Eat and Drink Guide Fall 2016
THE SUTTLE LODGE has been around in some form since the early 20th century, but it took until the late summer of 2016 for the lakeside retreat in Central Oregon to arrive.
With the minds behind the Ace Hotel in Portland at the wheel, the 15.5-acre lakefront property in the Deschutes National Forest reopened in late August with a rustic-chic aesthetic, cocktails and vinyl record vibes from a former bartender at Expatriate, and a menu by Ava Gene’s’ own Josh McFadden.
Basically, it’s catnip for city folk looking to take in the great outdoors while still being able to slurp down the best piña colada they’ve ever tasted.
“For me personally, this is something I’ve always wanted to do,” says Greg Frodsham, the lodge’s general manager, who helped open outposts of the Ace Hotel in Portland, New York, and Palm Springs. “With the national forest and giant beautiful lake, it was begging to be brought back to life and be given back to the people. There’s just a lot going on [with] this property that was right on the precipice of being something really special. It has less to do with big ambitions and [more] making it a comfortable place to come and hang out.”
The property was purchased last year for $1.5 million by Dave Schrott and Robert Sacks of Portland’s A&R Development, who signed a deal with the Mighty Union, a new partnership made up of old hands from the Ace Hotel, to redesign and run the hospitality.
Much has remained from the old site: The cabins are being remodeled, the totem pole remains rooted in place, and the incredible double doors to the lodge are still intact, with 3D carvings of a swooping eagle, deer, and a Native American man wearing a loincloth. (You’re gonna wanna Instagram the shit out of those.)
But much is different, too. The rooms are sparse but huge; upstairs rooms have additional beds on a second-floor sleeping loft. There are branded gray-and-yellow Suttle Lodge Pendleton blankets, and there’s nothing electronic in the rooms except for a Bluetooth radio. Want TV? There’s one in the second floor common room next to the ping pong table, but not in your room.
The main room is endlessly inviting, drawing guests out to just chill in the common space like summer camp kids who have developed a taste for mezcal. Oversized stuffed slate-gray chairs are arranged throughout the huge main room, easily reconfigured so you can face the constantly roaring fire, watch rain pattering over the lake, or just bury your face in Amy Schumer’s new book.
“[The designer] wanted something comfortable that invited conviviality, places where people could gather together and enjoy food and drink together,” Frodsham says. “It’s about what’s comfortable, what’s cozy, what brings people together.”
Each evening at around 8 pm, a kitchen staffer comes out with a full plate of warm chocolate-chip cookies—the ultimate homey touch.
A recent late-September Saturday at the lodge featured a packed common room, with a young couple from Portland who’d heard about the remodel, a family with two young kids, a raucous group of fortysomething women decompressing from work, and a few other media types also checking the lodge out.
The Boathouse, the resort’s restaurant with lakeside views and McFadden’s menu, opens in October. While it’s a far cry from the upscale, vegetable-forward menu at Ava Gene’s on SE Division, McFadden’s food is designed to be cabin-hearty and family-friendly. I wouldn’t drive the two and a half hours just to eat, but mixed greens with smoked trout and a poached egg ($9), or a cracker crust pizza with mushrooms, sausage, and Mama Lil’s peppers ($13) are better than average.
We especially dug the fish and chips as a sandwich ($14), a generous portion of trout crusted in potato chips on a bun with tartar sauce and slaw. It shares easy with $4 curly fries and seasonal crunchy vegetables with egg and Olympia Provisions sausage ($9).
But perhaps the Mighty Union’s smartest move was luring away Expatriate bartender Eric Nelson, who is continuing to create exquisite drinks for a happily captive audience. Like several members of the staff, he stays for several days and then commutes back to his family in Portland—or they come to him.
Nelson presides over the bar and the restored vintage record player with ease, settling into his role as the main public face of the lodge.
The cocktail list (developed by Sean Hoard of Portland’s The Commissary) has to be the best east of Santiam Pass: a mix of standards and new concoctions from Nelson called “cocktails we’ve come up with.” The Interpretive Ranger ($10), with rye, sweet vermouth, kirsch, and absinthe, was bracing.
