You may have noticed a little more activity during the summer at the busy intersection of Routes 28 and 30, the crossroads for Indian Lake, Raquette Lake and Blue Mountain Lake. Across from the Corner Store, colorful umbrellas shade picnic tables. A food truck is often set up to the left, a musician strumming a guitar on the right, all in front of Potter’s Resort’s new taproom featuring craft brews from Brooklyn’s Strong Rope Brewery.
On a steamy August afternoon, Rebecca Zeh, of Ballston Spa, cools down in the shade with a red ale. Her family has been coming up to stay around the corner at Hemlock Hall since she was a kid. Her husband, Brent Pickerd, strolls up with hot dogs from an Old Forge–based food cart and a hazy IPA, which he describes as mellow, tropical and delicious. “I really like the four corners vibe,” he says. “This area was destined to have a place like this.”
Inside, Strong Rope is a small, rustic, wood-paneled room. Built in 1936, after a fire razed much of Potter’s Camp and Colony Hotel, the building was known as the Elbow Room, a bar and package store that serviced the rebuilt Potter’s Resort and its restaurant. Strong Rope’s new presence here is the story of Potter’s revival and New York’s exploding beer scene. And it’s also a love story.
Signatures are etched all over the walls, witnesses to the history of the cozy little place. The original owners would ask customers who came year after year to sign the walls, a tribute to the summer regulars who sustained this part of the Adirondacks’ economy. One of the oldest, on the bar’s right wall by the beer taps, is scratched white into the wood: “Chuck Sahler.”
Sahler was a young man from Rochester who visited Potter’s Resort in the late 1930s with his French-Canadian mother. In 1941, he brought his new bride, Emily, here for their honeymoon. Later, they bought a Chris-Craft utility boat and named it The Tandy, after their son and daughter, Tad and Sandy.
Sahler became the chief of surgery at Rochester General Hospital. Potter’s became the busy doctor’s getaway. “This was the first place I could really see my dad relax,” recalls Peter Sahler, Chuck and Emily’s fourth child. His dad would bring his black doctor’s bag to treat summer’s inevitable scrapes, cuts and bruises. “He was the doctor on site to take care of everybody, but other than that he was just enjoying boating.”
As with so many family Adirondack traditions, the Sahlers’ annual two-week vacation at Potter’s kept a hold on Peter. “It was all about the lake. Watching the sunset,” he says. “We’d swim, water-ski and sail. My mom and dad would have cocktail parties and we would just run around unsupervised. It was great.”
The emotional pull was so strong that Peter bought the place in 2003. By then the buildings had fallen into disrepair, the restaurant had too many health-code violations to keep open, and the Elbow Room sat empty. Peter, an airline pilot, spent his summers renovating the remaining seven buildings. In the meantime, he invited family members to come stay by Blue Mountain Lake amidst the construction.
Years passed. Peter put Potter’s up for sale. In 2016, he ambled across the street to get a bite at the Corner Store and was introduced to the woman working at the deli. Connie Dingee had gone to high school in Indian Lake and recently returned home after years of living in Poughkeepsie. They got to know each other, and she persuaded him not to sell. “Let me help you, and we’ll get it open,” she remembers saying. The couple got married in 2018 and reopened Potter’s Resort to the public that same summer.
Soon after, Peter’s nephew, Jason Sahler, who had also spent his childhood summers at Potter’s, was up for a visit. Jason had opened a successful brewery in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn. One night, the family was hanging out in the Elbow Room, reminiscing over drinks, when Jason remarked off-the-cuff that it would be fun “if we could bring some cans up here,” maybe have a pop-up bar for a night.
Jason says he’s always thinking of big plans, eying vacant buildings as opportunities for growth. After establishing Strong Rope’s initial brewery and taproom, he gambled with a massive second location. Strong Rope Red Hook retrofitted an old, cavernous warehouse on New York’s harbor, with stunning views of skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty.
That night in the Elbow Room, sharing drinks, laughing and telling stories in a space where vacationers, including his family, had made merry for decades, with an old fridge behind the bar that tended to freeze beers not cool them, tweaked the dreamer in Jason. “It was such a nostalgic feeling,” he says.
Connie Sahler had the same feeling. To bring that taproom back for Blue Mountain Lake, to bring the neighborhood together, would be something special, she thought. So they fixed up the Elbow Room, tapped into Jason’s farm brewery beer license, and opened Strong Rope Adirondacks in 2019.
The pandemic “put a damper on things” the next year, Jason says, but business has been growing steadily since. He features three brews on tap and a (new, properly chilled) fridge with a variety of beers in cans. Food trucks, sometimes barbecue or pizza, and musical acts draw crowds.
Strong Rope doesn’t brew any beer in the Adirondacks; that still happens in Brooklyn. And the taproom is only open from Memorial Day to October. But it does feature an English-style brown ale called A Mild Journey—a subtle reminder of Jason’s regular treks up the Northway with a couple thousand pounds of beer. He says every time he gets back to Blue and sees the lake, “it’s a magical moment.”
If You Go
Find Strong Rope Taproom at Potter’s Resort at 8897 Route 30, in Blue Mountain Lake. Visit www.strongropebrewery.com or call (518) 212-7525 to learn more.
David Sommerstein is news director at North Country Public Radio. He’s also Adirondack Life’s unofficial beer correspondent.