Fire contained to wall of Belvedere Restaurant

Smoke pours out as Saranac Lake firefighter Vernon James uses a crowbar to rip open the eaves of the Belvedere Restaurant early Tuesday afternoon to extinguish a fire smoldering in the front wall of the bar. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

SARANAC LAKE — Fire broke out in a wall of the Belvedere Restaurant early Tuesday afternoon, and owners and firefighters suspect an old neon sign may be the culprit.

Staff called the fire department after they and lunch patrons noticed smoke coming out of a front wall by the bar entrance, co-owner Jerry Cavallo said.

Firefighters tore open the wall and used water to extinguish the smoldering. That, plus the power being shut off, stopped the smoke.

Other parts of the building — the rest of the bar, the dining room and upstairs apartments — seemed to be fine, according to Saranac Lake fire Chief Brendan Keough. No one was hurt, and the building is insured.

Belevedere co-owner Lillian Cavallo, Jerry’s sister-in-law, said an electrician was on his way, and the owners have to hear from him and the village code enforcement office before they know about when they can reopen — perhaps the dining room only if not the bar.

Belvedere Restaurant co-owner Jerry Cavallo, right, watches as Saranac Lake fire Chief Brendan Keough peers at wiring inside the Belvedere’s ripped-open bar entrance after extinguishing a fire inside that wall early Tuesday afternoon. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

The building dates to the 1890s, and the Cavallo family opened the vintage Italian eatery, commonly known as the “Bel,” in 1933. Neon tubes, grandfathered in from before zoning restricted them, light up the venue’s name on a weathered metal sign on Bloomingdale Avenue, skirt the eaves that hang over the first floor and spell out “Dining Room” and “Bar” over the two entrances.

The smoldering broke out around the “Bar” sign, where wires power it and the neon string on the eaves. Keough said they are not ruling out that the fire was electrical, perhaps caused by a bad ground wire for the neon lighting.

As firefighters worked, Jerry Cavallo told them the “Bar” light has not been working for the last four or five days. He also discovered that a staff member had turned on the switch to it that morning, which led him to suspect the electricity running through the broken light circuit caused the fire.

Jerry Cavallo said there are still people who repair neon lights, but he’s not sure he’ll fix these if they are a fire hazard.

“If it’s that, I’m not even going to screw around with it; I’ll just disconnect it all” he said.

Smoke wafts out of the portico over the Belvedere’s bar entrance early Tuesday afternoon in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

How long will this fire hold up business at the Belvedere?

“Not long,” Lillian Cavallo said. “We’ve got a lot of really, really good people that support and love the Bel that will be willing to help us out.”

The Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department sent a truck and a few firefighters to the scene, but their help was not needed and they did not stay long. Bloomingdale firefighters helped by covering the Saranac Lake firehouse while its drivers were out.


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