At the turn of the 20th century, things were very different along the southern shoreline of Lake Ontario. Grand hotels build in places like Olcott Beach, Manitou Beach, Island Cottage and Webster catered to the newly formed and upwardly mobile demographic known as the emerging middle class. Built near the tracks of the electric trolley lines known as “inter-urbans,” which also ran along Ontario’s shoreline, these hotels featured deluxe lakefront accommodations, bathing beaches, picnic grounds and grand ballrooms. Sadly, the ravages of time, fire and neglect doomed nearly every one of those stately structures to ruin. But not all the grand hotels went the way of the Stutz Bearcat and the Deusenberg, as one shining example of that bygone era survives, the Pleasant Beach Hotel.
Built in 1910 on the east side of Little Sodus Bay, the old girl sits atop a grassy knoll offering guests and restaurant patrons both hearty cuisine and spectacular sunset views of the bay. Current owners H. and Bonnie Scoville took over operations in 2006. Since then, the couple has embraced not only the structure, but also the village of Fair Haven. As the name implies, the Pleasant Beach is a real hotel, too, boasting six newly renovated rooms; each equipped with cable TV, wireless Internet, comfortable beds, private baths and balcony views of the bay. Accommodations are available seasonally from early May through October. For an inside look at one of the rooms, visit the Pleasant Beach website at www.pleasantbeach.com.
How’s the food? In a word, it’s delicious; perfect for tucking away after a day on the water. My personal favorite happens to be the chef’s specialty, flatiron steak. So if the weather is nice, dine alfresco on the bayside deck. If you look across to the opposite shore, you can make out the docks and boats at the Fair Haven Yacht Club. And speaking of the water, the hotel also features a deep-water, shore-power-equipped pier with docking for patrons and overnight guests.
While you’re waiting for your table, a short stop at the bar is a must. The beer is ice cold and the barroom walls are lined with photos depicting the hotel and scenes of the bay as they appeared in 1910. The bar also houses a growing collection of nautical antiques including a full-size wooden canoe. It’s also home to a gizmo every boy would want to own: a 2-inch solid-brass line cannon. For landlubbers, line cannon were once employed to fire rescue ropes, termed “messengers,” to foundering vessels or drowning sailors. Charged with 6 ounces of black powder, cannon of this type were capable of hurling a line attached to a 2-pound weight approximately 1,500 yards. And I know exactly what you’re all thinking, but despite my begging and heartfelt pleas, H. has thus far refused to fire it (sigh!). But on a more positive note, Fred, the assistant bartender, was more than willing to listen to me, even pausing from his duties to pose for a photo. Fred doesn’t talk much, but he’s still terrific company and, I might add, a very snappy dresser.
H. and Bonnie are as devoted to the village of Fair Haven as they are to their business. For example, Bonnie took it upon herself to publish a port guide, listing the names, addresses and amenities found at the various businesses surrounding the bay, even going so far as to include the web addresses and phone numbers of their competitors. Free copies of the guide are always available at the bar. And, as a farewell gesture at summer’s end, the hotel also hosts an informal wooden boat show. I asked H. why he felt compelled to organize such an event, and he replied, “There were really two main motivators. One was trying to drive more seasonal visitors to the village. Currently, our only real tourist draw is our annual fourth of July weekend. Bonnie and I felt that a more aquatic-related event held later in the summer would bring even more folks to our little town. That, of course, and I’m just a pushover for these old woodies. With their classic mahogany hulls, varnished brightwork and outstanding workmanship, they bring back so many memories from my own boyhood.”
If you attend the show, and she’s in attendance, you even might catch a glimpse of Lotus, a 60-foot wooden schooner built in 1918.
If you enjoy live music, the Pleasant Beach can satisfy that desire, too. On summer weekends, patrons can listen to a variety of musical styles ranging from the soothing sounds of a string quartet, a rip-roaring Dixieland band or the vocalizations of well-known jazz singer Nancy Kelly. Check the website for the events schedule. And finally, if you plan on making a trip to Fair Haven and the Pleasant Beach Hotel, be sure to bring along your toothbrush, because once you arrive, you’re going to want to stay awhile.
by Rich Finzer