Kutsher’s Hotel & Country Club is an abandoned resort in the Catskill Mountains of New York. It was the longest running of the “Borscht Belt” resorts and served as the inspiration for the 1987 movie Dirty Dancing, which was about a teenager who falls in love with a dance teacher while on vacation with her family in the 1960’s.
Max and Louis Kutsher began the Kutsher’s Brothers Farm House in 1907 18 to house guests vacationing in the Catskills during the summer. The boarding house gradually expanded and in the 1940’s, at the request of his aunt, Rebecca, Milton Kutsher took over management of the hotel. His wife, Helen, worked with Helen Kutsher, who served as the head of reservations.
Milton oversaw a massive expansion of the hotel that ultimately created a 1,500-acre resort that included 400 hotel rooms, a theater, the Stardust Nightclub, kosher restaurants, condominiums, two bungalow colonies, and two Jewish summer camps — including Camp Anawana. 2 3 The resort also offered an 18-hole golf course, health club, four racquetball courts, shuffleboard, indoor ice skating, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis, Kutsher’s Sports Academy, skiing, and snow tubing. 2 3 4 18 24
Room rates included three meals, which included prime rib to traditional Jewish dishes such as cheese blintzes, gefilte fish, and kasha varnishkes. 18
Milton, an avid sports enthusiast, helped make Kutsher’s a destination for recreational activities in a bid to attract younger people. 3 The hotel hosted the Maurice Stokes Benefit All-Star Game, a charity basketball game that attracted top professional players which raised funds for needy former players from the game’s earlier days. 5 6 It was played at the hotel or at the Kutsher’s Sports Academy. In the 1990s, the basketball exhibition spawned the Maurice Stokes/Wilt Chamberlain Celebrity Pro-Am Golf Tournament. 7 8 9
Muhammad Ali trained at Kutsher’s, as did other boxing champions, such as Floyd Patterson and Leon Spinks. Other athletes, such as Joe DiMaggio and Wilt Chamberlain, a former Kutsher’s bellhop, once trained at the sports academy. 18
The large theatre and nightclub attracted up and coming talent. Performers, such as Woody Allen, Louis Armstrong, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Billy Crystal, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Jackie Mason, Joan Rivers, and Jerry Seinfeld, all spent their early career at Kutsher’s. 10 18
Kutsher’s Hotel was a part of the “Borscht Belt,” an area once distinguished by scores of Jewish summer resort hotels, cabin colonies, and camps. 1 Tourism peaked after World War II when massive resort facilities were built in the countryside.
By the 1960’s, tourism in the “Borscht Belt” had entered a decline. 1 Air travel was becoming increasingly convenient and cheap, and the advent of interstate highways made long-distance automobile travel easier.
By the late 1980’s, the resort was called Kutsher’s Country Club Inn. 24 Its re-branding was part of a reinvention of the resort, which included the construction of a 150-unit condominium complex, Hidden Ridge, in 1986. Owners could buy memberships to Kutsher’s amenities.
Kutsher’s added a six-story, 60-room hotel addition in 1987 at the cost of $2 million. 24
Las Vegas-based Park Place Entertainment and the St. Regis Mohawks, an Indian tribe based in northern New York, announced in April 2000 that they wanted to build a $500 million casino at Kutsher’s. 23 It would include a 750-room hotel, eight restaurants, and a spa.
The agreement called for Park Plaza to secure financing for most of the construction costs and manage the casino for seven years. 23 The contract could be extended by mutual consent. The Mohawks would receive 70% of the earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, with a guaranteed minimum payment of $9 million. Park Place would receive 30%.
A state plan approved in late 2001 allowed up to three Indian casinos in the Catskill Mountains in a bid to attract tourists and revive declining resorts. 17 It was part of a larger gambling expansion plan designed to raise money in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Three casinos were proposed for the Catskills: 17
- At the Monticello Raceway, administered by the Cayugas of New York;
- At the former Concord resort, administered by the Seneca-Cayugas of Oklahoma;
- At Kutsher’s Hotel, administered by the St. Regis Mohawks.
