Making room for this inn

Opening at the beginning of the lockdown, The Abbey Inn & Spa in Peekskill has made lemonade out of lemons.

The Abbey Inn & Spa in Peekskill opened March 18 and, well, you know what happened then.

The grand opening of the hotel was eclipsed as its spa and Apropos restaurant were forced to shut down. (They’re now operating at reduced capacity.) Because the hotel was deemed by New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo to be an essential service, it remained open with meals delivered to guests via room service.

“It was very quiet,” says Abbey general manager Gilbert Baeriswil. “We were fortunate to have the commitment to stay open.”

Since then, however, things have picked up, with guests from New York City and other neighboring locales booking stays to savor executive chef John Paidas’ farm-to-table, Mediterranean-style offerings. “We try to buy local as much as we can,” Baeriswil says. Others are drawn to the hotel’s spa, with its four treatment rooms, including one for couple’s massage, fitness center, relaxation room and his and her saunas. (CDC guidelines for masks, social distancing and rigorous hygiene are strictly observed, with guests having their temperatures checked when they arrive and before they dine in the restaurant. Employees, too, have their temperatures checked daily.)

The result, Baeriswil says, is that all 42 rooms and suites — including 17 with Hudson River views — have sold out at least a dozen times.

Adapting to change comes natural to The Abbey. Indeed, as the name implies, it once had a higher calling. Nestled on more than 65 acres in Peekskill’s historic Fort Hill section — the city was the site of a Revolutionary War battle — The Abbey complex was begun in 1876 and expanded through 1963 as the home of the Episcopal Sisters of St. Mary, the oldest extant religious community in the United States. In 2003, the sisters moved to Greenwich, a town in Washington County, New York, selling the property to Ginsburg Development Corp. in Valhalla. For more than a decade the abbey sat empty, as the Great Recession clipped the wings of real estate developers.

In 2017, however, its transformation began in earnest with Ginsburg architects and designers preserving much of the stone and brick exterior, Baeriswil says, while reimagining the interior in a modern fashion with warm earth tones. But even there, visitors will observe the religious grace notes. In the 742-square-foot Cornerstone Room, suited to intimate gatherings of 30 to 64, historic, hand-painted ecclesiastical wall coverings and stained-glass windows serve as a backdrop, while the 2,183-square-foot Highlands Ballroom, site of the nuns’ former chapel with its vaulted ceiling and Romanesque altar, provides a dramatic setting for the larger gatherings (60 to 120 people) that will eventually be returning. Another reminder of the inn’s past — a 1,000-pound bell  manufactured by the Meneely Bell Co. of West Troy, New York, which was installed in the belfry in 1902 — is still in place today.

Overseeing it all is a man whose name will be familiar to those readers who have been with this incarnation of WAG since its inception with the February 2011 “Royal Treatment” issue. Back then Baeriswil was the general manager of the Castle Hotel & Spa in Tarrytown, a post he held from 2003 to 2015. After that he was at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, owned by the Von Trapp Family of “The Sound of Music” fame. It was while managing a private golf club that Baeriswil got a call from The Abbey in February 2019. A month later, he was on the scene there and a year after that ready for its debut when life decided otherwise.

“You have to deal with it,” he says. “Make the best out of the hand you’re dealt and run with it.”

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