We entered the Waterhole on a hot summer afternoon, finding relief from the heat in the cool, dim interior. Cave-like, the bar’s stone and mortar walls revealing its age, terra cotta tile floors sturdy and worn. The pine bar with its copper top suggested a practical sense of simplicity and function as well as longevity.
The bartender cautiously greeted us, having gently reminded a patron to watch his language. We weren’t sure if that was for our benefit or if the Waterhole has a “no swearing” policy. The beer menu was adequate though not impressive, but the prices were pretty reasonable. Our round of three beers and a vodka and grapefruit came to just $14. The Waterhole is strictly a bar, but you can get chips or peanuts if you need to munch.
The Waterhole will not appeal to everyone. If you like and feel comfortable in a “biker bar”, you should feel at home here. Pam used to be a biker, riding her own Harley Sportster, but even she was a little uncomfortable here. She didn’t take any notes, and seemed to be ready to move on before giving it a chance.
After playing pool, we ventured outside and never came back in. Bench seating, covered by an upstairs porch, seems to be the fair-weather place to be at the Waterhole. When we arrived, there were more people outside than in, wilting in the heat. The people were friendly, if not a bit curious. We met a woman named Janet who happened to know Kim’s husband, and eventually realized she knew Pam’s husband as well. Janet’s companion lives in the Saranac Lake area and was extremely helpful in advising other places to visit, though he had never been to Grizle-T’s across the street.
Self-proclaimed Godfather of the Saranac Lake Music scene, the Waterhole opened in 1970. Built in the late 1800’s as a livery and stables with living quarters above, the building has undergone a few transformations since then. In the mid 1980’s, the upstairs was renovated to accommodate an open and spacious music lounge, bringing in bands from near and far. In contrast to the downstairs interior, upstairs at the Waterhole is bright and open with exposed beams in the cathedral ceiling and a blue and white tile floor. Roots rock, bluegrass, blues and rock bands regularly take the stage for enthusiastic audiences. In 2011, in conjunction with celebrating its 40th anniversary, the Waterhole hosted live music on each of the 10 nights of Saranac Lake’s winter carnival. Thursdays are Party on the Patio days featuring live music outside, stone walls creating the backdrop.
Located at 43 Main Street in Saranac Lake, the Waterhole is open every day from noon to 3 a.m. According to the patrons we met, the Waterhole is a fun place to be and open to newcomers. Locals, hippies, bikers, college students and visitors all feel at home and find it one of the best places around for live music.
Kim and Pam Ladd’s book, Happy Hour in the High Peaks, is currently in the research stage. Together they visit pubs, bars and taverns with the goal of selecting the top 46 bars in the Adirondack Park. They regularly report their findings here at the Almanack and at their own blog, or follow them on Facebook, and ADK46barfly on Twitter.