OUR MISSION - WE'RE PUBLISHED! Wednesday, June 26th, 2013 marked the Premier of our new book, Happy Hour in the High Peaks: An Adirondack Bar Guide. The hardcover, 160 page book can be found at bars and bookstores throughout the Adirondack Park or order online at www.happyhourinthehighpeaks.com. You'll find a list of our book signings on the Events page and where to buy the book on our Retailers page. The book contains reviews of 46 of our favorite bars in the Adirondack Park, and 46 drink recipes with an Adirondack twist. As a companion to the book, we have also published a 46er Passport so that you can follow the Happy Hour Trail to become a Happy Hour 46er and make new friends along the way. Summit Tour t-shirts will be for sale at our book signings or available online. Whether you are a native, resident, or visitor, you'll find 46 more reasons to visit the ADIRONDACK PARK!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Old Dock House, Essex

Inspiration for this review called for Jimmy Buffett and a bold Hawaiian shirt. Unseasonably hot pre-summer 90-degree temperatures set the tone for the outdoor bar at the Old Dock House Restaurant and Marina in Essex. As we picked our way along the walkway from the parking lot, the sight of a small boat, built into the structure, had us humming the theme from Gilligan’s Island as we approached the cheerful barn red building.
The main bar area, housed in an add-on shed, is so enclosed it was hard to tell we were outside, but for the light breeze that traveled through. The explosion of nautical themed debris strewn throughout the barroom invoked a Florida Keys flashback for Kim, who opted for a Shock Top from the list of nine draft beers. Though she started with the standby vodka and grapefruit, the atmosphere provided Pam with a craving for rum or coconut or anything tropical. Satellite radio pushed her over the edge with the song, Escape (the Pina Colada song).
This is another we will have to categorize as one of our museum finds. The d├ęcor appears to be a salvage operation in progress; odd posts and lintels serve aesthetic, if not structural, purpose. Randomly scattered fishing buoys and markers bob from walls and ceiling in a conglomeration of color. Moored on shelves, model sailing vessels pick up breezes in their sails, using their most effective lines. White enameled fluted barn lights dangle over the bar of distressed hardwood, seemingly recovered from a bowling alley on a sunken ship. Another side bar of the same construction runs the entire length of the room and could easily seat 20, with an unhindered view through wide screened openings. An abandoned bird's nest is inconspicuously tucked in the safety of the eaves, while nearby, a red rooster observes quietly; too lazy to crow for day.
We took our time drinking in the surroundings (and drinking in the surroundings) while the bartender, Debbie, told us more about the Old Dock. Originally built as a wharf in 1810 for Lake Champlain boat traffic delivering goods from Albany and New York City, the Old Dock House served as a tea room in the 1930’s. The restaurant has been in business for 30 years, run by Black Bart Bailey from the 1960s to 1984. It was restored in the mid 1980s by Joanne and Jack Halpin, who added the boat slips. It's still owned by Jack Halpin, but has been operated by Steve McKenna for the last five years. The bar, restaurant and marina are open from May through October, seven days a week, serving lunch at 11:30 a.m. and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. The bar remains open until midnight. Happy Hour is daily, from 4 to 6 p.m., with draft beer and mixed drink specials. The bartenders seemed willing and able to mix up just about any drink you might not even know you want.
Three dining areas accommodate 150 to 175 people outside and another 85 inside. The exterior bar can handle another 50 patrons.  This prompted us to inquire about parking, given the small parking area we had utilized. Landlubbers we be, we overlooked the surrounding dock space, readily able to hold 30 boats and potentially more. Additional car parking can be found across the street from the Old Dock House in a public lot or on the nearby streets.
Each dining area is unique in form, seating, and table design. The open and spacious interior dining room with soaring beam ceiling contains the other half of the exterior bar, with stool seating for eight. Large top-hinged awning windows gaped wide on this day as the lake breeze passed lazily through, affording a view of the ferry landing. Panoramas of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack and Green Mountains are visible through a wall of glass doors, or on the wraparound patio. In a profusion of red, tables of an assortment of materials - wrought iron mesh, one of granite, and some of wood - are scattered inside and out, with chairs of wood, plastic, and more wrought iron. Large canopies cover many of the tables. Between patio and bar, under the shade of maples and away from the sun’s burning gaze, several booths afford seating for 10, with benches at least eight feet in length.

