Saranac Lake: A fresh look at a familiar place

There’s more to Saranac Lake than just a lake. This was reinforced over the weekend when I invited Dad to celebrate his birthday in a village often overshadowed by its olympic-famous neighbor.  Not unlike Dad, this cute village of 5,000 is growing older and with that comes wisdom and reinvention.

Dad normally likes to ‘rough it’ to save money.   He’s been known to bunk outdoors under a leaky tarp with a smelly privy and food strung up in pails to ward off bears.  But, this was his birthday – we could do better than a cheap motel and Stewart’s stale hotdogs!

His smile grew wide as we walked past a sign the read National Register of Historic Places before entering.  A smiling receptionist handed us two magnetic keys to a suite decked out with a ceiling-fixed rain shower, plush bathrobes and an organic cotton duvet on a king-sized bed.  Dad’s eyes gleamed with delight.  “This is way too much, far too fancy, dear daughter!” he exclaimed, but there was no turning back. His girlfriend Bev had already started putting things on hangers and in dresser shelves.

Built in 1927,  the historic Hotel Saranac, or “Hot Sara,” as many call her, has been known to trigger fond memories for returning visitors.  For Dad, his first visit here was not to spend the night but prepare for a parade.  As a high school sophomore in the early 1960s, Dad played trumpet in a marching band, a band that was bused into Saranac Lake a couple times a year.  He and other young musicians would change into their uniforms in rooms minded by the hospitality students attending Paul Smith’s College.  In 1961, the college leased the Hotel Saranac so students could gain real-life experience.

After settling in to our royal digs, Dad was antsy to see more of this gilded otherworld.   Around every freshly painted corner there stood time capsules with a story: a bronze letterbox near the elevator, the vintage phone booths in the Great Hall Bar, the black and white photos of ice castles on the walls.  An impromptu shuffleboard game nearly cost us our lunch reservations on the outside terrace.

In the lobby, there’s was a wall with the historical timeline of the hotel’s wistful beginnings to the present day.   I’m no mason but the ‘then’ and ‘now’ photos make clear how painstaking it probably was for crews to restore the original limestone and brick facade.

The venerable property took nearly four years and a whopping $35 million to resuscitate.  “Part of the restoration was to bring back the original blueprint of the arcade (atrium),” explained Carolyn Bordonaro, director of sales.   “There used to be 13 stores on this first floor…now we have one shop for all your retail therapy needs.”

Other inherit beauty was on display like original beamed ceilings, curved windows and floor tiles.   Our two night stay exceeded Dad’s wildest and saved us all from having to wear bug repellant at night!

Speaking of nostalgia, I just learned today that former President Obama was fly-fishing not far from us last Thursday and Friday.  The biggest difference: while his vacation took the Secret Service nine months to prepare, ours only took a week.  I can also (almost) bet that our accommodations rivaled whatever hospitality the 44th enjoyed.

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