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ON THE SCENE: Bar hopping for history

September 24, 2013
NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

"I suspect that you have had the experience of going from bar to bar before and I know I have seen Sue at a couple different establishments in a given evening," I said to Glen Cameron as he, his wife Sue and I headed for Liquids and Solids at the Handle Bar with our empty pint glasses firmly in hand.

"I think everyone here as bar hopped, but that was years ago," said Glen.

Truth be told I had, but never carrying an empty pint glass festooned with the name of the Lake Placid North Elba Historical Society on it. We were not the only ones in either account, indeed 30 other stalwarts joined us intending to make five taverns in all within the next two and a half hours as part of the Society's first historic pub tour.

Article Photos

Nita Holley, Sally Warner, Keegan Konkoski owner of Liquids and Solids, and Barbara Erickson on the Pub Crawl.
Photo/Naj Wikoff

"It was Bill Borzilleri's idea," said their president Peter Roland. "Many of our ideas for exhibits and events are suggested by our members and people who visit the museum. Bill not only had the idea, he had a friend of his design the logo, and he and Judy suggested which bars to include."

"We started by limiting the number who could participate to twenty-five, but expanded it to thirty because there was so much interest," said Society director Jennifer Tufano. "We could not take more because of space considerations. We have ten on the waiting list and definitely plan to do this again."

"Judy and I were in Telluride visiting our daughter, actually living there for the winter, and they put one on," said Bill Borzillari. "They had a dozen places in their tour. It was a lot of fun, drinks, snacks, and history. We thought it would work here. Judy and I had in mind more places, but agreed with the Historic Society to limit it to five. The people we talked to at the various pubs were very enthusiastic and helpful."

"The Lussi family sponsored the use of a trolley and will take us from place to place ending at the Mirror Lake Inn, and then back to the museum located at the train station," said Peter to the gang of would-be pub crawlers before we set off. "You have the schedule so you will know where we will be at any given time and can catch up with us. We want to stay on schedule because the owners will expecting us and each have prepared refreshments. At each stop someone will give a ten-minute presentation about the history of the pub, and then you can share you stores. Ready? Let's go."

"We are members of the Society, love history, and decided this would be fun," said Henry Marcy at Liquids and Solids.

"And we like to drink," said PJ.

"And we have never been to the Handlebar," said Jennifer Archard. "It's a great opportunity to see a variety of places we have not tried before."

"The last time I was in here was during my political life," said Sally Warner, a former schoolteacher and three-term member of the town board. "I would come down here to meet with my constituents. Aggie was the owner. I have fond memories of talking politics here and then hitting Happy Jack's every Friday evening with my fellow teachers."

Peter stood on a stool and told how it had once been a former post office, been named after Handle Bar Richard Sherman, and bit of its history since its founding. Meanwhile Nita Holley and I decided on a tag-team sharing approach to drink to help enhance our chances of surviving the journey.

Next up was Lisa G's where former proprietor Mark Wikoff entertained us with a bit of history of Newman, the once name for that section of town, told everyone that the establishment was originally known as White's Opera House, and what is now the main floor, was the second floor, as originally the bridge crossing the Chubb River and the entrance was a good ten feet lower. Jim McKenna, who turned the once former A&P into a tavern back in 1975, shared how that shift took place and informed us the bar came from the former LPI. Current owner Lisa, told us how she got into the business at the suggestion of a local bank president. She was working at Nicola's at the time and was looking for a business of her own. Her father convinced her it was a great location so she took it on.

"This location, the Newman's Opera House (aka Lis G's), the Handle Bar, and the Chubb River Tavern across the street was once known as the Barmuda Triangle," said Roland. "People would come down here, go from place to place, and were swept away never to be seen again."

"Oh, you are interested in THAT kind of history as well," said Mark, "that reminds me

Our third stop was the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, the former parsonage for the Adirondack Community Church, later purchased by the Hospital Association as a nurse's home. This past year they expanded to the third floor where owner Chris Ericson shared paintings of the building when a parsonage and nurses' home, and stories of the time Madeline Sellers, closed the Arena Grill at midnight and led her customers down to her new establishment that opened at 12:01 a.m., then called PJ O'Neal's.

"I remember hauling my brother out Chris out of here at 3:30 in mornings," I said.

"I remember coming here to do my laundry in the room out back and being hauled out of here at 3:30 in morning," said Nita Holley.

"When I took over people were concerned that I'd change PJ's, which is why I left the first floor as it was and opened our brewery on the second floor," said Chris Ericson, who then went on to explain how he got into the business, and named UBU after Dan and Mark Wikoff's wandering nocturnal food-begging chocolate lab.

After trollying over to the Northwood's Inn owner Gary Smith shared with us excerpts from Cynthia Gorgas' well researched history of how Lake Placid's first fire-proof hotel created by Frank W. Swift (The Marcy) replaced the Lake Placid Inn and helped cap "The Village Where Dreams Come True's" expansion that included the opening of the Palace Theatre, the Cascade Pass cement road, and the Whiteface Mountain Highway. It was a story of site specific "celebrities, lore, fires, dances, deaths, parties, food and decorations" that left us all hungering for more.

"I'm loving it," said MJ Fagan. "There's so much history. My mother lived in the nursing quarter's (now LP Pub & Brewery), I was born in the hospital next door (National Sports Academy), and now this. I think it's wonderful. This is a tremendous idea, a lot of fun."

"This is such a great idea we should do one a week," said Gary Smith as he urged us all to come to the Delta Blues as well as open Mic Night and regaled us with the upcoming line-up.

Next though was the Mirror Lake Inn, where I shared that it was actually probably the last to serve alcohol legally of any of the establishments visited though early on they made their own beer as their Dream Hill, Lake Placid's first ski slope, was covered with barley and the vines growing around its original tennis court were hops, not to mention that my great grandfather and grandfather used it as a way station to smuggle liquor to New York in the waning days of the Prohibition. Also that The Cottage, first known as the Studio after an artist who lived there for many years renting one bedroom for his painting studio, was gutted by Ed Weibrecht and his friends who turned it into the popular aprs ski bar that it has remained to this day.

What can I say? You should have been there. The amount of stories flying back and forth and the terrific hospitality shown by all the establishments, plus the trolley, the history, and the many insights left everyone clamoring for more. Judy and Bill Borzillari deserve great kudos for a wonderful idea, as do Peter, Jennifer, and everyone else who contributed. Sign me up for the next one.



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