Siebkens: Long live Elkhart’s resort queen

The line between “quaint” and “outdated” can get pretty thin; few know this better than sisters Laurie Stecker and Lisa Sadiq. The proprietors of Siebkens Resort are overseeing an overhaul of the business, which their great-grandparents established in 1916.

What stays and what goes? Some decisions are emotion-filled. The classically cozy resort, in downtown Elkhart Lake – population 1,100, has been charming some of us for a lifetime.

Laurie and Lisa played on these grounds as children and cleaned the guest rooms as teenagers. They grew up in Green Bay; parents Doug and Pam Lueck made Elkhart Lake their summer home.

Through the years a procession of pets – sheepdog, Irish wolfhound, French briard – enhanced the sense of continuity and place, for the guests as well as the owner’s family.

I’ve been a fan since waitressing elsewhere in this Sheboygan County village during the 1970s. Imported beer and foreign car race crews were both a novelty at the time, but you’d find them at the resort’s Stop-Inn Tavern, where racing decals and brightly colored stencils still fill the walls.

Some of my other fondest memories need not fade. Here to stay are the ribbons of ham and Swiss, sandwiched between thin slices of homemade rye, plus the three-layer chocolate-cherry cake coated with rich frosting.

Retired racer Mario Andretti and actor Paul Newman also have expressed affection for Siebkens and its food, which they got to know because of events at the nearby Road America track.

The resort began as the Lakeview Hotel, and accommodations were long known for their bold wallpaper, abundance of antiques and quilt-topped bedding.

A wealth of white wicker and Victorian décor remains, in some rooms, but new is a sleek, 33-unit building of vacation condos, where the Lakeview Hotel once stood. The owners call it a historical re-creation of the original hotel, only the condo units contain granite countertops, cherry cabinetry, gas fireplaces and access to a sizable veranda.

“Structural issues and customers’ wants and needs have changed,” Laurie says, to explain the changes. “Rooms that are quaint and small are OK for some people, but the majority wants modern amenities and spacious quarters.”

More modest lodging remains, for now, inside the resort’s Lake Cottage and Elm Park Hotel. A few rooms share bathrooms and a sitting area for watching TV.

The range of choices is intended to meet the demands and limits of Siebken’s diverse clientele: students at Road America’s racing schools to families that gather for reunions.

A priority is to blend the modern with the nostalgic. “Certain things won’t change,” Laurie says, and that includes the Main Dining Room and Cocktail Bar, both in the resort’s airy and bright guest registration building, which feels like one big porch and contains generous space for lounging.

Also here to stay are the simple box of an ice cream stand, surrounded by spots to laze in the shade, and the Stop-Inn Tavern, with its nooks and fresh-air porches.

The property rocks, sometimes too loudly, during road race weekends – but it also feels like an oasis from the fast lane. Regardless of changes in structural appearance, resort traditions continue.

Laurie mentions baker Arlene Reichardt of Kiel, who at age 13 began working for great-grandmother Laura Siebken. Arlene stayed with the resort until this decade; her baking pans and cake/bread recipes remain a cherished part of the business.

“The bread – a dark rye – had molasses in it and wasn’t an easy bread to make,” Laurie says, but a nearby baker has undertaken the task.

Slow-roasted duck continues to be served with braised red cabbage in the window-rich dining room, set with linens and open seasonally. Restaurant chefs used to be from the Siebken family; that has changed.

What else remains the same? Panfish, walleye and northern pike still thrive in the lake, just across the street from Siebkens. The 286 square acres of water, 119 feet at its deepest point, contains only silent watercraft on Sundays.

As always, the sandy beach lake will be encircled with a brilliant canvas of color as autumn matures.

For more about Siebkens Resort, 284 S. Lake St., consult www.siebkens.com or call 920-876-2600. Room/condo rates until the end of October are $84 to $379; then rates drop to as low as $69 until the end of April.

The resort has 50 lodging units. Vacation condo purchase prices range from $258,500 to $459,000; call real estate agent Bill Cain at 920-893-8842 for details.

Dozens of food, art and craft vendors fill downtown Elkhart Lake from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, until the end of this month, for the seasonal Farmers and Artisans Market. Head to the corner of Rhine and Lake streets for Amish baked goods, colorful rag rugs, hand-crafted jewelry, collectibles and freshly harvested veggies.

The village adds to the bustle Sept. 27-28 when more than 50 artists set up shop at the annual ARTfest along the lakefront. Music accompanies the juried show, and admission is free. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more about these events and the resort-rich area: www.elkhartlake.com, 877-355-4278.