Growing up in Chicago, Lake Geneva is where we went, especially during high school. It still has the charm it has always held. Thanks to Mark Spivak for this post, as it brings back great memories. Mark’s book would make a great holiday gift. ~MDH
As resorts go, Lake Geneva is unique. It was originally settled after the Chicago fire in the 19th century, and became a summer retreat for captains of industry and commerce (it’s sometimes referred to as “the Hamptons of the Midwest”). The wealthy individuals who summered at Lake Geneva built “cottages” of 15,000 to 20,000 square feet; the most notable of these is the Wrigley mansion, actually a collection of six separate buildings directly on the lakefront.
There are a number of full-blown resort hotels in town, the most interesting of which is the Grand Geneva, which served as the location for the first Playboy Club. As you might expect, there are a number of quaint bed and breakfast inns as well, and the most distinctive of the Lake Geneva B & Bs is the Baker House.
Originally known as Redwood Cottage, the Queen Anne mansion was built in 1885 as a summer home for Mrs. Robert Hall Baker; with 30 rooms and 17,000 square feet, it was a typically modest lakefront getaway. Over the years it functioned as a school dormitory, a sanitarium and a speakeasy, before being restored by its current owners and reopened in 2010. The atmosphere can best be described as delightfully quirky, both in décor (original wood-inlaid floors and 13 fireplaces) and execution (anyone visiting in late afternoon gets swept up in the Sun-Downer Celebration, complete with complimentary drinks and the ringing of gongs).
The real gem of the Baker House, however, is the bar. The three bartenders are sensitive, clever and amazingly intuitive. If you’re undecided on your choice of libation, they’ll strike up a friendly conversation with you; after several minutes of banter, during which time they gather information on your preferences, likes and dislikes, they’ll start to make you a cocktail. More often than not, they’re right on target.
If you prefer not to leave things to chance, there’s a formidable list of signature drinks with nearly 20 selections, including Grapes of Wrath (Hangar One Vodka and St-Germain liqueur muddled with fresh grapes, finished with a splash of ice water) and Cuke Cooler (Effen cucumber vodka, dry sake, fresh lemon juice and a spritz of club soda). There’s classic absinthe service, complete with an ice water drip fountain. The wine list is filled with delights (Elena Walch Gewurztraminer from Alton Adige, Penner-Ash Pinot Noir, Dr. Konstantin Frank Cabernet Franc from the Finger Lakes), although prices are hefty; there are also 20 very interesting wines by the glass.
Food is a mixed bag. The concept is intriguing—guests are welcome to dine on small plates, referred to as “American tapas” (cheese and charcuteries platters, filet mignon sliders), while lounging in wing-back chairs or overstuffed sofas throughout the building—but the execution is spotty. The cost of some of the dishes isn’t in line with the quality offered. Still, it’s hard to fault the atmosphere, which is comfortable and extremely welcoming.
The Baker House is an American original. It’s worth a detour simply for those bartenders, who are knowledgeable about human nature and masters of their craft.
SAMPLE SIGNATURE COCKTAILS: Gibson Girl (North Shore #6 gin, St-Germain and Luxardo maraschino liqueur topped with Prosecco and a fresh green apple slice); Towne Tarte (Hangar One Mandarin Blossom, splashes of Chambord and Campari, Italian Volcano Lemon Juice, topped with Prosecco).
SAMPLE MENU DISHES: Blackened Catfish Hushpuppies; Venetian Chicken (sautéed with garlic, onion, basil, sundried tomato and cheese tortellini, with an Italian sausage red wine sauce); Rustic Flat Bread Pizza (changes daily).
SAMPLE WINES BY THE GLASS: Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Washington State; Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc; Cristom Pinot Noir; Decoy by Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon.
PROS: Extraordinary bartenders; charming and welcoming atmosphere.
CONS: A bit pricey for what it is.
ABOUT THE BOOK: Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, by Mark Spivak, will be published in November by Lyons press (Globe Pequot). Writing in an engaging and appealing style, Spivak chronicles the untold tales of 12 spirits that changed the world and forged the cocktail culture. While some are categories and others are specific brans, they are “the best kinds of stories—the type a writer could never make up.”
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Mark Spivak is an award-winning writer specializing in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He was the wine writer for the Palm Beach Post from 1994-1999, and since 2001 has been the Wine and Spirits Editor for the Palm Beach Media Group, as well as the restaurant critic for Palm Beach Illustrated. His work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Robb Report, Ritz-Carlton, Continental, Art & Antiques, Newsmax, Dream of Italy and Arizona Highways. From 1999-2011 he hosted Uncorked! Radio, a highly successful wine talk show on the Palm Beach affiliate of National Public Radio.
Mark began writing Iconic Spirits after becoming fascinated with the untold stories behind the world’s greatest liquors. As a writer, he’s always searching for the unknown details that make his subject compelling and unique.
You can learn more about Mark at http://www.iconicspirits.net/index.htm