We pulled into the gravel parking lot on this sunny winter Saturday, not sure what to expect from the Wine Bar at Friends Lake Inn. The first sight to greet us was a stream tumbling gently over rocks just outside a tiny structure we later learned was the sauna. A tiny footbridge traversed the waterfall where the stream began a steeper descent. Approaching the main building, screened balconies and seven gabled dormers emerging from the cedar shake roof of the inn’s modest grey clapboard exterior, we were greeted by one of the inn’s arriving employees who entered with us and pointed the way to the bar.
The Wine Bar and its dining area features beautifully crafted mission oak cabinetry with brass hardware. Gleaming wine glasses, each polished by hand, neatly hang like rows of crystal bubbles. Two of the room’s oak-paneled walls are constructed almost entirely of windows, inviting plenty of natural light. Overstuffed leather sofas and chairs in two separate common areas invite those not afraid to relax. The Wine Bar dining area has tables to seat 40 to 50 guests. The bar seats 8. Though no formal happy hour is featured, weekly drink specials encompass mixed drinks in summer months and martinis and mixed drinks in the winter season.
The Wine Bar at Friends Lake Inn is much more than its name implies. Located on Friends Lake in Chestertown just far enough from the main highways to feel secluded, this elegant country inn speaks of luxury, yet maintains an air of unpretentious hospitality. Though renowned for their superior wine collection, we were looking for something of the beer and liquor variety. As Pam took her time looking over the liquor selections, Kim found a draft beer to please her tastes. The bar regularly serves Stella Artois, Samuel Adams seasonal (Winter Lager) and two regional brews (Long Trail Hibernator and Davidson Brothers Brown Ale). The impressive wine menu boasts 30 different red and white wines by the glass.
Just as Pam was discovering the drink specials board, the bartender, Hawazin, suggested she might want to see the martini menu. Like a giddy five-year-old on Christmas morning, Pam’s eyes lit up as she smiled, her head bobbing in enthusiastic assent. With ten martini choices, she narrowed it down, eliminating the fruity, and selected the Espresso Martini: triple espresso vodka, Tia Maria and a shot of espresso served in a chilled glass and garnished with freshly peeled (and knotted) lemon zest. Though pricey at $12 to $16, one is all you will need to put a glow in your cheeks. The signature martini, Friends Lake Inn L’Orange Martini, sells for $22 and features Grand Marnier Cent Cinquantenaire (150th anniversary blend), Grey Goose L’Orange, fresh lemon and organic wild clover honey.
Much more than a bar, the Wine Bar offers appetizers of artisan cheeses, crab cakes, mussels, soups and salads. Entrees include flank steaks, cod filet, Black Angus burgers and an open-faced elk sandwich, to name a few. The Wine Bar is open for dining Monday through Thursday 4 to 9 p.m., Friday 4 to 9:30 p.m., Saturday 2 to 9:30 p.m. and Sunday 2 to 8:30 p.m. The bar has last call at midnight. They are open year round, but close Monday through Wednesday in the off-season from Novemebr through Christmas and from mid-March through late May. Just in case, check the hours on their website before you go. Musical entertainment is occasionally featured. Rich Ortiz, a local favorite, will be performing on New Year’s Eve. Cell phone reception is spotty, but The Friends Lake Inn does have WiFi.
We met Ellen and Hal, a couple who has made the Wine Bar a favorite destination for over 20 years, stopping in frequently on their way to Brant Lake. The Wine Bar at Friends Lake Inn is not for the faint of wallet, but is well worth the visit. Dining specials are offered on Sundays ($7 entrees before 7 p.m.) and Thursdays ($17.95 three-course dinner). The atmosphere is charming, warm and welcoming and the service is superb and professional.
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.