“Most of the locals, they already know what they want to drink, so why not take bigger swings with the cocktails?” Nelson says. “We get to play the role of introducing people to cocktails.”
Just like he did at Expatriate, Nelson will whip up a custom drink based on just a few hints about what liquors you like. It’s a trust fall to say “mezcal and Campari” to a stranger and have the resulting drink come out great (it really did).
And while it’s not on a printed menu yet, it may very well be worth the drive from Portland to try Nelson’s blended piña colada—that typically saccharine beach drink—in the mountains.
It is addictive and potent, a blend of Bacardi Superior and Eight Year rums, Sailor Jerry spiced rum, heavy cream, pineapple, Coco Lopez cream of coconut—and here’s what really makes this the ultimate—salt and coffee. The latter two ingredients add bitter and savory layers to a drink I haven’t thought was actually good since I was 21. After Nelson whipped up a batch—served with a little pink umbrella, naturally—most of the partying women sitting nearby also jumped in, each happily cooing as they took that first sip.
Nelson explains that after working at Trifecta, Laurelhurst, and Expatriate, all busy spots, he wanted to slow down and find a place where his two younger children, ages 7 and 9, can have something to look back on.
“It’s about memory building—you’re going to take your kids here and come back every summer,” Nelson said. “It’s like an old-school spot, very Boy Scout, but in a good way.”
Frodsham, the general manager, says that while they’re definitely trying to draw Portland and other valley residents—the design work makes that super clear—it’s not their only target. He says they’re planning on hosting science nights next summer in the beer garden, and other classes and events to draw locals.
“I personally have no notions of who we’re trying to attract—old, young, hip, or not hip,” he said. “This national forest is a public forest. This is the public’s lake. It’s all about being a place that everybody from all walks of life can come and enjoy.”
SUTTLE LODGE STATS
11: Rooms available nightly in the main lodge
5: Creekside and lakeside cabins that sleep eight with linens, towels, fire pit and propane grill, and kitchen.
1: Premium lakeside cabin that sleeps four, with a porch, outdoor fire pit and propane grill, large kitchen, king-sized bed, and full bathroom with shower and hot tub.
8: Rustic cabins that sleep up to five people, with shared bathrooms, fire pit and grill, linens and towels for a fee, and one queen bed, two twin bunks, and a full-size futon sofa. There’s no running water in the cabins, but there is electricity.
9: Number of people who can sleep in the Historic Pointe cabin, the original structure built in the 1920s which has been updated with two full bathrooms, a full kitchen, views of the lake, a private sitting area by the lake, a large porch and a small private dock.
3: Number of times we were offered freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies as we read by the fire or played card games in the main room.
Depending on season and availability, rooms and cabins range from $65 to $500 per night. Check thesuttlelodge.com for complete rate info.
WHAT TO DO
Hike Black Butte. Just a few miles down the highway from Suttle Lake, the four-mile round-trip hike doesn’t seem long, but the relatively steep grade and altitude will leave your calves burning.
Eat at Sisters Bakery. This cash- or check-only bakery (251 E Cascade, Sisters) in the closest town to Suttle Lake gets real busy, so go early for favorites like cheese sticks and a killer cinnamon roll.
Walk around the lake. There’s a flat, 3.5-mile trail around Suttle Lake for those looking to stretch their legs without breaking a major sweat.
Rent a boat, canoe, kayak, or paddleboard. Starting in the spring, the lodge will have watercraft available for rental.
Snowshoe, cross country, or downhill ski. The lodge has worked out a deal to sell Hoodoo ski lift passes, and already has snowshoes on hand to rent for when the snow starts falling.
Go antiquing. If old stuff is your thing, downtown Sisters has an array of old-timey shops. Our favorite is Old West Collectibles (183 E Hood, Sisters), with its drawers full of tintype photographs and the vintage boobies of the pin-up girls on the wall.
The Suttle Lodge & Boathouse