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Fridays with Jim Korkis: The Turf Club Bar and Grill



By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

FROM THE LAKE BUENA VISTA CLUB TO THE TURF CLUB

By Jim Korkis

Things are constantly changing on Walt Disney World property, but when a restaurant closes, another restaurant often appears in the same location usually because of the already existing infrastructure.

The Lake Buena Vista Club restaurant that opened in 1972 at Disney’s Village Resort served its last guest on March 20, 1994 to make way for the transformation of the area into the Disney Institute.

The Club had undergone many changes during its 20+ years of operation. When it originally opened, it featured country club style luncheon dining and gourmet table service in the evening. It was a popular lunchtime dining area for Disney cast members as well as for golfers from the nearby golf course and local residents since it did not require paying an entry fee into a theme park.

The Sunday Champagne Brunch that began with a cruise from the nearby Village Marketplace was a special favorite. With the growth of the Disney Village Resort from 1973 to 1978, the Lake Buena Vista Club became even more popular.

In 1988 the name changed to the Pompano Grill, where seafood selections in a family-style atmosphere were featured. In 1993, the name changed back to the Lake Buena Visa Club to reflect the restaurant’s variety of menu items beyond seafood, and the concept was themed to upscale dining in a relaxed Florida atmosphere.

With the transformation to the Disney Institute, there were significant changes to the restaurant. The front and sides of the building were extended to add an additional 340 seats to the previous 120 seat dining facility. A new kitchen was built that encompassed nearly the entire existing dining room, and the parking lot was restructured to become a major garden area.

The Buena Vista Golf Club building was greatly expanded to include not just the Check-in Center but a small upscale shop called Dabblers that was so named because guests at the resort were “dabbling” in unfamiliar disciplines.

The new table service restaurant connected to the Check-In area was called Seasons, because each of its four dining rooms was themed to one of the four seasons of the year with appropriate wall murals and decorations.

The food was upscale with the chefs constantly rotating menu offerings but the atmosphere was fairly casual. Its location made it awkward for those not staying at Disney Institute to get there to eat, or to even park once they did.

Just outside the restaurant was a luxurious lounge with sofas and chairs, where people could gather and relax and with a grand piano that former Disney executive Judson Green sometimes would play at night.

The Turf Club Bar and Grill (c) Disney

With the conversion of the Disney Institute physical location into the Disney Vacation Club Saratoga Springs, the restaurant became the Turf Club Bar and Grill, themed to the equestrian atmosphere of the popular New York location reflected in the rest of the resort. Walt Disney World describes the Turf Club Bar and Grill as a “racetrack clubhouse setting.”

Themed to turn-of-the century Upstate New York, the Turf Club Bar and Grill offers American cuisine and a cocktail lounge decorated with vintage equestrian memorabilia throughout the dining area including photos of jockeys and their horses, antique riding gear and racing articles of yesteryear.

It is a very intimate dining setting, only open in the evening, complete with dim lighting, wood-paneled walls, music and large windows giving beautiful views of the adjacent Lake Buena Vista Golf Course. Guests enjoying their meal probably never heard of The Lake Buena Vista Club or Seasons. It is just another example of the Circle of Life at Walt Disney World.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Off to Never Land: 70 Years of Disney’s Peter Pan and Final Secret Stories of Walt Disney World!

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