by Dan McClelland
After much anticipation LaLa's Bar and Restaurant at the new Big Tupper Brewery on Cliff Ave. opened Saturday afternoon to much fanfare and community applause.
The Adirondack-style building would be a showpiece anywhere in the world- and in Tupper Lake it represents one of the finest commercial endeavors ever to be launched here in the past half-century.
It's the Tupper Lake brewing company's official base and there this fall its four main products right now and others later will be served to hungry patrons of Janelle LaVigne's Mexican food restaurant.
In partnership with the local attorney and Tupper Lake native is Susan Lawson. LaLa's derives its name from the first two letters of the last names of the two women.
Janelle has had a passion for preparing Mexican food since her days in college and later law school in San Diego, California. To earn money for college and support herself she worked as a cook, a waitress and a bartender at numerous bars and eateries out west. Her zest for the cuisine followed her to Las Vegas, where she practiced law for 14 years.
“I first started working in a restaurant for my Uncle Bill (King) when I was 14 at his Main Street Restaurant,” she said during a break in the action Friday as everyone was scurrying about there getting ready for Saturday’s grand opening.
LaLa's menu features many of the traditional Mexican favorites including tacos, tortillas, burritos, flautas (she prepares two varieties) and various kinds of beans and rice. One bean recipe she likes and which her menu features is “Drunken Beans,” which are cooked in beer.
For those who don't like Mexican food, there is traditional American food on the menu too.
From the feedback from customers she received Wednesday, among the favorite things on the menu was the Creamy Chicken Jalapeno Flauta. The dipping sauce we loved Saturday was her ranch dressing with jalapeno. The shrimp on her burrito in green mole sauce were mouth-watering.
Since not everyone knows Mexican food, Janelle designed her first menu to be user friendly.
Janelle is currently training at least two cooks and teaching them her secrets.
The new bar and eatery opened its doors in something of a soft opening to about 50 invited guests Wednesday, but Saturday was the big kick-off.
People arrived by the dozens for the 4p.m. start and were awed by the fabulous place they found.
The Big Tupper Brewery company is owned by Jim and Laura LaValley, Rick and Lisa Dattola, Tom and Susan Lawson, Scott and Anna Allen and Dr. Kelly Larkin and Fernando Parra.
BTB has been producing beer for many months and has established a large distribution network of stores and bars and restaurants across the entire North Country.
The company's four main products- IPA eh, Touk, a pilsner and a green tea ale- are all brewed by Adirondack Brewery in Lake George. The Tupper Lake-based company contracts with four distributors which cover the entire region: Saratoga Eagle, Plattsburgh Distributing, Cappione and Doldo Brothers.
“Beer sales are going well,” Jim LaValley said during a tour of the new place Friday. “The IPA is our flag ship line and our Touk- the porter, is highly rated.
BTB just released a new summer ale, with refreshing hints of strawberry and rhubarb flavors.
Also on tap Saturday was a new drink called “Tangerine Dream.”
The building is divided into essentially two parts. Two thirds of the ground floor is the restaurant and bar- with a large dining room at the Cliff Ave. end, a large horseshoe bar facing a line of 14 taps and a smaller dining area alongside the bar called the Pub Room, which lines a large wall of windows, behind which will be the new brewery.
Wood décor dominates the place in varied and tasteful styles. The bar, for example, was created from slabs of thick pine and heavily sealed to make it appear dark. The bar is wrapped in old and faded tin sheets taken from the former Villnave Building Co. on Lake Street. Rough cut wood is used on many of the walls. The floor is hemlock planks.
Two 102 year old antique chalkboards, originally usedby teachers to deliver their lessons at the Faust school house (now the Tupper Lake Moose Lodge), flank the bar as a place to post specials.
On the wall between the bar and dining room the partners used a 1937 bound copy of the Tupper Lake Herald-Adirondack Northern Press to commission a wallpaper of about 12 front pages from that year. Dan Carmichael and the graphic arts wing of Tupper Lake Supply had the vinyl wallpaper created for the project.
The ceilings of the rooms are tongue and groove pine.
Thereis a very open lobby area, with restrooms off it. In the men's room, two men's urinals were imaginatively created from beer kegs.
