This Ellenville Airbnb is also an underground jazz club in the Gunks
Photo by Jackie Jakaitis
Upstate Mod House and basement jazz club Love, Velma host a retro experience with live music and craft cocktails in the Hudson Valley.
Nick Gordon always wanted to revisit the Borscht belt model and run his own classic Catskills hotel. What he hadn’t planned was to revive a mid-century modern masterpiece with a jazz swing club in the basement.
âI wasn’t looking for a house like this when I was looking in upstate New York. I was looking for something small and easy, âGordon recalls. When he discovered Mod House in Ellenville, it was far from minimal; Almost 4,200 square feet and four bedrooms make up this 1960s time capsule. However, the home’s unique history immediately captivated him.
Prominent architect Dick McDole built the house in 1959, and it has only had three owners since then. Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence shines through in McDole’s design, which was perfected while the architect lived in the Mod House with his family. Eventually, he sold it to an eccentric doctor and his wife, Velma, the namesake of Gordon’s pop-up underground bar.
âThe history of the house always comes back to them whenever I hear stories from the inhabitants,â he explains. Apparently they threw wild parties in their 2,000 square foot basement. Originally built as a shooting range, the space below presents a window into a bygone era. Loud music, eclectic crowds and lots of dancing marked the experience there. It certainly wasn’t the house Gordon expected to find.
âMy real estate agent told me about the ad, which contained some incredibly beautiful photosâ¦ I came to love Ellenville’s past, as well as her potential. It changed my outlook on life, âhe says. Gordon, a seasoned music industry veteran, has spent the past two decades living in Brooklyn. In his search for real estate, he initially only wanted a weekend home in the Hudson Valley. Yet, upon finding this architectural treasure, he was tempted to settle in the area full time. He closed it in 2019, and when the pandemic hit he retired to the Shawangunks for good.
During the lockdown, his Mod House concept began to take shape. Gordon began by bringing the house into the âenvironmentally progressive ageâ. He outfitted the Mod House with the technology to run 100% on solar power with the help of a friend of his who, like many others, lost his job due to COVID-19. This triple-threat electrician-contractor-plumber moved into the Mod House with his partner, and together the three tackled a myriad of restoration projects over the next year and a half. They built a retaining wall and a new roof. Also, they tore up the entire oak wood floor in the basement (due to mold from Hurricane Sandy).
Then Gordon had to furnish the house. Beer in hand, he spent hours browsing online auction sites. He visited vintage stores, garage sales, and estate auctions throughout the Hudson Valley.
âYeah, well that was the fun part. I mean, I’ve always collected mid-century modern pieces, âhe reveals. After studying classic brands and contemporary trends, Gordon’s eye has been sharpened for quality. Slowly the Mod House came to life with retro furniture and funky decor.
The first official Mod House guests checked in in July 2021. Gordon hosts the property as “a kind of communal lodge, with me, my dog ââPuddin ‘and my cat Neala serving as butler.” He advertises âbed n ‘boozeâ stays via Airbnb. as each room includes free beer, wine and pastries. Currently, visitors choose between the Zen room on the ground floor and the Artist’s Quarter on the ground floor. (If two people know each other, there is a third bedroom available upstairs which shares a bathroom with the Zen bedroom.)
Guests have access to the entire house, striking up esoteric conversations in stunning common areas. On the property it is possible to see wild turkeys, eagles, bears, blue jays, turtles and the property’s resident groundhog, nicknamed âGaryâ.
Of course, there’s also something you won’t find mentioned on Airbnb. Gordon keeps the surprise of his underground bar underground for check-in time. On Saturdays, he invites guests from the Mod House downstairs for free cocktails and a lively conversation. On special Saturdays, the pop-up jazz club Love, Velma takes over.
In the first part of the evening, hip jazz groups perform on the underground stage. Love, Velma’s adjacent jazz lineup often spans groovin ‘funk bands and soulful soul artists. Gordon recreates a lounge scene in the foothills of the Borscht belt. Solo pianists, comedians and performance artists are all on the table for future events. Once the variety show part of the night is over, Love, Velma transforms into a dance floor with live DJ sets.
âA lot of artists come from town, or are on tour and have dates in New York or Canada. If they have a show the day before or the night after, it’s a great way to earn some extra cash and experience a destination weekend, âsays Gordon. He has the gift of selecting top talent, with 25 years of experience in music. For example, he is currently Commercial Director and Managing Director of Symphonic Distribution, a digital music services company. Wayne Tucker and the Bad Mothas, Tamar Korn, Jesse Gelber and Sweet Megg round out a few of the acts gracing the scene so far.
“More, [the artists are] get an integrated audience that comes for the experience and doesn’t pay for a concert ticket. They pay a one night subscription to Love, Velma.
And, when it’s time to see a show in Love, Velma, you’ll be all set.
Once a month, the âmembersâ are contacted to pay their âsubscriptionâ. For a prize, members get a ticket to the Love, Velma event of the month. Think cocktail dress, mod makeup, dashing ’60s airline pilots, and retro dresses. Eeven part of the house is built for entertainment. In most cases, each room has a line of sight to the other rooms in the house (as well as the lawn). According to Gordon, its design creates that sense of connectedness, even among people spread across the property. Once down in the speakeasy, members are entitled to free drinks, entertainment and cannabis.
“I stocked up in the Berkshires, and incorporating the cannabis element was really cool. It’s very low key and again, something that just comes with your ticket, âdescribes Gordon. âPre-rolls are available and you can have a good puff while listening to good jazz. What could be wrong with that? âEventually, he hopes to work with local cannabis growers in the Hudson Valley to make it aâ homebrew club âin a sense. difficult to achieve.
Gordon continues to maintain relationships with local beverage producers. My love, Velma will serve the produce of the Hudson Valley whenever possible. Morning coffee is sourced from Ellenville’s businesses, and the herbs and vegetables are grown in Mod House’s garden.
As for the cocktails, they are as much a part of Love, the mystique of Velma as anything else. For example, the airline-themed Halloween party had an equally high-end drink menu. âFirst Classâ was a red wine / whiskey cocktail, while rum-based âBermuda Triangleâ brought a tropical vibe to the party. A gin cocktail called “The Stewardess” included lime, ginger, and an earthy gentian liqueur. It actually sold itself – the “scarlet letter of any quality swap bar, but the product of a very well-mixed drink,” Gordon recalls.
During his brief stint at the helm of a bar, Gordon learned that the best thing to do is listen to your bartenders. They will help you run a great bar and create a great flow. So, he lets them organize the drinks, with one condition: don’t be too dumb.
At Love, Velma, bartenders serve concoctions in an original wooden bar. Legend has it that the bar was originally owned by Matthews Pharmacy in the 1950s, until McDole bought it for Mod House.
The second season of Love, Velma events begins in January 2022. In addition to live music, the Mod House also hosts art events. In the fall of 2021, he held a group art exhibit, titled âHanging at Home,â a cheeky play on the set. The curator was Julie McKim, a mainstay of the New York art world with experience at the Whitney, Performa, The Kitchen and Kunsthalle Galapagos.
Above all, Gordon wants the Mod House to be a center of creativity.
âThere is a piano, there is a workshop for painting, there is tons of space for writing. I try to attract people who want to have a unique hotel experience and work on things, either in collaboration with other clients or just an experience of getting away from it all. We had a ballet dancer and a painter who were here separately. After the Love, Velma cocktail, there was a ballet music concert, while another couple did paintings in the back room, âsays Gordon. âIt was really amazing, and something that happened completely out of the blue. I encourage people to come and actively use the space.
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