A quiet place for a change
River Spring Lodge is a fixed-price couples getaway
River Spring Lodge
1961A Church Rd., Darien Center
The lucrative three-month contract she signed with the hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania, has turned into seven and counting. The kids miss their mom, so most weekends you’ve been packing them up for a hotel stay somewhere in between. You try to catch up with her over the noise of indoor pools and the warmed-over mediocrity of the chain restaurant meals the kids insist upon. You miss couple time, the stolen three hours when someone else has the children and you can enjoy her company over candlelight.
Mom and Dad see this. They book you a room at the River Spring Lodge near Darien Lake, a strange choice for late January. What could you possibly do with yourselves in rural Wyoming County in the middle of winter? “That’s kind of the point,” says your mother.
The kids are with the grandparents, and you have a nice, long book in your weekend bag. There are wisps of snow blowing across the empty country road. The GPS tells you that you’ve arrived, and you see a small sign at the end of a long, gravel driveway. There are trees on either side of the winding drive and then an opening with a small lodge alongside a frozen pond. You see her car already parked in the small lot.
In the lobby, she’s talking to the owners, Dave and Carolyn Hamer. They’ve had a long career serving high-end guests at remote lodges that include a glacier in Alaska, an offshore island in Maine, and an elk-hunting resort in New Mexico. They recently bought the place in Darien Center to provide a luxury experience to sportsmen, corporate retreats, and couples looking for a place to unwind. Dave thanks you for letting him know your dinner choices in advance and asks what time you’d like to start.
The room is tastefully modern, with an imposing king-sized bed in the middle, a seating area, and a fancy bathroom with whimsical sink fixtures, a giant walk-in shower, and a separate tub. The bathroom tiles heat up beneath your bare feet. Most importantly, the space is absolutely quiet, with no traffic noise, no loud teenagers in the hallway—just the sound of wind swishing through the barren tree branches outside.
Dinner begins in a room off the lobby, the small table set formally with a white cloth, candle, and cut flower. Carolyn explains that the four-course meal will begin with french onion soup topped with roasted East Hill Creamery cheese from Perry. “The table is yours for the night,” she says, inviting you to take your time and savor the meal.
Carolyn recommends a glass of Kendall Jackson Alexander Valley cabernet sauvignon, a dry red with hints of blackberry and currant. The soup is not the usual bubbling crock of cheese and bread, but the bone broth has a balanced intensity, and the crispy cheese slices hold up better than the soppy slices of baguette. The soup is followed up with a fairly straightforward garden salad topped with a creamy dressing Dave puts together using New York blue cheese.
Before the main course, Carolyn brings out a bottle of Robert Mondavi fume blanc, a citrusy white palate-cleanser that contrasts with the rich cab sauv. Your butterflied shrimp ($30) is perfectly done: a firm crust of panko crumbs, a fresh burst of shellfish, and sweet heat from red pepper jelly. Your wife closes her eyes as she forks into the tender rack of lamb ($45). It’s a far cry from a crowded booth along the interstate. You realize with your second bite how much you needed this.
Along with your chocolate butter cheesecake, Dave offers you a glass of Elijah Craig Kentucky bourbon. With each sip, the last of your tension melts away. It’s a joy to know that it’s still early, and there is literally nothing to do except catch up, reconnect, and enjoy each other’s company.
The walk back to the room is more like floating as you’re both full and tipsy from the meal. You planned a late wake-up, but the alarm still catches you off guard. A three-course breakfast awaits of a tangy, yogurt “mango soup,” crunchy french toast, and an eggs benedict with hollandaise that isn’t afraid of fresh lemon. Dave invites you to stay a little longer, but your wife has to get back, and your parents are expecting you in Rochester.
As you load your bags back into the car, you realize that sometimes, when a couple has to live apart, it makes the time you spend together seem so much more important. Your weekend at River Spring Lodge shows you that sometimes it’s more important to spend time alone with the person you chose to spend your life than live through your children.
River Spring Lodge is an out-of-the-way retreat that you will want to recommend to your friends. It’s a great place to hit pause and take time for yourself. The owners, Dave and Carolyn, are throwbacks to country inn owners all over the Northeast, yet the property is as modern as any slick urban hotel. River Spring is about an hour’s drive from both Rochester and Buffalo, but feels like a world away. After your stay, you’ll return to your busy life refreshed.
Mark Gillespie is an avid fan of the region’s food, culture, and great outdoors.