AnAdirondack store with BTB and LaLa's souvenirs occupies alarge nook on the other side of the lobby.
A large stone fireplace setting divides the dining room and bar area. The cut stone was laid by Mason Leon LeBlanc Jr. and his crew.
On top of it sits an attractive coal and wood stove that was sold to the partners by Next Stop! Tupper Lake. Tom and Susan Lawson found the attractive stove in a downstate train station a few years agoand had it refurbished as a donation to the train station.
Of the overall look of the place, Jim LaValley described it this way: “We wanted to design something that we thought was camp-style- but also something very attractive to visit.”
On many of the walls are poster-sized photos of old lumberjacks and logging scenes and there are several posters of what Mr. LaValley called “Adirondack mythical creature.” Much of the wall artwork was fashioned by Tupper Lake's Stacked Graphics.
During the summer months patrons can eat and drink inside or out. On the grounds near the entrance way is a park-style area with a dozen picnic tables andpunctuated by several large boulders.
Many chose to stay outside to eat and dine that first evening.
The Cliff Ave. side of the patio area is pet friendly, the other side isn't.
On Saturday, Jim Boucher and Eric Pasternak played under a tent- although the skies were cloudless andperfect for a celebration.
The dining room area seats 85 and there's room outside around the picnic tables for another 50 to 60.
John Gullen of Tupper Lake was the master carpenter on the project and John's magic figures prominently everywhere. There was a lot of straightening out to do with the shell of the building before renovations could commence last fall.
Randy and Les Lohr did much of the electrical and plumbing work.
A chandelier using re-purposed barn beams hangs above the bar.
One of John Gullen's most creative additions to the place are the growler pendants that light the place. John found a way to cut the bottoms off beer growlers and fashion them into lights.
Working with the village electric department, the BTB partners purchased modern L.E.D. lights for the entire place, which will realize significant electric savings in the months and years ahead. “It's part of our green effort,” noted Mr. LaValley.
The impressive brewery building sits on the site of the former Windsor Hotel which was replaced by O'Villa Roberts in the late 1970s and reopened as the O'Villa Club. The building has been home to a several bars over the years run by operators Paul LaMontagne, Gary Kucipak and Eric Strader, among others.
On the old police department side of the building is the new stainless steel kitchen and future brewery area.
In the kitchen area the stoves and preparation tables are on one floor and downstairs in a renovated and bright basement is the dish-washing and storage areas.
In the basement area under the bar and restaurant there's a modern keg room, more storage and a technology center which runs the computerized ordering system, the tap system andthe security system.
The various heating and ventilation systems are also found down there.
Behind the kitchen area is an expansive brewing room which by mid-fall, Mr. LaValley estimates, will be home to a new seven-barrel brewing system which is capable of producing14 half kegs of a particular brew ina single batch over a two week cycle.
The system is capable of having various brews at different stages in theprocess at the same time.
“Our brewer, Ricky Laflamme, is very anxious to get going there.”
He said the inventive brewer has many interesting ideas for beer recipesand the brews he'll create from them.
One of them the owner would like him to create is a Scotch ale.
Mr. LaValley has been interested in craft beers for over a decade, and he has sampled some of the country's best in various locations around the country.
“I thought Tupper Lake and the Adirondack region needed this,” he said of the new business.
Mr. LaValley feels their venture and the Raquette River Brewery, operated by Mark Jessie and Joe Hockey will complement each other nicely. The downtown brewery has been packed many days and evenings this summer. “Mark and Joe have done a phenomenal job!”
From Saturday forward packed crowds should be seen at both places.
Fans of craft beer, he said, will travel two or three hours to experiment. “Tupper Lake now has two great places to visit and sample great products.”
“I think this is going to be a lot of fun,” he said of the new enterprise. “The partners all see it as a great traffic builder for Tupper Lake.”
“We hope this will be a place that everyone will be proud of...a place where people will come by themselves or with their friends to meet other friends!”
LaLa's at BTB is open every day of the week this summer from 11a.m. to 9p.m.
The phrase in two foot high letters which fills an entire wall in the dining room says it all: “If it isn’t fun, it isn’t worth doing!”
by Dan McClelland