George Sherman Batcheller was big on billiards.
When he built his Saratoga Springs mansion in 1873, he made sure a long table, colored balls and cue sticks were stocked in a third-floor guest room. A 10-foot-long wooden billiards table remains in the room, the mansion’s Grant Room.
Now the Batcheller Mansion Inn, guests pay big bucks to stay in the Grant Room — the most expensive and exclusive room in the nine-room bed-and-breakfast at Circular Street and Whitney Place. Racking ’em up — and then hitting the rack — costs $465 a night during the city’s racing season.
Hotel room rentals are pricey in every summer resort town and city, and Saratoga is no different. People of influence and affluence are willing to pay several hundred dollars — even more than $1,000 — for a room or suite during the summer.
The Sunday Gazette checked out the most expensive rooms in five classy Saratoga hospitality houses.
“It’s a Saratoga thing,” said Chelsea Neahr, innkeeper at the Batcheller. “You come to Saratoga, you have to stay in the best.”
For the Grant Room, you also have to be in shape. Guests must walk up two flights of stairs — 42 steps — to reach the large room with the king-size bed, heart-red Victorian sofa, wood and marble fireplace, and bathroom with Jacuzzi and shower. There’s a bonus for history buffs: President Ulysses S. Grant once spent the night in the spacious room.
“He was the only president who stayed here,” Neahr said, adding that Batcheller became famous as a lawyer, politician and ambassador. “George Batcheller worked for Grant, then Roosevelt, Harrison and McKinley, as well. The other three presidents passed through the house, but Grant was the only one who stayed.”
People of the present day have about 1,700 hotel and motel rooms available to them in the city of Saratoga Springs. Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said another 1,100 rooms are just outside the city in the county.
He can’t estimate an average price for a hotel or motel evening stay.
“It varies by dates, days,” he said. “It varies by how early you book. Some will give you a better rate if you book early, some will give you a better rate if you book a certain number of nights.”
People who can afford to own million-dollar horses can afford a week’s stay in President Grant’s old room. But Shimkus said it’s not just horse owners and rock stars who are signing off on big hotel bills.
“You find you have a lot of corporations,” he said. “You have folks that are entertaining. They are bringing their best clients to Saratoga to be wined and dined and stay in the best places and go to the best restaurants. These folks are spending money to make money.”
Neahr said her top room, which also includes an antique wooden dresser and armoire, is popular with brides and grooms. It’s also popular with bargain hunters, who can check in for between $215 and $255 a night once the horses and ballerinas have left town.
“When we have weddings here, generally the entire bridal party will stay,” Neahr said, “so the groom will stay in this room and the bride will stay in our Kate Batcheller room. After the wedding, the bride will move up here and stay in this room.”
And while couples love the hot water amenity, they especially love the billiards option.
“When they hear there’s a pool table in the room, that’s what sells them on it,” Neahr said.
The Gideon Putnam Resort and Spa, Saratoga’s oldest hotel, has six porch suites.
“They are our highest-rated and the first to go during the race meet,” said Rob Sgarlata, director of sales and marketing.
The suites are on the first, second and third floors of the 77-year-old hotel. The higher the floor, the better the view of Saratoga Spa State Park and the higher the price. The high porches cost $699 a night during racing season, the most expensive rooms on the hotel’s roster.
“They have screened-in porches with windows that open and look into the park,” Sgarlata said, “so it’s really kind of a feel of old Saratoga in that you walk out onto this porch, sit there and open your windows, maybe hear the Philadelphia Orchestra or the music for the New York City Ballet or if it happens to be Rascal Flatts or Def Leppard. It has to do with the atmosphere. It really kind of brings you into the park and brings you into SPAC.”
Sgarlata said people are willing to pay top prices — in the suites and other parts of the hotel — for the Saratoga atmosphere.
“If you drive up — and I’m going to sound like a marketing guy, but it’s the truth — you feel like you’ve stepped into another era,” he said. “You’re comfortable wearing the big hats and being dressed up to go to the track.”
At the Saratoga Arms, a 30-room boutique hotel on Broadway, Amy Smith recommends the king suite.
“It’s a two-room suite, bedroom and living room,” said Smith, general manager of the family-owned operation. “It has a balcony, it also has a private bathroom with a soaker tub and a separate shower.”
The king suite — there are two of them — rent for $649 each night during the summer season. They’re the most expensive and requested place in the Arms. Smith said if she had 15 more suites just like them, she could book all of them for the meet.
“We’ve had senators and governors, we’ve had owners of major corporations and some celebrities in the suites,” Smith said. “But I don’t kiss and tell.”
The suites come with a quirky feature: A television screen can be activated in the bottom section of the bathroom mirror. So guys shaving won’t have to miss a pitch or a pass.
“It’s a big conversation piece,” Smith said.
At $1,400 a night, the penthouse loft suite with rooftop garden at the Pavilion Grand on Lake Avenue is an expensive night. Susanne Simpson, general manager of the city’s newest hotel, said the money buys a lot of space.
“There are two floors of living space,” Simpson said of the larger suites, which include the penthouse loft-rooftop. “On the main floor, you’ve got a master bedroom, a full kitchen with side-by-side refrigerators, living room, dining room, 55-inch TV, balcony. That’s just the main floor. You go upstairs, and you have a guest bedroom, guest bathroom, another sitting or living area.”
The rooftop garden that comes with the suite, Simpson said, looks like a flower-filled backyard.
Families like the 48 Pavilion suites because of their flexibility, she added. Couples book them because they have options to entertain.
Union Gables, the eight-room bed-and-breakfast inn on Union Avenue down the street from Saratoga Race Course, also offers views from the top of the house. The “Bill” room includes a narrow balcony with a view of the hustle and bustle on Union Avenue. And like the Saratoga Arms’ television mirror, the “Bill” has a neat curio: A brown metal antique telescope on a 5-foot-high wooden tripod is stationed next to a bathroom window.
The bill for the “Bill” room is $455 per night during the summer season.
The Victorian-style wallpaper is burgundy-colored bearded irises with green foliage; vintage photographs of people whose names are lost to history hang on the walls. Fifty guys from the 1890 membership of the Saratoga Gun Club are framed in the bathroom.
Carla Smith, director of marketing, said people must like sitting on the wicker chairs outside the room.
“It’s the terrace, definitely,” she said. “It’s the most requested room in the mansion. They get a sunrise and a sunset for their views.”
And while some people stay for the view, others book the “Bill” for tradition’s sake.
“There’s one person, this is the only room he’ll stay in,” Smith said. “He thinks it’s his good luck charm for the races.”