- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005

MONTICELLO, N.Y. — Through the doors of the Stardust Nightclub at Kutsher’s Country Club, 2,000 people in tuxedos and sequined gowns watched dancers mambo across the bright stage. Champagne, laughter and loud applause lasted until 2 a.m.

That was 50 years ago. These days in the same room at Kutsher’s on a Friday night, a local comedian cracks jokes in front of 100 people wearing shorts and T-shirts.

Big-name athletes such as Joe DiMaggio and Wilt Chamberlain — a former Kutsher’s bellhop — once trained at Kutsher’s Sports Academy during the off-season. Today, the academy offers sports camps for children.

Entertainers such as Liza Minnelli and Tony Bennett, who once appeared at Kutsher’s, have given way to such acts as Gavin DeGraw, a mellow singer-songwriter scheduled to perform this summer.

Kutsher’s is the last of the big, old-style Jewish resorts in the so-called Borscht Belt of the Catskill Mountains, a legacy of a time not so long ago when vacations here were a way of life for many middle-class Jewish families from New York City and its suburbs.

“Back then, we didn’t go to Europe. We went to the Catskills,” says Judy Vitelli, a guest who started coming to Kutsher’s as a teenager from New York City and later worked at the resort.

Kutsher’s, founded in 1907, is changing, though, and not just because of evolving tastes and new generations.

Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment has an exclusive option to buy the resort and, with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, create a casino half a mile away from the hotel on the grounds of the sports academy. The proposed Mohawk Mountain casino is “at the tail end of the approval process” before the U.S. Department of the Interior, according to tribal spokesman Chief James W. Ransom.

A local opposition group, Casino-Free Sullivan County, is still holding out hope that the project will fall through.

Mark Kutsher, one of four family owners of the hotel, says that regardless of what happens with the casino proposal, he wants the resort to remain open. “We’re not going anywhere,” he says. “Even if the option gets exercised, it will take years to build the casino out. Kutsher’s will continue as a free-standing resort.”

Mr. Kutsher says bookings have remained about the same during the past few years.

Though the hotel offers programs for families with young children and teenagers, many of those who come here are older, with fond memories of yesteryear.

“It was like Hollywood for us,” says Frankie Lobritto, a 40-year host of the nightclub. “It was something that future generations may never be able to experience or understand.”

In its heyday, Kutsher’s attracted such entertainers as Mel Brooks, Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, Jackie Mason, Joan Rivers and Billy Crystal.

For the past decade, the Catskills Institute, an organization devoted to the history of the Catskills area and its relationship to American Jewish life, has held an annual conference at Kutsher’s. This year’s conference is scheduled for Aug. 26 through 28.

The resort also inspired the 1987 movie “Dirty Dancing,” about a teenager who falls in love with a dance teacher while on vacation with her family in the 1960s.

Food has been one of the resort’s biggest attractions. Room rates include three meals — some call them banquets — a day, and the extensive kosher menu ranges from roast prime rib to traditional Jewish dishes such as cheese blintzes, gefilte fish and kasha varnishkes (buckwheat groats and bow-tie noodles).

Stan Schauer, a former director of activities, says a comedian once cracked that when “they asked him what room he wanted, he would say, ‘Give me a dining room — I’ll sleep under the tables.’” Mr. Schauer has been a Kutsher’s staffer for more than 45 years.

Between meals, a pink sheet of activities keeps guests busy from 7 a.m. until midnight. Krazy Tyrone plays harmonica through his nose and runs everything from pingpong to the game he spells as “Simon Sez.”

“I still offer $1,000 to anybody who can last one minute in Simon Sez with me,” says Krazy Tyrone, who has run these activities for 18 years. “I’m yet to have a winner.”

The hotel also offers folk dancing, shuffleboard, swimming, golfing on an 18-hole course and other athletic activities. Bingo is still a favorite; it’s offered at 11 a.m. daily, but the regulars usually start saving seats an hour earlier, Mr. Schauer says.

Plans for the casino and the changes that may come with it leave some Kutsher’s fans longing for the good old days.

“It was so beautiful, and we will never, ever have it again, and we will never, ever see it again,” Mr. Schauer says. “It was a way of life for all of us.”

Adds Krazy Tyrone: “There will be no more dirty dancing.” Then he offhandedly begins to sing the song from the movie.

Now I’ve had the time of my life

No I never felt like this before

Yes I swear it’s the truth

And I owe it all to you

• • •

Kutsher’s Country Club is in Monticello, N.Y., about 100 miles north of New York City; visit www.kutshers.com or call 800/431-1273. Per-person rates include three meals a day and range from $98 to $133 during the week and $120 to $168 on weekends; children under 10, $44 during the week and $51 on weekends; children 10 to 16, $61 during the week and $71 on weekends.

For information on the Catskills Institute’s annual conference on the history of the Catskills and American Jewish life, visit www.brown.edu/Research/Catskills_Institute.


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