hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires




Flavored by a colorful past

Lodge’s owner works to keep ambience of ‘70s folk music hangout



Contributing writer

When Daniel Osman bought The Dream Away Lodge in 1997, he became the caretaker of a special corner of Berkshire County lore.

The Dream Away is a 110-seat restaurant, lounge and music venue that has been operating since the early 1940s in an old farmhouse on a 47-acre property in the wooded hills of Becket. That thumbnail description, however, doesn’t do justice to the lodge’s colorful history or to its lively role in the contemporary life of the Berkshires. 

Although it’s rather off the beaten path, the Dream Away has long attracted an eclectic mix of local people, artists, performers and free spirits. Upscale second-home owners and tourists rub elbows with local people of more modest means.

The Dream Away is at once eccentric and homey. It has the flavor of the Berkshires’ unusual mixture of workaday small-town life, creative vitality and imported urban culture, and it is especially reminiscent of the region’s character in the years before gentrification took hold. In that sense, it still has the freewheeling spirit of other Berkshires establishments from ’60s and ‘70s like the Music Inn, the Square Rigger and Mundy’s.

The interior is filled with random knickknacks, photos, artwork and furnishings from different eras. A nude 1950s calendar photo of Marilyn Monroe and a True Temper Tools clock hang above the bar, the front of which is covered by multi-colored lit cubes from the ‘50s. A tiny space known as the Loo Gallery, in a unisex bathroom, displays exhibits of small works by featured contemporary artists.

A music room with a working fireplace looks more like a well-worn den than a performance space. The live music that is regularly scheduled there often has the feel of a community gathering rather than a formal concert.

Outside, a terraced slope overlooking a pond includes stone seating areas and a fire pit. In the evening, small colored dots that Osman refers to as “fairy lights” emerge and float over the scene. The largely wooded property also includes such features as a wildflower meditation labyrinth and a glade known as the Wedding Rock.

The Dream Away’s earliest history is somewhat murky. In the 1920s and ‘30s, it was a hunting lodge and a roadhouse. According to popular rumor, repeated on its current Web site, it also served as a speakeasy and a brothel in those early years.

Its more familiar identity as a restaurant was established in the 1940s, when it was acquired by the late Maria Frasca, better known as Mama. Frasca was a garrulous Italian immigrant who loved entertaining, singing and dispensing homespun philosophy. She and her three musical daughters, Theresa, Leonora and Regina, presided over the Dream Away for many decades.

The lodge became a popular spot for dancers from nearby Jacob’s Pillow and others in the Berkshire creative community, as well as for visiting celebrities, such as Liberace and Milton Berle, and the usual mix of tourists and local people.

“It was known for being exotic and permissive, and a cool outlying place for the arts gang to hang out,” Osman said.

In the 1960s and early ‘70s, it was a focus of the hippie and folk music scene of the time. In 1975, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and other members of the Rolling Thunder Revue spent a famous day at the Dream Away, which was captured in a film of the tour, “Renaldo and Clara.”

Customer becomes owner

Osman is a native of Los Angeles who moved to the East Coast to pursue a career as an actor and theater professional. He came to the Berkshires in the late 1970s to work with theaters here, including Shakespeare & Company, Mixed Company and the Berkshire Public Theater.

“I started coming to the Dream Away as a customer, and I was always a big fan of it,” he recalled. “It had passed its prime by then, but it was still a fascinating place.”

Osman’s relationship with the Dream Away changed in the 1990s, when he saw in the newspaper that the property had been put up for sale. At the time, Osman was living in New York City and was at a transition point in his own life.

“I was finished with my theater career, and I didn't know what I was going to do next,” he recalled. “The Dream Away had stayed on my mind, and the thought of buying it was appealing, but at first it didn’t seem realistic.”

He later changed his mind, however, and arranged the financing to buy the lodge and its accompanying 47 acres from Theresa (Tessie) Frasca.

 “I came up an idea of what I wanted to do with the Dream Away,” Osman said. “Then I met with Tessie and described my dream to her. After being convinced that I wasn’t just some yuppie looking to develop the property, she supported my ideas, and I was able to buy it at a very affordable price.”

Osman said his plan was to revitalize the Dream Away, which had fallen into disrepair, and eventually expand it by adding lodging and a retreat center. He also made it a point to preserve the Frascas’ legacy and the ambience they had created at the Dream Away.

“After the sale, I went through everything in the place with Tessie, to get her approval of what to keep and what to get rid of,” he recalled.

Since then, he has undertaken extensive renovations of the lodge’s structural and mechanical systems as well as the landscaping, and he has added his own personal touches and new features.

“I’ve done a lot of work on it, but it’s mostly the kind of improvements you don’t notice,” Osman said. “I love it when people say that the lodge hasn’t changed a bit.”

Looking ahead

His first decade of running the Dream Away was at times a very difficult challenge, Osman recalled. Eventually he was able to put the business on a sound footing, however.

Osman said the restaurant has experienced significant growth in the last five years. It also has recently garnered national media attention, including features in Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine and in The Huffington Post.

The menu, overseen by chef Amy Loveless, reflects the lodge’s eclectic nature, with a mix of traditional comfort food and more exotic and international flavors – and an emphasis on local ingredients. Entrees range from $8 for macaroni and cheese to $30.

Osman said his next goal for the Dream Away is the retreat center he envisioned when he first bought the property.

“I had always thought of this as an ideal place for an artists’ retreat, where people can get away or hold workshops and other creative events,” he explained. “My original idea was for the restaurant to be the economic engine to support that. The business has been doing very well, so now I want to take the next step. I have the plans drawn up, and I’m ready to move forward with it once I am able to finance it.”

His specific plan is to convert an existing building into about eight double-occupancy rooms and to provide spaces for workshops and other activities. He also wants to further upgrade the rest of the property, with features like new trails through the woods.

In the meantime, Osman continues his role as host, entrepreneur, designer and overseer of the legacy of the Dream Away.

“Although I left the theater, I realized that there are similarities with what I am doing now,” he said. “In some ways, this is what I call ‘reality dinner theater,’ where people can come for a meal, enjoy the surroundings and be entertained by the activities going on here. There's something about this place that has always invited playfulness, and people seem to enjoy coming to participate in that or just observe it.”

The Dream Away Lodge is open evenings for most of the year, although it closes from New Year’s Day through Valentine's Day and then operates on a somewhat reduced schedule until May. For more information, visit the Web site www.thedreamawaylodge.com or call (413) 623-8725.




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