JWR Wandering Jews

Jewish World Review Mach 6, 2003 / 2 Adar II, 5763

CATSKILLS DIARIST



The Twilight of Kutsher's


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | MONTICELLO, N.Y. (UPI) It's lunchtime at Kutsher's, and I'm puzzling over the menu. Should I have the Chilled Gefilte Fish Platter, the Hungarian Veal Paprikash with Spatzle, the Crispy Potato Pancakes with Apple Sauce, or the Chopped Vegetarian Liver Platter with Crackers?

More important, what's Spatzle?

Yes, it's kosher. Can you tell? I've come to Kutsher's, last of the old-style Jewish resorts in the Catskills, to see what it's like BEFORE the slot machines show up. By this time next year the place could be unrecognizable, because Park Place Entertainment (the Caesars Palace chain) and the St. Regis Mohawks have entered into an agreement to build a brand spanking new casino in the resort that currently passes out daily schedules that offer such attractions as "Justine's Make Over Face Lift Show, with Door Prizes!," "The Best of Line & Folk Dancing with Jack Landman," "Ping Pong Exhibition and Tournament with Krazy Tyrone," and -- actually, they DO have gambling -- "Big Bucks Bingo with Tom Barry Win!! Win!! Win!!"

Kutsher's is not just a Catskills resort. For several generations of New Yorkers, it's THE old-style Catskills resort, made famous to the rest of the world by the movie "Dirty Dancing." To give you some idea, I saw two Borscht Belt comics in the showroom on successive nights -- Lee Allen and Mickey Marvin -- and their acts were not only similar, but they both told the exact same joke.

For the record, the joke was:

"My wife wants to lose weight so she took up horseback riding. The horse lost 30 pounds." Feel free to use it, it's apparently in the public domain.

Of course, the showroom still has headliners on Saturday nights, but a Kutsher's headliner is not exactly a Vegas headliner. I saw a wonderful show by Ben Vereen, whose voice is still flawless, but most weekends you'll get the B list: Tony Danza, Freddie Roman (king of the Catskills comics), John Davidson, Jimmy J.J. Walker, Donna McKechnie, and Dudu Fisher.

I'm not sure who Dudu Fisher is, but I couldn't resist the name.

If you've never been to Kutsher's before, you're likely to feel that you've crashed a family reunion. Most of the guests have not only been here before, they seem to have been LIVING here for the past 50 years. Children have the run of the property, going wherever they'd like, as though the resort itself is babysitter enough. Extremely large families reserve enormous tables in the dining room where veteran waiters in crisp white jackets know how to get the food out FAST and keep it coming. The Kutsher's shops run to knick-knacks for grandma and evening attire fashioned from Lainie Kazan hand-me-downs.

The day's activities feature pursuits like rowing on "Lake Kutsher" (an oversized pond), skiing and sledding on "Kutsher Mountain," miniature golf, horseshoe pitching, bocce, shuffleboard, swimming (well, splashing and lounging), golf, tennis, ice skating, and, my favorite pursuit, eating East European pastries in the Flying Saucer Coffee Shop (so-called because it resembles the domicile of "The Jetsons"). I was warned to stay away from the bridge tournament, because the Kieselsteins, Irene and Manny, always win.

This fall night, you can either head for the Party Master Top 40 disco (think Prom Night on Long Island), hang out in the lounge where bands like Speedy Garfin & the Garfin Gathering play, catch the late-night Slichos service in the Kutsher's synagogue, or arrive early at the showroom (curtain is not until 10) for ballroom dancing with the Bruce Ahrens Orchestra or jazz by the Peter Quinn Trio ("Featuring Larry Strickler").

They also have a lot of celebrity speakers in the afternoon that run toward the New York-centric: Andrea Peyser, columnist for the New York Post, and New York Supreme Court Justice Joseph Mazur showed up during my visit. For those who favor shopping, there are complimentary shuttle bus rides to the local Wal-Mart.

The rooms in the two hotel towers are roomy but nothing special, but it's not the kind of place where you stay in the room anyway. Even if you're not up for snowmobiling, or "Still Life Art Class with Joe Hing Lowe," or "Low Impact Fun Aerobics with Larry," or the "How to Keep Your Financial House in Order" seminar, the thing to do is to trundle down to the bar or the lobby, plop yourself onto one of the worn couches, and say, "So, was the food any good today?"

You'll still be talking an hour later, especially if you ordered the Cold Beet Borscht with Boiled Potato. I highly recommend it, but I'm not so sure it will be there much longer. Casinos are many things, but they're neither charming nor homespun.

  —   Joe Bob Briggs

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