SARATOGA SPRINGS — When Cathy Catalano and Joanne Buyce bought an elegant Queen Anne Victorian across the street from Saratoga Race Course, a century of stories and legends were part of the deal.
As co-owners of Saratoga Dreams, a Union Avenue bed-and-breakfast with a wraparound porch and a Southern-food vibe, they have become not only innkeepers but keepers of its colorful 133-year history.
The house was designed by Saratoga Springs architect Newton Brezee for John Davidson, a prosperous businessman who died before construction was completed in 1887. His daughter Beatrice, an opera singer, was married in the parlor. In the early 1900s, a famous singer and actress reportedly lived there, and in the late 20th century, Phyllis Latin, a beloved Saratoga Springs dance teacher, owned the house.
And back in the 1960s, the house was the temporary headquarters for the Saratoga Performing Arts Center as it was under construction.
But that’s just the half of it. Their B&B guests, many of them with ties to the racetrack, share their own incredible tales.
“It’s just so much fun having the people come in and listening to their stories,” says Buyce.
After they opened in June 2019, the four guest rooms were booked solid during racing season even though there wasn’t yet a website or a sign out front.
“We had a couple of horse owners and we had the artisans who make the trophy for the Kentucky Derby every year,” says Catalano. “They all had great stories to share, which was so much fun.”
Saratoga Dreams is open year-round, including holidays, and is available for events such as weddings and baby showers.
On a recent tour, every room was furnished and decorated with antiques, as Don and Cindy Nichols, the previous owners, who ran the Saratoga Sleigh bed-and-breakfast for about 20 years, were serious collectors.
“All the previous owners really did a good job of taking care of it,” says Catalano. “For us, it was just updating and refreshing things.”
In the second-floor guest rooms, the new owners added air conditioning units, painted walls, removed some furniture to make the rooms more airy and replaced all the bed linens, towels, curtains and blinds. One room has a sunken blue bathtub and a balcony that overlooks a gurgling fountain at the National Museum of Racing next door, and another has a large enclosed porch with wicker furniture.
But perhaps the most curious room in the house is the Lillian Russell Bathroom.
When Miss Russell, one of the most popular entertainers of the day, rented the house, she installed a needle or “cage” shower, which sprays water horizontally instead of vertically.
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“There are only a few left across the United States,” says Catalano.
The extra-large powder room has stained glass windows with a floral design, a bright pink ceiling and a clawfoot bathtub decorated with painted flowers. Russell’s boyfriend, Diamond Jim Brady, a racehorse owner and financier, was apparently a frequent guest.
“They were in here together, so we are told,” she says.
The third floor, which was once the studio where Madame Latin inspired her students, might be turned into a large guest suite.
Back on the main floor, there’s a vintage billiard room, a Moroccan terracotta fireplace, a stunning stained glass window and a life-sized decorative carousel horse. The Victorian parlor that was the scene of Beatrice’s wedding more than a century ago is painted deep lavender.
“Her husband was in the military and cut the wedding cake with a sword,” Catalano says.
The spacious wraparound porch, with its view of the race course grounds, is a favorite hangout for guests, who often choose to eat breakfast there.
Currently, the big ongoing project is painting the exterior, and soon a Saratoga Dreams sign will appear on the front lawn.
For chef Mike Refieuna, who is Catalano’s partner and lives in the house with her, the most urgent project is updating the kitchen with commercial-grade appliances.
“It’s really just a home kitchen at this point,” says Catalano.
Refieuna, who trained at the Culinary Institute of Charleston and worked side by side with a James Beard award-winning chef at a South Carolina restaurant, calls his current cuisine “Down South Upstate” with everything made from scratch. His andouille sausage is flown in from Louisiana. And there’s always a dessert, like Bananas Foster or buttermilk pie, on the breakfast menu.
“We have sweets with everything in the South,” Refieuna says.
For this year’s Kentucky Derby, the chef whipped up a special reception menu: pecan pie with chocolate and bourbon, a bourbon butter cake that was served with frozen mint juleps.
With only the three of them running the B&B, it’s a team effort.
“We kind of have our roles in the house. Mike’s the cook, Cathy’s the business end and I’m house and grounds,” says Buyce, the former owner of a small cleaning business. She also serves breakfast.
Catalano, who retired from a health communications career in South Carolina, and Buyce, who has lived in the Saratoga area for 40 years, have been friends since their high school days in Rockland County.
They often talked about someday owning a B&B together, but their dream didn’t come true until August of 2018 when Catalano and Refieuna were vacationing in Saratoga. After a tour at the Racing Museum, they saw the sale sign on the mansion next door.
“We were like, ‘Wow, look at that. It’s beautiful,’ ” says Catalano. “So I called Joanne and we just started talking. This is the only one we ever looked at. It was just like it was meant to be.”
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