Friday, February 3, 2012

Old Florida meets Old World at Chalet Suzanne

Chalet Suzanne is a legendary Florida venue, and had been high at the top of my "must see" list for some time. I finally scratched that itch on Christmas Eve, driving to the Lake Wales destination for a delicious lunch.

Part of the charm of Chalet Suzanne is that it is still a family run business, owned and operated by the descendants of the Bertha Hinshaw who opened the Chalet for business in 1931. Four generations later the Inn and Restaurant are still going strong. Matriarch Bertha, who suddenly found herself a widow in the Great Depression, started the business as as Suzanne's Chalet and was aided by favorable reviews by in travel guides written by Duncan Hines. The business thrived until it burned down during World War II. It was re-built after the war using outbuildings on the property, a fact that might explain the unusual layout of the restaurant. Today the spaces are unique and cozy and the decor is an eclectic blend of Old Florida simplicity and European excess. Stained glass windows compliment Pecky cypress paneling and many of the floors slope from age. It's a wonderful collection of quirky spaces and the bar is incredibly charming. The dining room we were seated in overlooks a small lake and it was full of multi-generational diners full of the holiday spirit. The highlight of my meal was the Lobster Bisque, as soups are the specialty of the house.

My overall impression of the Chalet Suzanne is that it is a hidden gem. Once ideally located between the Polk County tourist destinations of Cypress Gardens and Bok Tower, it is off the beaten path today. The sprawling complex of unique rooms is a popular wedding destination and I'd love to stay in the Inn sometime and could enjoy the funky little bar! If you haven't been, I'd urge a visit, because spots like this are few and far between in Florida these days.

Vintage postcards from the State Archives of Florida

Gift shop and offices for the Inn

The rooms look to be cozy and full of vintage charm

A small airstrip adjacent to the property has skydiving facilities

The soup cannery has tastings where one can try the famous Moon Soup,
Chalet Suzanne's signature item.

The bar is easily one of the most interesting spaces I've seen in Central Florida
I hope to return soon to give it a try!

1 comment:

  1. Alas not for this trip, but I am SO putting this on my ever growing list of places to check out in Florida! Thanks for the tip Rick - I'll have to let Retro Roadmap Readers know about it too!