ESSEX — A historic structure just off the shores of Lake Champlain here will soon add "tavern" to its lengthy resume.

The multi-story building, situated on Route 22's stretch of the Lakes to Locks Passage scenic byway, was constructed in the early 1900s and is known locally as the Old Essex Fire Department. 

According to new owner Anita Peltonen, 61, who purchased it with old friend Leigh Firestone, the building has "lived many lives" over the last 200-plus years, operating at first as a millenary, or hat maker, and most recently an art gallery.

The pair are working to restore the dated structure, ripping out flooring, walls and ceilings added over the years that have masked its original architecture. 

"It's been fascinating," Firestone said. "I've described it to some people as peeling an onion from the inside out."

Once renovations are complete, Peltonen and Firestone will open their new business, The Barn Door Tavern, there in coming months.  


The two women first crossed paths at the onset of their working lives about 40 years ago. They were tying price tags onto lavish designer clothes in the garment district of the Big Apple. 

"That's how we became close friends," Peltonen said. 

Now at the close of their careers, Peltonen, a journalist, and 63-year-old Firestone, a lawyer, sought retirement income and so the idea to open an upstate New York tavern, selling brews, wine and light fare, was born. 

Firestone, who lived on the West Coast most her life, but whose parents were New Yorkers, was looking to return to the east and hoped to find a venue to not only host the business, but to double as her home. 

"Thus began our great real estate hunt up and down the Hudson River," Peltonen said. 


Asked why they landed on the site in the Town of Essex, the pair said it was its beauty, waterfront location, historic distinction in a historic town, as well as its overall value. 

The building itself is about 27,000 square feet.

The lower level, where the tavern will be, is 900 square feet in size with a commercial kitchen and a 450-square-foot deck attached out back. The upper levels, Firestone's future quarters, are being renovated for residential use.

Not only does the location offer views of Lake Champlain and Vermont's Green Mountain Range, inspiring their slogan "come for the brews, stay for the views," but it's also steps away from local marinas and just 300 feet from the Essex Ferry, which goes to and from Charlotte, Vt.

Their renovated design will feature the classic "Essex Sunburst," which adorns several historic buildings around town. 

"The sunburst motif is seen occasionally on Greek Revival pediments throughout the Champlain Valley of New York and Vermont, but the frequency of its early use in Essex is notable," Peltonen quoted from the Essex Community Heritage Organization. 

"One is tempted to speculate that its beautiful sunrises and sunsets somehow inspired its early use here in Essex." 


During the construction process, Peltonen and Firestone have uncovered hardwood floors, as well as original stonework and timbers. 

They also have hunted down farmers looking to tear down old farm buildings and plan to use the wood from those as pillars, support posts and for the building's aesthetic.

"We took down a barn in Crown Point," Firestone said, noting that the farmer had advertised for the job on Facebook Marketplace. "We dismantled it for him and he let us have the wood, because that was the deal. 

"Some of that wood is going to be for the wainscoting in the downstairs and upstairs. It's old and really good quality that will help to restore this place." 

While they were disassembling that barn, they got their hands on a number of barn doors and have asked Essex-based construction group Sawteeth Carpentry, the crew hired for renovations, to make tables out of them. 

"That's why it's called The Barn Door Tavern," Firestone said. 


The tavern will have an eight-tap craft-brew keg system and plans to serve up local brews from OVAL Craft Brewing in the City of Plattsburgh, Livingoods in Peru and Ledge Hill Brewing Co. in Westport. It will also stock local and international wines. 

There will be a "piecentric," heat-and-serve menu, featuring savory eats from personal pizzas to mini quiches and sweet treats, like fruit pies. 

Once open, Peltonen and Firestone hope to host Fiddlers’ Nights, game nights, scenic painting afternoons and more.

They imagine the tavern to be a comfortable, welcoming "space where locals want to be." And Peltonen noted possible crossover from area hotels, Airbnbs, Vrbos and traditional B&Bs.

"The idea is to be complementary to the community, rather than be super competitive."

Email McKenzie Delisle:

Twitter: @McKenzieDelisle

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