A bar shift change put Debbie on our side of the bar for a quick drink. She introduced us to her replacement, Jack, and then off she sped across the lake on her jet ski, leaving us longing to commute that way. Pam and Jack got right to work on a suitable beverage.  After establishing inventory availability, Pam chose a blend of mango vodka, coconut rum and a generous splash of pineapple juice, topped off with club soda. The drink we dubbed the Essex Escape - refreshing and fruity but not too sweet - and easily mispronounced the Essex Excape.

Accommodations can be found close by, either at the Essex Inn or Cabins by the Lake.  WiFi is available and phone service abounds. Don’t forget to check in on Facebook when you visit, or “like” the Old Dock on its Facebook page.

Located right next to the Charlotte-Essex Ferry landing, the Old Dock House is a perfect escape, whether arriving by car, boat or ferry. If for no other reason, go for the view. The season is short, however. By November, the Old Dock is probably hanging in the Caribbean, relaxing and rejuvenating.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Stone Manor Restaurant at the Blue Water Manor, Bolton

If it weren’t actually life-sized, you would think you were approaching one of Charlie Wood’s fairytale buildings at Storytown. The Stone Manor Restaurant at the Blue Water Manor on Lakeshore Drive in Bolton is one of those “must see” taverns in the Adirondacks. Like a fairytale castle of Arthurian legend, the stone structure appears much older than it really is. As you make your way to the tavern and restaurant on Lake George, you’ll find yourself surrounded by cabins for rent and a variety of low-hanging trees that obscure and enhance the view of the building. The slate roof is visible here and there among the trees, but you can’t miss the medieval, arched doorway that lies at the end of the tree-strewn path.

In a Cinderella manner, the hostess awaits your entrance; though, unlike Storytown dwellings, you won’t have to duck your head as you enter. To the left, a massive fireplace occupies an entire wall, large enough to accommodate musicians who often take advantage of the acoustics within. Directly in front, a welcoming pine slab bar nearly spans the length of the room, with windows overlooking the deck, Lake George’s Basin Bay, and the mountains beyond. Originally built in 1923 from locally quarried stone, very little has changed in this reproduction medieval castle hall. The masonry is rustic and solid. Monoliths of granite protrude at irregular intervals. Slate floors lead through stone archways  which frame sturdy oak hobbit doors, rounded on top. A miniature suit of armor stands guard on a portico overhead; flags of conquered lands float from the two-story high cathedral ceiling.

Owned and operated by Dan and Vallen Nichols for the past 11 years, the resort prides itself on providing fun for the whole family. Restaurant expansion includes the outer deck, a lower deck and an interior room off the deck.  An old piano beckons on one level, a transition between the kitchen, the tavern, and the deck.  With food prices ranging from $10 to $30, there appeared to be something for everyone on the menu, including daily seafood specials to tempt most customers. The bar is naturally cool and comfortable, with seating for at least a dozen, and tables in the immediate vicinity.

Blue Water Manor is open mid-May through Columbus Day, easing into the season by being open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday until late June, when they expand to seven days a week. Cabin rentals are available throughout the season. Musical entertainment is featured on Friday and Saturday night in the pre-season, with Caribbean Night on Monday and Campfire Night on Wednesday throughout the summer.

Though offering no formal Happy Hour, the Stone Manor Restaurant lists plenty of coffee based drinks and a minimum of ten festive, summery drink specialties. Five draft beers and more than 30 bottled beers are available. Drink prices were moderately low for beer; higher than average for cocktails. The bartender, Liz, recently returned to work at the Stone Manor after several years away. She was hesitant to divulge misinformation in case things had changed and, instead, introduced us to Tim, a regular and local resident whose knowledge of Blue Water Manor Liz obviously held in high esteem. Tim provided us with a tale of ghostly experiences surrounding a scandalous affair, a brief history of the lodge, and some other taverns long since forgotten.