On November 15, the Mohawks signed a deal with Park Place to acquire Kutsher’s. 23
Las Vegas-based Harrah’s Entertainment, and then Caesars Entertainment, had an exclusive option to purchase the resort and create a casino with the St. Regis Mohawks. 18 19 It would be located on the grounds of the sports academy.
The St. Regis Mohawk’s abandoned plans for a casino at Kutsher’s on November 2, 2005. 19 21 In December, the resort was put on the market for $50 million. The tribe opted to revive an earlier plan to build a casino at the Monticello Raceway, 19 believing that the Monticello site was closer to federal approval than Kutsher’s. 20
In November 2007, Kutsher’s Hotel sent a letter to its long-term guests informing them that there would be no availability for the coming summer due to planned renovations. In the late winter, the Kutsher family entered into an option agreement with Louis Cappelli to bring management changes and a possible ownership change at the resort. 12 22 The sale of the hotel was not finalized, but renovations were carried out, and the resort reopened as the New Kutsher’s Resort & Spa. 11
Kutsher’s hosted the 2008, 2009 and 2010 U.S. edition of the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival.
The New Kutsher’s Resort & Spa closed in 2013. The property was sold to Veria Lifestyle, owned by Indian billionaire Subhash Chandra, for $8.8 million. 13 Veria demolished most of the hotel and proposed constructing a health and wellness destination based on the Indian discipline of yoga. The new resort would include 265 guest rooms. 14 15
[su_spoiler title=”Sources” icon=”caret”]
- Larson, Neil. Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation. Liberty Downtown Historic District, 2005 Sept.
- Kane, Tom and David Figura. “Resort Owner Milton Kutsher Dies.”
- “From Borscht to Blackjack.” Jewish Week, 1 Aug. 2003.
- Mayberg, Nathan. “37th Season, But Their First Year.” Sullivan County Democrat [Callicoon], 24 Jun. 2005.
- “Jack Twyman.” Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, 2002.
- Sommerstein, David. “Remembering Kutsher’s, Where Pro Athletes, Vacationers Mingled.” WBUR, 6 Sept. 2014.
- “Twyman’s empathy for Stokes a lesson for rest of America.” Online Athens, 3 Aug. 2002.
- “Hoops Legends Compete In Annual Celebrity Golf Event.” Sullivan County Democrat [Callicoon], 10 Aug. 2004.
- Mayberg, Nathan. “Fundraising Efforts Lead to High Honors.” Sullivan County Democrat [Callicoon], 7 Jun. 2005.
- “The Final Days of Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club, an Abandoned Resort in New York.” Urban Ghosts, 9 Jun. 2014. Article.
- “The New Kutsher’s Resort & Spa.” Article.
- “New dreams for Kutsher’s.” Westchester County Business Journal.
- “Borscht Belt resort Kutsher’s to face wrecking ball.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 15 Mar. 2015.
- Hust, Dan. “The end of Kutsher’s.” Sullivan County Democrat [Callicoon], 3 Dec. 2013.
- “Catskills Bureau Confidential: Asbestos removal at old Kutsher’s resort.” Times Herald-Record, 17 Jun. 2014.
- “Music and Movies in the Catskill Mountains.” Museyon.
- Hill, Michael. “Casino proposals create stir in Catskills.” Press & Sun-Bulletin [Binghamton], 1 Jan. 2005. p. 2D.
- Uhls, Anna. “The last Borsht Belt resort.” Star-Gazette [Elmira], 28 Jun. 2005. pp. 1D, 3D.
- “Borscht Belt icon, Kutsher’s, for sae.” Star-Gazette [Elmira], 28 Dec. 2005. p. 1D.
- “Casino issues need clarity.” Poughkeepsie Journal, 13 Nov. 2005. p. 10A.
- “Tribe drops casino proposal for Kutsher’s.” Journal News [White Plains], 4 Nov. 2005. p. 3B.
- West, Debra. “Developer Cappelli looks to cash in on another bet.” Journal News [White Plains], 23 Nov. 2008. p. 4B.
- “Tribe signs Catskills casino deal.” Democrat and Chronicle [Rochester], 16 Nov. 2001. p. 5B.
- Camise, Carmel. “Even after heyday, Catskills still hot.” Star-Gazette [Elmira], 17 Apr. 1988. p. 2C.