Just off the lobby of this grand old hotel on Upstate New York’s Lake George sits an overstuffed gift shop. Its inventory consists of well-made trinkets that reflect bygone notions of good taste. I’m noting it not in order to recommend you buy souvenirs there, but because it smells precisely of my grandmother’s house, unentered by me in the last 22 years, since she passed away when I was 15 years old. I can’t describe the smell, except to say there is something powdery in it, and redolent of that same obsolete tastefulness. Because of associations I have, it smells like small towns in Wisconsin and Hawaiian print dresses and brown décor in ranch-style houses. Until I did come across it I had not been aware that there was a smell associated with my grandmother’s house.
Such are the charms of the Sagamore, a hotel opened in 1883 on an island near the shores of Lake George with the help of some of the era’s leading industrialists. These charms can only exist in an old lovely structure that was built to impress and where many stories have had time to also settle into the annals of good taste. These charms are also aided by the Sagamore’s location atop a hill from which a well-tended lawn slopes aristocratically down to Lake George. It’s a splendid setting, with its 32 miles of water situated at the southern end of the Adironacks.
Despite its many upgrades over the years, the Sagamore retains a perfectly worn patina, its streamlined Edwardian vibe both lived in and elegant. The rooms felt a little more lived in than the common areas, but pleasantly so—ours was a small-ish suite unfortunately overlooking the front entrance instead of the lake, but everything was comfortable, worked well and was nice to look at.
One day I left my room in search of a place to sip on a single afternoon cocktail and get some work done. I found just the place in the bar off the lobby, its old, big, solid windows and wood–paneled walls framing Lake George, with its smattering of islands and backdrop of mountains, in just the way one wants when one glances up from a book to mull over some point made. Of course, inevitably, a man came in and sat behind me in the otherwise empty bar, then found his way into a cell phone conversation about “contracts” that were either very important to him or made him feel very important to others, leading me to eventually gather my things and head to the also-empty terrace, which turned out to be a surprise improvement over even the considerable charms of the bar inside.
These quiet corners, though, can be hard to come by, for a very large number of very small reasons. The hotel, at every turn, is bursting with children—“The Sagamore, Where a Child Is Always Screaming,” my boyfriend helpfully offered for the hotel’s tagline. They’re drawn, or rather, their parents are, by the vast amenities provided for the under-twelve set: “The Rec,” a 10,000 square foot activity space “for all ages” in which you’d feel like a creep unaccompanied by a child, and the Sagamore Kids Club, a day camp on the grounds. Both are included in the resort fee.
The kids tend to overwhelm the atmosphere even at the six or so restaurants on the Sagamore’s property, each serving food as serviceable as the next. The most popular of them, The Pavilion, hugs the water’s edge. The views it affords guarantee that at peak times reservations are necessary, as they are at most of the resorts top attractions, including a cruise on the hotel’s replica 19th century “touring vessel” (also included in the resort fee). Even this planning-averse traveler recommends booking it, though (do it days in advance, or else), for an hour and a half on the water taking in the glory of Lake George, the key attraction at a hotel with a slew of them.
The Sagamore is open year round. We visited in August. Rooms are pricey especially during peak times. As of this writing, rooms with a king bed are starting at $379 per night for this July.
-by Sarah Stodola