There's a lot to discover in Dutchess County, even packed in with the strip malls of Route 9. One example is Wappingers Falls, which is a scrappy village of 5,500 people in a square mile of real estate between Poughkeepsie and Fishkill.
We'd been planning on visiting as part of our series of "Most-Instagrammed Places" blog posts when a recent Main Street fire devastated multiple buildings, businesses and displaced over 30 residents. We were moved by afar by seeing how the Wappingers community not only banded together to help those affected, but did so in a way that showed what makes it unique.
We headed down on June 11, which was when a number of fundraisers were happening in town. First, we measured how many times different locations in Wappingers Falls were tagged in Instagram posts over the last year, and then visited as many of the places ourselves as we could. (Posts by the businesses themselves, owners and employees were not counted.)
The result? We learned about thirteen places that are playing an instrumental role in generating business, helping people have fun, and doing good in Wappingers Falls. Here they are:
This is truly a tattoo enthusiast's tattoo shop. Tucked into an unassuming space on Route 9, they have a staff of powerhouse artists with strong local followings and also attract tattoo tourists from far away on social media. In the last year, they've been the site of some of the most-seen photos taken in Wappingers; shoutouts from tattoo influencers like TattooSnob and BlackClaw, and Travie McCoy from Gym Class Heroes also took a video and photos that got liked thousands of times.
They give back, too: on June 10, they were one of several local businesses that came together at West Main Kitchen & Bar to raise $8,000 for the victims of the fire. In 2015, they gave a huge contribution of $7,000 plus art supplies to the Mill Street Loft to support local art outreach programs.
As Travie McCoy put it: "The parlor has such a sweet atmosphere, as you can see your boy was super cozy, make sure you go give them a visit if your in the area looking for some quality work but hurry cause these fools STAY BOOKED UP..."
Opened in 1984 as the Rolling Rock Cafe and reinvented in 2005 by serial Hudson Valley restaurateur Gus Serroukas, the Double O Grill is a beloved mainstay and major draw of the Wappingers Falls culinary scene. You may recognize the Serroukas family from such other restaurants like the Eveready Diner, Brasserie 292 and the Coyote Grill in Poughkeepsie.
Their website's frontpage manifesto admirably talks about their dedication to being local in every way.
Between the cozy decor, the beautifully-plated food, and the 24/7 brunch vibe, it's no wonder people like taking pictures here. A big part of it is their longtime bartender and social media director Amanda Desiderio, also known as @acozyhome, who regularly posts her insights on decor and mixology with over 2,000 followers. Here's a recent post she did on Double O's new Make Your Own Bloody Mary bar.
Graceland Tattoo is the other half of what makes Wappingers a tattoo destination. Since 2003, they've been an anchor of Wappingers' Main Street, and much like Hudson Valley Tattoo Company, their talented artists cater to both a local crowd and tattoo tourists. Their space is beautiful and approachable, filled with their artwork, and it's a big part of why they're the reigning two-time "Best of Hudson Valley" winner for tattooing.
On the day we were in town, they were running an extremely generous neighborhood benefit that raised over $10,000 for the victims of the fire; people were lined up out the door to get small tattoos from them. They also solicited contributions from other businesses for a raffle that they held in conjunction with their sister business, County Fare (see #5).
Wappingers Falls' historic Main Street is the way it is because of its location; it was built up in the 1800s due to its proximity to the Wappinger Creek, which connects to both Lake Wappinger and the Hudson River. A major cotton mill was built, along with a row of Civil War-era buildings and houses in the surrounding streets for the workers. According to Wikipedia, the mill remained in action until around 1931.
In 1984, a 90-acre area emanating from the main drag was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Since then, a few historic buildings have gone down; Goring Hall, which was opened in 1872 as a drug store for mill workers and later became a beloved coffee shop, was demolished in 2012; the Mulhern House, a workers' residence, was destroyed in 1994; and the Sweet Orr Factory, which manufactured overalls and jeans sold across the country, burned down in the 1990s.
