Lake Escapes: Sunapee Harbor restaurant a draw for more than just the food
Passengers aboard the MV Mount Sunapee are treated to spectacular views of one of the State's most beautiful lakes. (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)
Captain Alan Peterson narrates points of interest as he deftly guides the MV Mount Sunapee on a sightseeing tour of Lake Sunapee. (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)
Passengers prepare to board the MV Mount Sunapee for a ninety minute sightseeing tour of Lake Sunapee. (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)
In typical New England weather fashion, passengers are greeted with a hail storm upon returning to the dock in Sunapee Harbor. (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)
A loon sits quietly near one of several functioning light houses maintained by the Lake Sunapee Association. (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)
Out on the veranda at The Anchorage at Sunapee Harbor, famished patrons refuel in boat shoes and flip-flops, swapping stories and glancing out at a sun-kissed view. Glassy water laps in the foreground. Flags of red, white and blue rustle across the bay, under a cotton candy sky.
“It’s like a Norman Rockwell painting,” explained Karlie Chamberlain, one of the owners of this lakefront restaurant and bar, which has existed in one form or another since at least 1948.
The surroundings have changed some over the decades. The boats are newer, bigger, far greater in number. Once-open shoreline now teems with docks. But the feel of the place is said to be much the same: peaceful, quaint – a spot to dip your toes in the water and unwind at the height of summer.
At 8 miles long and 2 miles wide, Sunapee is New Hampshire’s sixth-largest body of water. Its name is derived from the Abenaki word “soo-nipi”, which translates variously to “wild goose waters” and “place of clear waters.”
The lake became a trendy destination in the late 19th century. Wealthy families would arrive by train and be ferried to one of a handful of remote waterfront resorts. The shoreline is more congested today, but the glitz hasn’t entirely disappeared. Seasonal homes sell for millions, and guides are quick to tick through a list of distinguished tenants.
At the entry point for it all: The Anchorage.
For nine summers now, Karli and Glenn Chamberlain have run things here. From mid-May to Columbus Day, their lives are a blur of hotplates and delivery trucks, of trivia nights and open mics. It’s a hectic life, and one that has taken years to fine tune. But the couple seem content.
“There’s a love affair with this building and this business,” Glenn said recently, seated in a booth with Karlie and longtime patron Jim “Bomba” Burrington, who is both a friend and a sort of resident historian.
“Until the day I die, whether I own this business or not, I’m spending my summers here – somehow,” Glenn added. “If I have to pitch a tent, I will be here. Because this is where I want to be. It just draws you in.”
The Chamberlains never planned to own a restaurant, let alone an established waterfront attraction. So when they agreed to purchase The Anchorage in 2005, there was a foreseeably steep learning curve. Everything, it seemed, needed fixing. The menu had to be reworked. Costs and to-do lists quickly spiraled toward chaos.
Then one day Steven Tyler paddled over in a canoe.
The singer, of Aerosmith fame, just happened to be in town – he owns a place on the lake – and looking for something carbonated.
“And I went, ‘Well, we’re not really open, but yeah, I have a can of Coke if you’re thirsty,’ ” Karlie recalled. When she returned with it, he had a dollar in his hand. “I said, ‘What’s that for?’ He said, ‘I’m going to sign it. It’s good luck.’ ”
Perhaps it was. The couple admit they’ve had a few mishaps now and again – the latest coming earlier this summer, when their industrial dishwasher spontaneously combusted. But for the most part, they said, the business has remained a beehive of positive activity. Karlie estimated that they serve between 500 and 1,000 guests each day.
They have streamlined operations over the years. Glenn, 66, handles the inventory; Karlie, 59, the front of the house. During the season, they stay with Karlie’s father, who has a place a short walk up the road. The rest of the year they either travel or lay low, regrouping for the coming year.
The menu today leans toward seafood, which they get delivered fresh from Gloucester, Mass. “We still have burgers and hotdogs and that sort of thing,” Glenn said. “But we also have barramundi and oysters and lobsters – when we can get them.”
The clam chowder and fish and chips are favorites among diners. Inland fare – including a warm cajun catfish sandwich – is also well-received.
But the food is only part of the attraction, Glenn said. Asked why people would flock to this lake rather than another, he pointed to the “quaintness.”
“I think they like the quiet,” he said. “They like the old style. They can be comfortable and everyone is very friendly.”
Karlie chimed in. “They can let their children out the door to walk down for ice cream, and not worry. That’s one of the biggest things,” she said. “Kids are allowed to be kids on this lake.”
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)