With several seating options, great views inside and out, an extensive dining menu, and a well-staffed restaurant and bar, this is one place not to be missed. Their season is brief, but, like a childhood visit to Storytown, you’ll always remember your first visit to the Blue Water Manor’s Stone Manor Restaurant.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

What Makes a Good Bar Attender

As follow-up to our popular March blog, What Makes a Good Bartender, it's time to give the customer some helpful tips on making friends in an Adirondack tavern. With 84 bars under our belts in the past year-and-a-half, we think we've learned a few things. And we're two venerable ladies that don't look like we belong anywhere! Yet we almost always manage to fit in. While most Adirondackers are not, by nature, predatory, they have been known to be territorial. Following some simple rules should help in acculturation.

RULE NUMBER 1. Don't be an a$$#@*! It will only raise hackles. (Note that rule number one applies to both a good bartender and a good bar attender.)

2. Be observant. Remember, you are an invasive species. When encroaching on an unfamiliar habitat, be considerate of the dominant life forms and prevailing climate.  From biker bar to bistro, behavior will vary. The old adage “When in Rome…” applies here.

3. Smile (not to be confused with baring your teeth) and make eye contact with the bartender (usually the alpha) as quickly as possible. It's her job to be nice to you, so take advantage of that. Keep in mind, however, the bartender can quickly turn on you (see rule #1). Acceptance by indigenous residents is an important aspect of socialization among the multifarious visitor. Once you have the approval and trust of the bartender, as demonstrated to patrons through body language or otherwise, you'll be a member of the pack in no time!

4. Not sure what you want to drink? Look for signs or a beverage menu listing drink specials, or ask your server for suggestions if he isn’t too busy. If you need a few minutes, don't be afraid to tell the bartender, but do let him go while you decide. If it's obviously a beer joint, don't order a foofoo drink like a frozen daiquiri or a pina colada. You'll just irritate the bartender and you won't be happy with his rendition of the drink. If you're not a beer drinker, keep your mixed drink to a few simple ingredients.

5. If you've just walked into a tavern and really just want to turn and run, DON'T! They can smell fear. Just smile, confidently approach the bar, and order the strongest drink you can handle. It might turn out to be the best time you've had in the Adirondacks!

6. Make small talk with the nearest patron. Remember, they're just as afraid of you. If you're new in town, ask about a local landmark. Then LISTEN to the response. If you're not interested in the topic, don't ask in the first place. At all times, avoid controversial topics. At all costs, avoid religion, politics and even sports. If staff or patrons bring it up, smile and nod agreeably, then change the subject. Your two safest conversations are the weather and Happy Hour in the High Peaks’s review of their tavern. The latter is likely to warrant a more interesting and lively conversation!

7. Keep your small talk to a minimum. People love to talk about themselves. Let them. Don't monopolize, don't interrupt, and remember to listen. Again, when in doubt, see rule #1.

8. Be a good tipper. Leave your money on the bar, indicating to the server that all of this could be hers, if treated properly.

9. Don't talk on your cell phone. It's a clear indication that the people around you aren't important enough for your attention. If you must make or receive a call, take it outside. Once outside, give the smokers some distance. That is their sanctuary, so don't make them uncomfortable too. It is, however, perfectly acceptable to use your smart phone to look up Happy Hour in the High Peaks drink recipes and reviews. See rule #3 about the drinks and #5 for conversation topics.

10. Don't stay too long. The bartender and patrons have been waiting for a new topic of discussion and you will most likely be it. They can't talk about you until you leave, so get going! Furthermore, the longer you stay, the more likely you are to break rule #1!

