Raising a Glass

By | December 12th, 2017

Great Gorge at Mountain Creek, Vernon, N.J.

Clubs are saluting their members by creating welcoming and comfortable pub and bar space—and getting enthusiastic recognition in return, in the form of more frequent and prolonged visits.

When it comes to the look and feel of pub and bar spaces, clubs have seemingly endless design options. But how properties make these areas their own, by incorporating design elements that are rooted in the club’s own history and established clubhouse aesthetic, is the key to extending branding opportunities and setting club bars apart from the neighborhood watering hole.

Here’s a closer look at some of the most recent and notable examples of bar and pub renovations that have elevated properties’ social gathering spots into high-end designs that have generated immediate and strong member appreciation.

• Redesigning a bar to incorporate historical elements helps to personalize the space.
• Balancing color schemes with light and dark components adds visual contrast.
• Easy access to adjoining dining rooms and other common spaces fosters a sense of community for membership while creating natural pathways to move within the facility.

Mining for Memories
While Great Gorge at Mountain Creek in Vernon, N.J., was closed for the past two years, the club underwent a renovation that resulted in a new clubhouse and an updated bar with a design reminiscent of its previous incarnation (the facility is housed in the former digs of an old quarry that dates back to the 1800s).

“[The property] was later purchased by Bethlehem Steel, which operated the quarry until about 1930,” says General Manager Brad Sparta. “In the late 1960s, the quarry and surrounding property were bought by Hugh Hefner, to develop the Playboy Club at Great Gorge.”

The club was later re-developed into a ski resort and has since expanded into a full-service facility, with an on-site spa, restaurants, and golf. As a result of this past May’s re-opening, Great Gorge now boasts a horseshoe-shaped bar that draws upon the property’s rich mining history.

“Part of the [golf] course plays through an old quarry,” notes Sparta.

Great Gorge at Mountain Creek, Vernon, N.J.

The base of the bar is covered in rough-cut wood and stained in different shades to give a distressed look and feel. “The individual-cut boards at different thicknesses create the look of a wall holding back the earth in an underground mine,” Sparta describes.

A two-inch-thick bluestone bar is also a nod to the quarry, and a chalkboard back bar features rustic shelving on either side. “The bluestone top and rough-cut wood base really sets the bar apart from its surrounding,” adds Sparta.

Metal stools with leather padded cushioning are a sharp contrast to the neutral walls that help lighten up the space. Metal cage lighting with interior bulbs suggest the fixtures found in a mine, and help to illuminate photography of the resort’s other amenities that are showcased on the walls.

Seating at the bar originally came at a premium, with only five spots to covet. As part of the redesign, the bar can now accommodate 20 patrons at one time. An additional 80 seats in a covered deck are available during warmer months, and guests can also take advantage of the resort’s pro shop, which is located right off the bar and grill.

“Most of the time, it’s a lunch crowd before or after a round,” says Sparta of the bar’s primary usage.

Creative Cocktails with a Twist

With an updated bar in place, clubs can turn their attention to creating unique beverages that speak to their rich histories and help to bolster their brands. At the Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y., located just outside of Manhattan, bar-goers can treat themselves to The Biltmore, a luxe beverage named for a New York City institution in the early 1900s:

2 ozs. WCC Blended Widow Jane bourbon
bar spoon house bourbon maple syrup
¾ oz. 20-year-old aged port
1 oz. ginger liquor
dashes orange bitters

Aromatize the glass rim with a blood orange twist and drop the twist in a martini coupe.

Even though Great Gorge’s course had been closed since 2015 and only experienced its first full season this past year, Sparta believes that the changes are already proving their worth.

“We do know that the clientele loves the new bar, menu and food produced by our staff,” he says. “It is a great amenity to the course, and will only grow from where it is now.”

A Bar with a View
Showcasing their properties’ surroundings is a key design choice for many clubs, and in the case of Lake Toxaway (N.C.) Country Club, that meant featuring a renovated bar and grille that capitalized on mountain views.

The club dates back to the early 1900s, when well-to-do vacationers such as Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller and Thomas Edison visited in the summer, enjoying the landscape of the Blue Ridge Mountains. “Today, families from all over the world still find tranquility and rejuvenation while visiting this enchanting destination,” says General Manager John Schoenbeck.

