Nestled deep among the fawning pines, covered bridges, and cozy villages of central Vermont sits Bentley’s Restaurant, an eclectic restaurant that for more than 35 years has been gaining a name for itself as one of the great undiscovered gems of the American dining scene.

“A lot of people come in,” says David Creech, who founded Bentley’s along with business partner Bill Deckelbaum in the 1970s. “Travelers from Europe even visit.”

With simple, yet elegant, country fare such as steak tenderized with Jack Daniel’s whiskey ($24.95) and Atlantic salmon coated in a plum ginger glaze and served with wild rice and fresh vegetables ($18.95), Bentley’s food is a culinary experience that visitors may have a hard time forgetting.

Yet it’s Bentley’s unique décor and radiating romantic atmosphere seemingly straight out of A Christmas Story that often has patrons coming back again and again.

Every winter, over 1000 Christmas ornaments are hung from the ceiling, an artistic touch that wows diners and makes Bentley’s feel like a fairytale winter wonderland sprung to life. Undoubtedly, if music videos existed when Irving Berlin first recorded “White Christmas” in 1942, Bentley’s would be featured prominently.

Red, green, gold, blue, large, small, round, pointy – one can find every conceivable color, shape, or size of ornaments throughout the well-lit dining area. Yet despite their ostentatious appearance, their beginnings are decidedly humble.

“We had a manager 11 years ago who asked if he could hang them up,” explains Creech. “We said ‘sure,’ and it turned out to be a really big hit. We’ve been doing it ever since.”

The decorations certainly have made a lasting impression on many visitors, some of whom travel from around the world just to see them.

“For me, good food at a restaurant is important,” says Thomas Piloy, who has visited Bentley’s from Quebec City, Quebec. “But the decorations were amazing. I’ve never seen so many Christmas decorations except on the giant tree [at Rockefeller Center] in New York.”

Though the number of ornaments hung has remained consistent throughout the years, word has spread far and wide of their mesmerizing effect. The restaurant has recently earned praise from such magazines as Country Living and Cosmopolitan (which ranked it as one of the 25 “little-known hot spots” in the U.S.), and business has steadily increased. Other publications, such as Gourmet and The New York Post have also lauded the restaurant, with The Weekend Telegraph (U.K.) going so far as to say, “It is worth stopping in sleepy Woodstock just to have lunch at Bentleys in the centre of town. The food is wonderful, and surprisingly inexpensive.”

Other visitors have similar sentiments.

“It’s incredible what they do,” said Patricia Day of Keene, N.H. “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. My husband and I keep coming back year after year.”

According to Creech, the holiday season is the absolute busiest time of the year for Bentley’s, with the restaurant’s famed New Year’s Eve party booked months in advance.

“We get a lot of people this time of year,” says Creech. “Christmas Eve, weekends, they’re all pretty busy.”

Though many out-of-state (and international) visitors have never heard of the tiny village of Woodstock, Vt. (Pop. 977, located in the center of the town of the same name), the reputation of Bentley’s can sometimes be enough to prompt a palatable pilgrimage.

“I had only been to the States once before, and I heard [Bentley’s] had good food,” said Michel Albee, of Sherbrooke, Quebec. “My girlfriend and I went there, and the food was excellent. The staff was friendly and made good conversation. It was a great start to our tour of the U.S.”

Jeanette Hill of Burlington, Vt. agrees with Albee. “The atmosphere is really unique. The Christmas decorations are one-of-a-kind.”

And Bentley’s isn’t just about good food and beautiful scenery – it’s historic too.

The history of Bentley’s goes back to 1765, when Timothy Knox built a small cabin in an area that would later become Woodstock.  Fast-forward 209 years to 1974, and Creech and Deckelbaum opened the Mountain Trading Company. They started out selling plants, pottery, crafts, and anything they could “trade.” During that time Bill, an ice cream devotee, discovered a tasty new product called “Haagen-Dazs” and – believing he’d found “something Woodstock could not do without” – began importing the stuff from New York in the back of his station wagon. In the meantime, many of Creech and Deckelbaum’s customers wanted to know where there was a good place to eat nearby. To fill that void, Bentley’s was born in 1976.

Though it’s a bit of a drive for many, a meal at Bentley’s is well worth the trip.

“Stop on by,” Creech advises. “We’re always friendly and ready to welcome people in.”

But visitors wishing to see the famous Christmas ornaments should hurry: according to Creech, they’ll be taken down some time after New Year’s.

For more information on Bentley’s restaurant visit

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