Whether you’re alone or in a pack, discovering a new pub doesn’t need to be a stressful experience. You can hunker down in low conversation stealing furtive glances, earning mistrust and suspicion, or you can use your social skills to meet new people and learn about them. The most important fact we have discovered in all our wanderings is that you get out of a place what you put into it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Lake House Grille, Wells

First impression: whimsy with a side of humor. We noticed first the patio in front of the Lake House Grille in Wells. Partitioned from the sidewalk by a fence of varying height - lower in front to allow observation of passing cars and pedestrians; higher on the driveway side, the taller fence has windows built in. Might sound odd, but it's actually very quaint; sheltering but not isolating. Within the enclosure, three metal tables with umbrellas to protect from fickle weather, and several Adirondack chairs (the only Adirondack style on the premises, with one other minute detail which we will get to later) for dining, relaxing or listening to the music from within. Signs in the entrance offer fair warning that the Lake House Grille accepts cash only, but that an ATM is on premises. Other posts advertise upcoming music events. 

Pam, her eyes darting nervously, sees no sign of liquor options behind the bar. The bartender, Mike (a.k.a. Guy Incognito), confirms our observation that beer and wine are the only choices, and that suits us both. It certainly relieves Pam of her chronic indecision. Kim, on the other hand, who is by now practically drooling over the beer menu, has to make up her mind.

The Lake House Grille’s wine list starts with the Black Box line of, you guessed it, boxed wines, dispensed through a wine cask mounted on the wall. Now wait. Before wrinkling your nose in snobbish distaste, and in its defense, Black Box wines have garnered gold medals in nationwide competitions and, since air can’t get in, it stays fresher longer. Pam found her Corbet Canyon White Zinfandel quite agreeable. Three California wines are listed at $17 to $20 for a full bottle, and six are available in half bottles for $12 to $16. Admittedly, our wine experience is low end, so you will have to peruse the list on the website and decide for yourself.

A hand printed chalkboard menu lists eight microbrews. This is where we find Kim wrestling with an agonizing decision. Currently on tap (it varies) are Ithaca Beer Company’s Apricot Wheat Ale and CascaZilla Red Ale, Lake Placid UBU, Long Trail IPA, Shipyard Export Ale, Leinenkugel Honey Weiss, Sam Adams Summer Ale, and Miller Lite. In this line of work (yeah, we laughed when we said it), prudence dictates keeping consumption to within the legal limit. Depending on how long we would stay, and the fact that it only comes in pints, Kim would have to keep it to one or two flavors. She chose the CascaZilla. Dark red with a mellow, fruity flavor, this hoppy ale was surprisingly tame in the bitterness department and is highly recommended. Unless you’d prefer the Miller Lite.

The bar, an island situated roughly in the center of the room, is surrounded by twelve Windsor stools painted violet blue. Hand thrown earthenware mugs dangle patiently over the bar, awaiting liberty at their mug club sponsors’ whims. Decidedly (and consciously) not rustic in theme, art, music posters and photographs lend a flavor of funkiness as an eclectic mix of music plays quietly in the background. Walls of a soft, rag-painted sand and ivory with arts and crafts style amber wall lanterns suggest a sense of subtle style. Barely visible, but noticeably out of place among them, hangs a tiny (six inches tiny) mounted deer head. In even more miniscule writing is inscribed: The Lake House not Adirondacky enough for you? Then here’s our Adirondack flair.

Humor is not wasted on us. A glance at the menu informs that separate checks are not provided, but a calculator will be. Further reading reveals the Punch You in the Rye burger, the Tree Hugger, and Holy Cow! Pizzas enlist the backup of musical guests. Starters, salads and sandwiches all promise a fresh and tasty deviation from the norm and are all priced between $5 and $15.

The Lake House Grille has recently added a new stage to better accommodate the lineup of talented musicians and free up space for the expected influx of music enthusiasts. From blues to southern rock, bluegrass to jazz, and back again, entertainment is featured every Saturday night at 8 p.m. and, in August, will expand to include Fridays. 

The Lake House Grille is open from Memorial Day through Columbus Day, Thursday through Saturday, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and on Sunday during holiday weekends. Don't miss the keg draining on the Sunday of Columbus Day weekend. Happy Hour is not observed but, for an annual fee, patrons will be admitted into the mug club which entitles them to more generous drink portions.

