Horse-drawn carriage rides are offered in Seneca Falls, which is celebrating its resemblance to the fictional Bedford Falls in It's a Wonderful Life. (Provided by Hotel Clarence).
This weekend, the village of Seneca Falls is magically transformed into the quintessential holiday town of Bedford Falls. Many believe this Finger Lakes village is the model for the humble hometown in the movie, It's a Wonderful Life. Director Frank Capra stopped in Seneca Falls on a visit to his sister, who lived nearby.
There is the canal, and the famous bridge with a plaque honoring a local citizen who died in 1917 when rescuing a woman who had jumped into the water to end her life. And now there is George Bailey Avenue and up on Main Street (actually Fall Street), the newly renovated Hotel Clarence and fine dining restaurant, Divine Kitchen & Bar.
Address: 108 Fall Street, Seneca Falls.
Phone: (315) 712-4000.
On the Web: www.hotelclarence.com.
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. seven days a week; dinner 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday (closed this Saturday for a private event). Call before driving to confirm hours. Reservations strongly suggested.
Diet: Vegetarian pasta option always available. Chef will accommodate dietary or allergen needs.
Accessibility: Ramp at the Fall Street entrance. Restrooms accessible.
Parking: Offstreet parking.
Prices: Lunch, $7.25 to $16.50. Appetizers, $6.75 to $12.95. Dinners, $9.50 to $28.
This weekend is the celebration of the connection with a whole weekend full of events honoring the classic movie. Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu, the Bailey's curly-haired daughter, will be on hand for the festivities. She will be signing autographs at the Hotel Clarence on Sunday. For a full schedule of parades, movie screenings, dances and dinners, go to www.therealbedfordfalls.com.
Hotel Clarence was originally built in 1918 as the Gould Hotel, after one of the hotel's backers Gould Manufacturing. A three-year renovation project has turned it into a sleek, modern hotel with spare but elegant décor. General manager and developer Joachim Ohlin, and Ed Moro, executive food and beverage director, are veterans of the Mirbeau Inn and Spa in Skaneateles. Together, they bring a taste for elegance to the new venture.
In addition to a fine dining menu, there is a casual barbecue menu. We arrived for dinner, and two of us chose from the formal menu, while one sampled the 'cue. We started by sharing an appetizer plate of baked oysters ($12.99).
My companion's daughter, young but with an already polished palate, chose the grilled salmon ($19.95). Marinated and then grilled with soy and ginger, it was served with whole sugar peas, sweet corn and watercress, providing a lively range of tastes.
My companion volunteered to try one of the barbecue platters, choosing a combination of chicken and a pulled pork sandwich ($16.50). The chicken was falling-off-the-bone tender and smoked to the core. The pulled pork was also tender and tossed in a slightly sweet and nicely spicy sauce. Served on a soft roll, it was as good as any I've sampled.
I chose the New York state duck ($26). Two legs were topped with a sauce of sour cherries and served with a side of fresh green beans and potatoes in brown butter. The sauce was wonderful, and the duck tender. My only issue was that the meat itself, despite the tenderness was quite salty. The sauce helped balance that, but we all still noticed it.
For dessert, we shared a platter featuring a scoop of banana poppy seed ice cream and a coconut cupcake. Connecting the two was a swirling loop of piped chocolate. Intentional or not, it reminded me of the "George lassos the moon" drawing that adorns Mary's dresser in It's a Wonderful Life. The extraordinary ice cream was house-made.
At the end of our meal, we left through the lobby, catching a glimpse of "George Bailey" and "Violet Bick" chatting on the sidewalk (there will be plenty of actors playing the parts this weekend) before stepping out onto the real sidewalk of Seneca Falls.
The comfortable bar can be lively with acoustic entertainment. The drink menu focuses on traditional cocktails of the '30s and '40s and even features flaming rum punch, the drink requested by Clarence the Angel as he and George Bailey visit Martini's bar. More than two dozen Finger Lakes wines lead a list of nearly 100 selections.
An endless loop of It's a Wonderful Life plays in the lobby. The main dining room is sleek and modern, as is the décor of the whole hotel. To be honest, though, for me, the contemporary chic was a bit of a disconnect from the homey movie that the name and theme embraces.