It could have been November (or early spring) for all we knew. Dead grass lay matted in pale straw hues awaiting a blanket of snow. The calendar indicated late January, but nearly 40 degree temperatures and an almost complete lack of snow said otherwise.
A little late with her instructions, Pam’s GPS rerouted us down Limekiln Road on a “shortcut” back to Route 73. Not one to turn around (or ever ask for directions), Pam took us four-wheeling down a dirt road that would have been impassible under normal winter conditions. Ice sculptures clung like blobs of celeste blue glass to rock ledges along 73 while hikers and climbers wandered to their patiently waiting cars as dusk approached.
Finally arriving in Saranac Lake, noticing the half-constructed ice castle, we made our way to Captain Cook’s. It looked pretty dead from the outside as Kim stood across the street covertly snapping a few pics of the exterior. We were unprepared for the large crowd as we entered Captain Cook’s Bar and Grill on that Saturday afternoon. Surprise must have registered on our faces as we were raucously greeted at the door who by a man who informed us it was Ladies’ Night – no cover! Having broken the ice, we found a seat in a far corner of the bar where we could observe and take notes. With one bartender serving the 30 or more patrons, we knew we would have to be patient in getting information from her. Staci readily took our drink orders and answered our questions as opportunity permitted.
Though not easily discernible in the dimmer light, the top of the P-shaped bar is an inlaid topographical map. High pine ceilings and walls accent the rustic birch slab shelves. An old canoe hanging on a far wall rounds out the Adirondack appeal. Several flags are tacked to the ceiling and a large bright yellow model seaplane floats over the bar. Three flat-screen TVs are scattered about. We were a little confused by the San Francisco 49ers pennants behind the bar until Pat’s comment about Captain Cook’s being proud Giants supporters was intercepted by a companion who set the record straight.
Wanting to mix with the locals, Kim approached a group to ask questions. Eyeing her notebook suspiciously at first, they quickly warmed up once the purpose of our visit was established. We spoke at length with a woman named Pat who was willing and eager to share insights about Captain Cook’s, the local bars, and the community in general. Though not a standard question from our repertoire, our foremost curiousity was whether this was a typical crowd for a Saturday afternoon in January. Turns out that it is. Captain Cook’s is the headquarters for the Saranac Lake IPW – the Ice Palace Workers. That explained both the diversity of the patrons and the community spirit that pervaded the barroom. They had finished working on the ice palace for the day and seemed to be reveling in their accomplishments, undaunted perhaps by the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival deadline looming just one short week away. We had an opportunity to speak with several IPW members and learned that most of them have been members for years, are about 30 percent women, and are somewhat disappointed by the lack of new, younger recruits. We even managed to convince a few of the volunteers to pose for a photo.
Capt. Cook’s has been owned by Scott Cook for the past four years. In the summer it is headquarters for the local rugby team. It certainly had the feel of being a community place to meet, but welcoming to strangers as well. Though the bar can seat 14 to 16 people, the room easily accommodated the current gathering. A rustic table near the front window was empty, perhaps just a little too far away from the action. Captain Cook’s features Happy Hour drink specials Monday through Friday, but the Saturday prices were very reasonable. They are open year round, seven days a week from noon until 3 a.m. Chicken wings are the specialty here and, as observed from our station at the bar, take-out seems to be very popular. The standard pool table and electronic darts remained dormant this day. An ATM machine is on site and Quick Draw is available too. Additional seating is available upstairs and on an outside patio tucked away from the street. Musical entertainment is featured during Winter Carnival. A small public parking area is adjacent to the bar and on-street parking is just up the road and across the street.
The menu at Captain Cook’s features sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs and several flavors of wings (including peanut butter). Eight draft beers include Davidson Brothers “Captain Cook’s IPA”, Long Trail, Blue Light, and a Samuel Adams seasonal. Assorted flavored vodkas and Jagermeister suggest the bartenders may possess some creativity.
If you’re planning to be in Saranac Lake for the Winter Carnival, or any time at all, Captain Cook’s is a great place to warm up, have a drink and grab something to eat. Visit their website and Facebook page for up-to-date drink specials and events. The atmosphere is friendly and festive and the people are some of the nicest we’ve met.
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.