Villa Napoli: A Restaurant in a Historic Bolton Setting
In 1959, a restaurant opened on what had once been the grounds of one of Lake George’s most extravagant estates, William Becker’s Villa Marie Antoinette.
The mansion overlooking the lake had been destroyed in 1953 and the property subdivided into several cottage colonies and motels.
One of the motels was built on the site of the mansion; that became Melody Manor, named in honor of the mansion’s apse-sized pipe organ.
On an adjacent lot, where formal gardens once bloomed, a restaurant was built.
For years, the two businesses co-existed side by side, sometimes easily, sometimes not.
In the 1980s, the owners of Melody Manor, Walter and Marcella Hamm, purchased the restaurant and united the two properties.
Today, the Hamms’ daughter Rose and her husband Damien Alessi own and operate both the motel and the restaurant.
Now called Villa Napoli and offering classic Italian fare, the restaurant’s 50th anniversary is being celebrated this summer.
In fact, the Alessies are not only celebrating the 50th anniversary of the restaurant but ten years of working together as partners.
Says their daughter Elena, who will be a sophomore at Villanova this fall, “For all the time they spend together, they get along pretty well.”
That certainly appears to be the case, despite or because of the fact they riff off one another’s comments like a well-rehearsed comedy duo.
“We work together as a team,” says Rose; “We have separate jobs,” Damien adds. “We have separate buildings,” offers Rose, as though revealing the true source of their successful partnership.
Damien has the last word: “In the restaurant, Rose is the boss; actually, she’s the boss everywhere.”
Rose, however, credits Damien with the idea that transformed an unexceptional restaurant known as Leonard’s into Villa Napoli.
“At the time, there was no real Italian restaurant in Bolton Landing,” says Damien.
“Damien had a good sense of what people were looking for,” says Rose.
At the time, Damien had yet to join Rose in the business; he was the Sagamore’s Spa director.
Both of them had come to Bolton Landing in the mid-eighties; Damien to work at The Sagamore, Rose to work with her parents.
“I thought it would be a great place to raise a family,” said Rose.
“Norman Wolgin says that it’s only because of him that I have a wife, a family and a business,” Damien says of the former Sagamore owner who recruited him to move to the Adirondacks.
Coming from a big Italian family from Queens, Damien might have brought with him some of Villa Napoli’s first recipes, but Rose was the restaurant’s first true chef.
That came about somewhat by accident. One season early in her tenure as the restaurant’s manager, a chef left in mid-summer.
Determined not to allow her business to depend upon notoriously temperamental chefs, Rose entered Adirondack Community College’s Culinary Arts Program and interned at The Sagamore’s Trillium.
Her vision now shapes the restaurant’s menu, style and spirit.
“Villa Napoli is an extension of my home, my garden, my kitchen,” she says.
On any given summer evening, approximately a third of the restaurant’s patrons are guests at Melody Manor.
“People come here for the quiet, the serenity and some of the best views of Lake George available; that hasn’t changed since the 1950s,” says Damien.
What has changed, he says, is the demographics of Bolton Landing’s visitors.
“This used to be a blue collar resort town,” he says. “Our parking lot was once filled with station wagons. Now it’s filled with Land Rovers.”
To meet the expectations of that market, the Alessies re-invest in the property every year, and, of course, maintain Rose’s high standards in the restaurant.
“The food is made with love and care, with fresh, local ingredients,” she says. “I want our customers to leave Villa Napoli happy. They deserve the best.”