To preserve the club’s rich history while keeping up with the changing needs of its current membership, management decided to transform the existing Toxaway Room from a casual eatery into the Firestone Grille and Porch this past summer.

Lake Toxaway (N.C.) Country Club

“The idea was to create new, updated indoor and outdoor spaces where today’s discriminating members will want to spend time and create memories with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” Schoenbeck says. “Remaining loyal to Lake Toxaway’s history, the new bar and grille area was named after [businessman] Harvey Firestone, who spent many summers vacationing in Lake Toxaway.”

In fact, the club’s picturesque setting is a central element that influenced the design of the bar and grille. Rich, warm, lightly distressed woods were selected for the furniture, complemented by a mix of soft leather seating and area rugs in lighter tones, atop distressed hickory-wood flooring. Dark bronze decorative light fixtures with clean lines and reflective materials accent the views of the property, while gas lanterns add a playful touch to the bar.

The bar itself is rectangular, boasting a leathered granite surface and large service island in the center. “It serves members both inside the grille, as well as outside, by utilizing a glass wall on one side that opens completely to the Firestone Porch,” says Schoenbeck.

Lake Toxaway (N.C.) Country Club

The Firestone Grille is separated from a large sitting area by a two-sided, two-story, wood-burning stone fireplace, adding ambiance to the atmosphere. Visitors can access the grille on either side of the fireplace or via the club’s sports hallway, providing easy entry from locker rooms and the ladies’ card room.

Because of its continuous usage—lunch service is followed by bar orders and then dinner—the bar and grille maintains a steady business that allows members to dine whenever they choose.

“Families wanted more than a place to get a cocktail,” says Schoenbeck of the original bar. “They wanted a socializing area where they could enjoy intimate conversation, watch a sporting event on TV with their buddies, or savor a casual meal.” By adapting the new combination bar-and-grille concept, the club was able to extend service hours to accommodate members’ needs.

As a result, Lake Toxaway is reaping the benefits of this redesign. Since its re-opening in late July, Schoenbeck reports, food-and-beverage sales increased over 60% from August through October, compared to the same period last year.

“The new Firestone Grille and Porch has made a huge impact on overall satisfaction and sales,” he says.

From Tee-Time to Post-Golf Toast
At the Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y., a recent renovation included a bar and grill that takes members from their first tee to afternoon cocktails.

Westchester Country Club, Rye, N.Y.

“Our members desired a warm and friendly, sporty, club-casual bar and grill that felt like it was part of the original club,” says General Manager Paul Brock.

Because the club’s Travis Room is equipped to provide grab-and-go breakfasts, lunch, cocktails, and dinner, the bar’s versatile design warranted more than a traditional watering hole. The 28-foot-long rectangular bar is situated directly opposite a gas-burning fireplace. Serving stations flank the bar on either side, with full-height millwork.

Directly in front of the bar is a bullpen with seating for 32 guests. Wood-topped tables and custom-designed arm chairs are laid out on a large-scale parquet wood floor, separated from the rest of the dining room by half-height millwork partitions.

Attention to detail is paramount in the design of the bar area. Decorative ceiling fixtures, in antique brass and channeled white glass, provide lighting “that [blurs] the lines between old and new, [while] antique brass sconces and picture lights add subtle and warm ambient light throughout the room,” Brock says. Patrons can perch themselves atop a custom barstool or chair, outfitted with antique brass nail heads, faux snakeskin, and faux leather.

Westchester Country Club, Rye, N.Y.

The bar itself features custom millwork details, along with an antiqued backdrop mirror and glass shelving that illuminates a variety of spirits and glassware. A custom chrome beer tap in the center of the bar serves as the focal point of the space, along with black-and-white photography and trophies displayed throughout the room.

“Westchester Country Club has a very rich history of championship golf, hosting over 40 PGA events,” says Brock. “We have incredible photographs of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, and tons of other Hall of Famers who have graced the grounds.”

Star power aside, the real testament to the success of the bar is its frequent member patronage. Since the bar’s redesign, Brock notes, food-and-beverage sales have increased by over 20% from last year. “It has become a tremendous gathering place for our membership,” he says.

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