The Birches was a Ray Brook dance hall and restaurant at the corner of New York Route 86 and the eastern end of the old Ray Brook Road; it was owned by Bert LaFountain, and later Moses and then Jim LaFountain.
The Birches was reopened as the Waltz Inn in 1975 and as the Way Station in 1978. It later years it operated as a restaurant called Lilly Rose and then was converted to offices for Tri Lake Center for Independence, a not-for profit organization that advocates for accessibility. They have since moved to 43 Broadway.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, May 4, 1965
Call to Colors
Atmosphere is a kind of intangible thing that is created to give a definite impression of nostalgia when it is an intrinsic part of an oasis of solace—or cafe if you prefer.
The bugle that hangs over the piano at Jim LaFountain's Birches for instance, reeks of the Civil War. It will be described as the bugle that signalled Pickett's Charge. The only way to make it authentic is to get "Doc" Pickett, Paul Smith's College, out there to blow the thing and have Doc romp up the highway with a Union saber in his hand, slashing at the lilacs and petunias along the highway.
Jim, who is a correspondence school graduate of Exeter and Oxford, has many ideas on ways to give his new oasis nostalgia and atmosphere. It looks like a minor edition of Canfield's Casino in Saratoga. Jim is not holding back with the nostalgia. He is lining the bar top with old newspapers and mementos of a gayer and golden age. The piano is really the back bar. It is hollowed out to make a receptacle for the stimulants and stagger juice which he purveys to his fast building clientele.
On opening night they had to lock the doors to keep people out. This is an unheard-of thing around here. Jim is cashing in on his nostalgia at a very fast clip. One ot the old vintage newspapers on the bar is an edition of the New York World in which color was first presented in a feature article. The story is about "The Remarkable Adirondack Colony, Where Hundreds Of Consumptives Die... Yet Where Death is Never Spoken Of" — Saranac Lake, of course— and getting the big plug in the undertaking art, none other than A. Fortune, forerunner of the modern A. Fortune, still a top mortician.
Jim's Exeter background has prompted him to feature gangsters in one section of the bar. He would like a front page of the Valentine's Day Massacre if you have same in attic.
Jim has his version of Bix Biederbeck's horn hanging in red plush in gold frame. The carpetbagger Harold McCasland laid the wall which is what gives it the look of Canfield's. Harold lays rugs but always refers to his trade in this way no matter whether the covering goes on the floors or the wails.
Among the old Enterprises, dating around 1921, embarrassment may arise if a local name is mentioned here and there, but Jim figures most anyone mentioned is dead and gone.
Business is already booming. In the days when Ralph DeMasi ran the Birches it hummed with a mighty surge of economic activity. The soldiers were recuperating from the war at the Lake Placid Club and making the Birches their unofficial headquarters. The Ray Brook gang gave Sunday afternoons a lively ring and clatter with the 2-to-5 jam sessions. It looked for awhile as if the place would never die. But it did, the same as most other fringe area domiciles catering to the happy set.
You might say that it is definitely back on the scene. Jim is the kind of guy that makes you feel very much at home. You can even add a little to the nostalgia if you want a dandy resting place for some of your ancient souvenirs.
Anyway, give it a whirl for kicks. It should sell itself and you.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, August 21, 1975,
The Birches in 3/4 time?
By PHIL GALLOS
RAY BROOK - The Birches, which almost became Duke Concrete Products Co , will soon be known as Waltz Inn, if Walter Nagengast has his way.
Nagengast, who is from Averill Park near Albany, is spending "a whole tot of money" refurbishing the onetime bar-dance hall-motel which has been a landmark at the corner of Route 86 and Ray Brook Road and which gained a degree of fame as a late night hot spot before it closed for good about two years ago.
Nagengast tells of coming to the Birches during hunting season some two decades ago and finding the place "really jumping" but, when informed that the establishment had featured topless go-go dancers in later years, the new North Country resident retorted, "There won't be any of that while I'm owner. There's no need for that kind of thing."
That may be, but Nagengast is not yet owner of the piece of real estate which almost, but not quite, changed hands once already this year.
The 2.53 acres and eight buildings were to be sold by owners Arthur Jubin and Paul Raihofer to the Duke Concrete Products Co. of Glens Falls. That company planned to remove most of the buildings, renovate the main structure, and operate a wholesale and retail masonry supply outlet on the site.
Duke began the process of obtaining Adirondack Park Agency approval for the project in January, 1975, but, by July, faced with an Agency mandated public hearing and discouraged by the loss of a year and a possible conflict with town zoning laws, Duke withdrew its application to the Agency, and the deal with Jubin and Raihofer fell through.
Jubin and Raihofer still own the property, but Nagengast claims he has "put a substantial sum down" contingent upon whether he is granted a liquor license. He has applied for the license, and he notes that Charles Lord of the Essex County Alcoholic Beverage Control Board had already inspected the premises.
Satisfying the requirements of the ABC board is, it appears, the only thing Nagengast is really worried about at this point. Asked about the Park Agency and the North Elba planning board and toning board of appeals, Nagengast said he had not heard anything from them. He is going on with his work.
Clifford McCormick, of Saranac Lake, Nagengast's attorney, when asked if he and his client had had any problems with the Adirondack Park Agency replied, "No, we haven't had any problems. APA doesn't have any jurisdiction over that property as far as we're concerned."
Charles Walsh, of Lake Placid, legal representative for Jubin and Raihofer, reserved comment.
Presently, Nagengast is renovating the bar and grill portion of the main building and making such extensive alterations as putting in new rest rooms and moving the entrance to the structure from the front to the side. He hopes to open that part of the business, selling beverages and sandwiches and pizza, on or about Sept. 15 of this year.
Eventually, perhaps next summer, he hopes to renovate the dance hall section of the structure and possibly serve meals. Then, after that, he will, perhaps, refurbish and open the cabins. "After all, they're part of the business too," he said.