Owned for the past six years by Frank Mesiti, whose dad bought the building when it was a convenience store, the Lake House Grille has established itself as a notable restaurant and music venue. His taste for music and flair for food diverge from the typical offerings of the local bar scene. Frank has created a unique and simple, yet inspired, little niche in Wells. His personable, easy personality and his attention and interest in his business and customers have helped Frank to nurture an enthusiastic following and dedicated fans. He now has two more.

Hague Firehouse Restaurant

The staff outnumbered the patrons when we arrived at the Hague Firehouse between 4 and 5 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon. The two bartenders on hand seemed to be more than enough for two men on one side of the bar and two women on the other. We chose two seats in the middle of the horseshoe shaped bar. A couple took refuge in the shade of the deck, enjoying the soft murmur of the surrounding trees and the brook below. Waitresses gathered in a far corner, taking turns between preparation and conversation. A summery breeze gently wound its way through the open front door, flirted with patrons, and escaped out the back through the sliding glass door in the wall of windows leading to the deck.
The gunmetal grey cinder block exterior and barn red garage doors give the mistaken impression that the building has not undergone much change from its former life to its reincarnation. Admiring the firehouse-themed artwork and occasional model fire engine, we easily relaxed in the bright, airy, contemporary decor. The walls are assertively painted in rich, earthy red and yellow ochre tones, accented with whimsical metal sculptures. A long bench, upholstered in a bold peacock inspired design, provides seating at several tables along the corner of the dining area. Remnants of the Hague Firehouse’s former functionality remain. From steel beams in the high ceiling to the concrete floor painted a muted deep red, industrial accents complement the comfortable style. Fans turn softly overhead, discouraging the lingering of air. Steel pipe serves as footrest at the bar and safety on the deck. A variety of glasses, suspended by chains over the bar, wait as expectantly as the milling waitresses.
We ordered our beverages. Pam, rather uncharacteristically, had a drink in mind and quickly decided on a rum madras. Kim chose a Switchback from the handful of draft selections. Stella Artois, Long Trail, Guinness and Saranac Pale Ale can be enjoyed by the pint, or Newcastle, Sam Adams, Corona, Blue Moon, Lake Placid UBU and several others by the bottle. Wine and liquor options are modest but adequate.
Outdoor seating is available front and rear, where one can seek respite in the shade of an oversized striped awning in the quiet oasis on the rear deck, or choose to observe traffic and comings and goings on the patio in front. Wrought iron tables, a few with cheerful umbrellas, are set up on the front patio. Pam was making her exterior observations, watching four women make their way up the sidewalk from the town center a block away. They entered the Firehouse.  Moments later she watched as four more women approached from the same direction. She ducked inside to claim her seat and watch whatever was about to unfold.  Women, bedecked with amply filled wine glasses, conversed at the bar, as the others filed in from their walk. Men, with wives or sons or daughters, started to even the one-sided gender population. Some gathered at the bar while others took tables inside or on the deck. Within a very short time, the sparsely occupied bar became crowded and laughter, greetings and conversation filled the air. The waitresses were in full swing.
A conversation with the bartender, Molly, netted Pam a new drink at the mention of their most recent signature drink involving tequila and dubbed the French Gimlet. Made with tequila, St. Germain and fresh lime, it was a unique flavor combination, tart and salty.
The Hague Firehouse has been in business for six years and is owned by Molly's parents, Sheri DeLarm and Cris Ginn. A labor of love and learning, the family has cautiously progressed through the stages of new ownership to established business. The restaurant and bar are open seasonally, Thursday through Saturday in May and June, then daily during the summer. The restaurant is open from 4:30 to 10 p.m., though bar hours are often later, dictated by demand. The menu is fresh and creative, offering a variety of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and entrees, at what we would consider moderate prices.
Parking spaces at the Firehouse are limited to two handicapped and one not, but parking can be found a very short distance above and below the Hague Firehouse. A visit to the Hague Firehouse promises exciting beverage options, a generously filled wine glass, friendly service, a variety of seating options and interesting menu selections.