres. “So I always appreciated all the lush green trees, not to mention the four seasons—something I never had growing up.” Like many Catskills entrepreneurs, the couple set up shop here to live a life more in line with their dreams and ideals. “I would have loved to have been a journalist, but that path didn’t look to be sustainable, so I got a degree in advertising from the University of Texas and never looked back,” says Torres. “I was very fortunate to have a career in advertising for over 25 years. It took us to Tokyo and back. It was the only thing I knew I wanted to do. But after a while, like everything else, it just wasn’t fun anymore. Both of us knew we had to do something more personally fulfilling.”
“It was like nothing the Catskills had ever seen. It was the first of many boutique hotels that found their way here.” – Martin Torres
They weren’t initially certain of what that something different might be, but they did know where, and put in a bid on the Phoenicia Pharmacy. “We lost that bid,” says Torres, “It wasn’t to be, but while trying to do the deal, we met Gilbert Barattini and his family, who’d reinvented the hotel along with a team of designers.”
DiThomas had been working in real estate and had had a year of hotel experience, and the couple had done some AirBnB hosting, both in the Hudson Valley and in New York City, so they weren’t complete novices. “We both understood the importance of doing what it takes to keep the client happy,” says DiThomas. “And the location chose us. Once we decided that we wanted to try and run a hotel… it was always Plan A. We had no Plan B.”
Fortunately, Plan A has proven to be a hit. The Catskills have long been a place for city people to escape and feel grass under their feet. And the Graham & Co.’s clientele is very much into getting outside and experiencing what the Catskills has to offer, from hiking, skiing, biking, or swimming to just hanging out in the fresh air. At the Graham & Co., they find a pool, hammocks, firepits, and a store stocked with personal care items and a bit of swag—and the simplicity that’s always been key to an old-fashioned stay in the country.
“At the end of the day, we are still a renovated motel,” says Torres. “We don’t offer spa services. We don’t have a giant conference room, so all our effort goes into the details.” Those details shine in the rooms, the hospitality, and the experiences that the couple offer. “Housekeeping is such an important and under-recognized job, but that’s where it starts,” he continues. “I think that a lot of hospitality businesses have tried too hard to have a hook or a theme and may have forgotten about hospitality itself. We’re always working on having a warm, welcoming place to experience the Catskills from.”
During the pandemic, the Graham & Co. team discovered that their property was well situated to offer safe refuge. “We discovered we might be better positioned for the challenges of COVID than some other hospitality businesses,” says Torres, “and then a few happy accidents along the way helped us too. For example, once we instituted contactless check-in, our motel configuration allowed guests to walk right into their room from their car and find the key inside. No elevators. No hallways. It’s what guests were looking for at the time—even now, but to a lesser degree. And instead of our usual breakfast spread on the weekends, we started bringing breakfast to our guests’ rooms in a tiny black crate. It turns out people loved that personal touch, and I can’t see that going back to the way it was before.”
Another pandemic-related trend probably isn’t going anywhere either. “We’re getting a lot more corporate retreat requests,” Torres says. “I think that’s because so many employees of companies are working remotely and corporate culture is becoming harder to grasp, so more companies are relying on the corporate retreat to infuse them with a group experience. If you want your corporate culture to say ‘chill,’ what better place than the Graham & Co to give you that vibe?”
What better place, indeed, than a boutique hotel snuggled up to a hamlet named by Budget Travel as one of America’s “Coolest Small Towns?” (That was in 2011, but trust us, it’s only gotten better.) Next spring, there may be a new communal hangout space and all rooms will have air conditioning; beyond that, the Graham & Co. will maintain its beloved design-forward rustic flavor.
“The Graham & Co. is the ‘Happy Place’ for so many people. We get so many return guests; we just can’t let them down,” says Torres. “We’d really love to continue to build something special. For guests. For Phoenicia. For the Catskills. We enjoy creating and operating a fun, design-driven boutique space that pays homage to the Catskills. It’s about creating a feeling of nostalgia by providing one-of-a-kind experiences and services for guests…I love to see a teenager arrive from the city sullen and moody and leave here a happy kid. That goes for the adults too. When that happens, we know we’ve done our job.”
the graham & co.
80 NY-214, Phoenicia