They just don’t make them like this anymore. With a winding lane that twists around a central fountain and between brightly painted, gabled buildings, the 78-year-old Chalet Suzanne looks more like an old-world village than a Florida motel. Add a high-end restaurant that’s served celebrities from around the world, a soup factory that’s fed astronauts, and an airstrip atop the highest ridge in peninsular Florida, and the little 26-room hideout in Lake Wales easily scores the classification as unique.
The terrace of the Balcony Honeymoon Suite
While American and Russian astronauts took Chalet Suzanne’s soups to space (on board Apollo 15 and 16, as well as a joint Apollo-Soyuz flight), many visitors drop in from above via a 2315-foot grass airstrip on the hotel property. Some come for the night and longer, while some just for dinner at the on-site restaurant just off State Road 17.
Long known as a place for special occasions, Chalet Suzanne’s restaurant built a reputation on its five-course dinner that includes such signature dishes as grapefruit caramelized under the broiler, romaine soup (the same kind that went to the moon), and lobster Newburg. It’s a menu that has attracted the power and Hollywood elite, including the likes of Bert Reynolds, John Glenn, and Robert Redford. You can see their mugs and those of other celeb visitors in a “book” of photos that hang from a wall in the restaurant’s lobby.
According to Dee Hinshaw, who operates Chalet Suzanne with her husband Eric (his grandmother founded the resort), the restaurant recently introduced a few tweaks. In addition to the traditional five-course meal, they now offer an a la carte menu that gives diners a less-expensive option. There’s also a full brunch, which like dinner, is served everyday except Monday. (This just in: Chalet Suzanne has hired a new chef. His name has not yet been released, but plans call for him to begin working at the restaurant in January 2009.)
The Little Swedish Bar
The restaurant layout is itself an experience, with 14 different levels, all patched together over a period of decades, using materials from a chicken house, a stable, and quarters for the help. Steps and doorways lead to separate alcove-like dining rooms. Over one such space, the terrace of the “Balcony Honeymoon Suite” offers a nice view of the scene below. Hiding away at the lowest level is the dimly lit Little Swedish Bar, where a staircase leads up to faux windows just above what has to be one of the coolest and coziest liars on the peninsula. Slanted color bars, angle from floor to the dark-wood bar. Enjoying a cocktail here, it’d be easy to forget the time – whether it’s day or night, or even this century or the last – back when they used to make places like this.
New Year’s Eve at Chalet Suzanne
Tradition continues at Chalet Suzanne’s restaurant, which will host a full night of festivities on New Year’s Eve. For the 21st year, a magician will perform tricks tableside and a pianist will play until 10 p.m. in the restaurant. Music will continue in the lounge area until about 1 or 2 a.m. Staff and visitors alike will do the bunny hop through the restaurant and into the kitchen just after midnight and be treated to cornbread and hoppin’ John.
Chalet Suzanne: 3800 Chalet Suzanne Drive, Lake Wales, FL 33859. See http://www.chaletsuzanne.com/index.html or call 863-676-6011 or 800-433-6011.