An added consequence to the fire is that more historic buildings may be lost forever. However, Wappingers Falls Mayor Matt Alexander recently said that it's possible all four buildings affected could be saved at a cost of $1M each.
5. County Fare
We wrote about County Fare in our 2016’s Hudson Valley Breakout Brands article. It was opened last year by Graceland Tattoo owner Adam and co-owner Brandon McAlpine right next door to the shop, and shares the same sensibilities: locally sourced, artisinal, in a space that’s both beautiful and comfortable at the same time.
Planet Fitness is a national chain of gyms known for being a “Judgement Free Zone,” and for providing free pizza to its members once a month. There is a location on Route 9 in Wappingers Falls, and it’s one of the most-Instagrammed places in town on the strength of gym selfies. Keep doing you, gym people; show off those gainz.
That view. Di’Vine took over a space that had been a hair salon for over 25 years last May. The inside (which has two levels) is cozy and intimate, and the outside patio has an incredible view of the falls. It looks like the perfect place to grab a drink before and/or after dinner, or to hang out outside on a nice day.
This weekend (June 16-18), they’re doing a three-night music event; the $20 cover will be donated directly to victims and families of the fire in Wappingers.
80s and 90s Hudson Valley kids remember HoeBowl Family Recreation Centers, a local chain of bowling alleys that included locations in Hyde Park, Poughkeepsie, Wappingers, Walden, Kingston and Catskill. In 2016, a hospitality and entertainment company called Diamond Hospitality Group spent about $6 million to extensively renovate the Poughkeepsie and Wappingers Falls locations and added them to their chain of upscale Spins Bowl locations. In addition to shiny, high-tech bowling lanes and decor, they have a really nice arcade.
A New Paltz take-out taco staple since 2003, Mexicali Blue opened a second location on Route 9 as a full-service restaurant location in 2012 with an ethos of “fresh fast food.” We unfortunately didn’t get to eat here on our visit, but we know from New Paltz that their margs and burritos have STRENGTH. And Anthony Bourdain said in 2012 they have “good stuff.”
11. Mesier Park
Back in 1741, a couple of millers bought 750 acres of land in Wappingers Falls and built a small stone frame house. Later, they added a mill, and one of them was killed by lightning and was possibly the first man to be buried behind what is now the Zion Episcopal Church.
In 1776, a man named Peter Mesier bought the land from the surviving miller, and opened a small store on the property. His prices were way too high, and it made a bunch of people mad so they broke into the store, and for three days, according to the Wappingers Historical Society, “the intruders beat Mesier and his wife and servants, destroyed his property and raided his cellar.”
In 1891, a descendent of Mesier sold part of the property to Wappingers Falls for $2500, and fast-forwarding to 1996, the property became recognized as a Historic Place. Guided tours of the house are available on the second Sunday of every month from 1 to 4 p.m.
12. Alto Music
Another example of a local Hudson Valley chain, Alto Music has grown from one store in Rockland County to four locations that employ upwards of 90 people, as chronicled in this excellent American Express blog post. Just don’t drop that $2,000 vintage Fender Jazzmaster while you’re taking a selfie; they have a strict you break it, you buy it policy.
13. Saigon Pho
This is the ultimate hidden gem in Wappingers Falls. Tucked into a strip mall, Sai Gon Pho has built up an unphogettable reputation with lovers of Vietnamese food. Come for the bun dac biet and bun bo hue, and stay for the pho puns. Here are some of our favorites:
NOODS over doods???
You dim sum, you lose sum
I'm not here pho a long time, I'm here pho a good time
Honorable Mention: Eddie the Lilac Lion
We also looked up what the most-liked photos were in Wappingers Falls; one of them was from an account called Eddie the Lilac Lion, who is a "deaf toothless earless cross-eyed half-blind senior lilac Siamese" kitty from Beacon. In November of last year, his account posted a post-op photo of him from Full Circle Veterinary Hospital in Wappingers Falls after he had surgery to officially become a member of the #earlesscatsclub. We wanted to give an Internet boop to Eddie, and we're glad to hear that he's fully recovered and still bringing joy to his 50,000 fans.