By Karen D. Lorentz
Leslie and Scott Smith with Mike Solimano in front of the Preston’s sign opening night.
A grand opening celebration for the new Preston’s Restaurant in the Killington Grand Resort Hotel took place on Friday Dec. 11, just two days shy of Killington Resort’s 58th opening anniversary.
On hand to share in the ribbon cutting and festivities were Leslie Leete Smith and Scott Leete Smith, daughter and son of Killington founder Preston Leete Smith, who lives in Florida and was unable to attend. However, they shared the event via Facetime with their father, and Smith toasted the opening with his own special Starburst Martini.
In a phone interview with The Mountain Times, Smith said he was “pleasantly surprised” at the honor of having the restaurant named after him and enjoyed the photos sent to him by Killington President Mike Solimano, as well as seeing the restaurant via his daughter’s scans of it. He noted his approval of the upscale décor for the bar/lounge area and dining room. A stickler for detail, Smith even mentioned that the bar stools have “backs on them, which is important.”
While Smith said he was “never a fan of naming a trail after a person—you lay out a trail by studying the mountain and then designing the trail for maximum enjoyment and name it to relate to that enjoyment”—he allowed that “a restaurant is different.” Referencing the letter he sent to Solimano, Smith indicated his appreciation of the eponymous honor and shared this from his letter:
“Over the years, I often pondered what each of millions of people thought about a new trail or alteration or addition, as it is all about envisioning how each change will enhance the enjoyment of any individual skier. Ultimately the votes come in terms of ticket sales. That was always personally rewarding (and of course also for the company in general). It is ultimately not about money but the physical and mental health, invigoration and satisfaction that you can create for others. I always enjoyed the resulting enthusiasm expressed by our skiers, and now, Preston’s will afford me, albeit vicariously, an ongoing participation and reward.”
He added that he thinks of Killington every day.
Photographs share Smith’s vision
Part of Smith’s “participation” will be afforded by the vintage photographs of the early ski area. The walls in Preston’s are lined with photographs that trace the resort’s history, some of which feature Smith on skis or the barrel staves he “re-invented” as a fun ski in the 1960s.
Interior designer Deborah Bohl, principal of Deborah Bohl Interiors, LLC, of Delmar, N.Y., told The Mountain Times that she chose to line the walls with the black and white photographs as a way to both honor Smith and tell the story of the mountain. Servers will be able to answer questions about the photographs and share Killington’s history, too, she noted.
“I chose black and white photos because they are powerful and timeless and elegant,” she added, noting she had a “slight sepia tint” imparted to the photos so that people would automatically understand that “these are vintage photographs.”
Ironically, Smith’s former Killington residence had design features similar to those in the new restaurant—a modern, upscale, open feel with an abundant use of stone and a flow of rooms into one another. Asked if she had seen the house or had been aware of Smith’s own appreciation of art and graphic design, Bohl said she had “no idea” but that others had asked her that same question.
“The creative spirit works in mysterious ways,” she said.
That is a trait she shares with Smith, who was able to envision not only a major ski area when he first saw the mountain—a veritable wilderness in 1955—but also brought his own artistic expression to the mountain, his (former) Killington home, and even fostered an “art gallery in the sky” with the debut of the Skyeship Gondola. (The exteriors are covered with colorful designs that had been specially created to lend visual excitement and diversity to the lift.)
In designing the bar area, Bohl similarly chose finishes and furnishings that create a feeling of energy and excitement. In discussing her creative side, Bohl said she listens “to a voice inside.” Her 30 years of experience also come into play as well as her history with designing restaurants. She collaborated with Bread Loaf, a design and construction firm out of Middlebury, noting that Tom Karlhuber [who grew up in Killington] was the lead architect for the redesign of the hotel’s restaurant. “He had laid out the space for the bar and dining room so the footprint was in place. He created the structure and aesthetic, and I am dressing it—it was a delightful and successful collaboration,” she said of the $1.2 million renovation of the former Ovations.
“He set the bar at upscale, urban, edgy and contemporary,” she added, noting a team of Killington and Powdr personnel contributed ideas like opening up former walls to allow patrons to view the outdoors and to create continuous space.
A distinctive destination
One of the most striking things about Preston’s is the rustic elegance created by the distinctive décor, which features variety and a host of different materials and textures used in everything from the seating to lighting, tables to bar. The stone and wood siding bring in a sense of age yet the overall feel is definitely upscale and modern, thanks to contemporary furnishings. The combination works to create a casual atmosphere where one can feel at home in jeans or dressed to the nines.
Bohl explained that, noting: “Upscale casual is a criterion of modern restaurants today. My overall goal was to create a welcoming, comfortable, and distinctive destination. The use of antlers for a dining room chandelier, stone for walls, siding of reclaimed wood, and photos came from that,” she said of the “old-fashioned yet upscale look.”
Explaining her design signature of using reclaimed wood, Bohl said she used a contractor who harvested all the wood from Victorian houses and barns in the Adirondacks. She also created the tables that were built for Preston’s and designed the lighting fixtures for the dining area, where she went for a more refined look by through her choice of colors, furnishings, and finishes.
In describing the “clean, spare spaces,” she noted “some lush details like the dimension and texture of stone—the whimsical antlers of bronze. . . . The dark green siding blends with contemporary [mid-century era banquettes are an example] in the dining room and is a durable surface, yet a little lodge like.” She noted how the combination of elements such as different style chairs and upholstery and lighting can create both the energetic feel of the bar area and the intimacy of the dining area.
That combination of rustic and refined sets Preston’s apart and creates the distinctive destination Bohl was going for. In achieving her goal, Bohl also captured the spirit of Killington and its founder. (A snowshoer and cross-country skier, this was Bohl’s first ski area restaurant and first project for Powdr Resorts.)
Another point of difference for the new restaurant is that the bar can be easily found now, as it is no longer tucked away in a corner. It is spectacular in design and materials and has surrounding table seating as well as food service.
Preston’s dining experience promises new highs, from its casual-to-elegant menu. That’s because Executive Chef Greg Lang has created a “Casual” menu of amazing appetizers—duck quesadilla to grilled shrimp, soups and salads—so creative I have one of his recipes—and a fun Between the Bun menu offering more variety with several choices named after ski trails.
The fine dining selections feature creative cuisine—beer-washed pheasant to hazelnut crusted salmon, vegetarian to chicken—and Grill Cuts that will satisfy the most demanding steak aficionado.
Signage calls Preston’s “a good place to eat and drink.” I get the simplicity of that, but having experienced Chef Lang’s dinner and cocktail party offerings, I’d call it a definite understatement. It’s a great place to eat and drink.
Preston’s is open to the public daily with the Casual menu available from 3 to 11:30 p.m. and the Chef’s Selections and Grill Cuts offered from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Bar service continues 3p.m. to midnight.
Beginning Dec. 26, Preston’s will open at noon on weekends and select peak/holiday dates, offering the Casual menu and bar service from noon on.