‘Dirty Dancing’: Where Kellerman’s Came to Life


The Restaurant

Even without its lake, Mountain Lake Lodge makes a lovely destination. You don’t have to ask where the movie scenes were shot; at check-in you’ll get a map. Michael Richardson, the bartender, is a walking encyclopedia of the movie. When he shows you the shooting locations, he doesn’t just describe the scene shot there, he recites all the dialogue.

The lodge has Dirty Dancing Weekends every summer, special packages that provide guests with a tour, group dance lessons (with optional private lessons), a “Dirty Dancing” scavenger hunt and more. Three are scheduled this year — one each in June, July and August — but fans of the movie come all the time. A small cabin in front of the main lodge has an exhibition devoted to the movie and a guest book full of ardent inscriptions.

“I cannot believe I am here, in this place,” someone from Chile wrote recently.

Mr. Richardson keeps a list of the different countries fans have come from, and it grows every summer.

“Last year I managed to scratch off Singapore, India and Taiwan in one weekend,” he said.

For some fans, passion for the film leads to petty crime. Mr. Richardson said the lodge used to have signs on the property marking the filming spots, but they kept disappearing. And Room 232, where Mr. Swayze is said to have stayed?

“The shower curtain has been stolen out of that room I don’t know how many times,” he said.

But one thing every fan can do guilt-free is eat in Harvest, the lodge’s restaurant, where a number of scenes were filmed. It’s an excellent one with a farm-to-table sensibility. The night I arrived I had a terrific locally sourced steak with a nice I.P.A. from the Devils Backbone Brewing Company in Lexington, Va. If you’re lucky, the executive chef, Michael Porterfield, who was there during the filming, will stop by your table and tell you about the time he took Mr. Swayze to Blacksburg on his motorcycle, down that frightfully winding access road.

The Staircase

After two relaxing nights at the lakeless Virginia location, head down Interstate 77 and across North Carolina on Interstate 40 to Lake Lure, where there’s more to do but, for the “Dirty Dancing” fan, somewhat less to see. The lake was created in the 1920s by damming the Broad River, and today it is an active tourist destination that embraces “Dirty Dancing” every bit as much as the Mountain Lake Lodge does.

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Top, Mountain Lake Lodge as Kellerman’s in “Dirty Dancing.” Bottom, Mountain Lake Lodge in Virginia today.

Credit
Lionsgate Home Entertainment (top), Mountain Lake Lodge.

But the boys camp where most of the filming took place is long gone; it was on the way out even when the film crew was there. Mr. Chapman recalled that one of his biggest challenges was to cover up the scar where a road had just been ripped for the start of housing construction.

“It became a movie about growing grass, because we had to cover that bloody hill with something,” he said. “We got a highway contractor, because they deal with that kind of thing all the time to prevent erosion.”

Those private homes now occupy the filming site, and in the backyard of one are the remnants of a stone staircase that is said to have been used in two of the movie’s best known scenes: one in which Baby helps another character carry watermelons to a dance party, another in which, alone, she gets in touch with her inner dancer on a white bridge at the staircase’s base.

This part of the lake is known as Firefly Cove, and unless you’re a homeowner there it’s now accessible only by a boat tour. On such a tour you might hear that the lake-lift scene was shot in the cove. It wasn’t, but certainly this is the lake to go to if you want to try your own lake lift. This year, come on the weekend of Aug. 18 and you can do it competitively.

That’s when Lake Lure’s annual Dirty Dancing Festival will be, and it includes a lake-lift competition: Whichever couple holds that iconic pose the longest wins. There will also be watermelon-related events, dance competitions and a screening of the movie. Michelle Yelton, a founder of the festival, said the 2016 edition drew more than 2,000 people. Because this is the film’s 30th anniversary (which Lionsgate marked with a rerelease of the DVD in a commemorative edition), the 2017 festival will no doubt be all the bigger.

The 16th Green

One location from the Lake Lure filming that still exists is the green of the 16th hole at the Bald Mountain Golf Course, part of the Rumbling Bald Resort. In the movie, the green is made to look like a practice green and Baby interrupts her parents, Jake and Marjorie (played by Jerry Orbach and Kelly Bishop), as they’re working on their short games to hold a pivotal conversation with her father.

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Credit
Artisan Entertainment/Everett Collection

Ms. Bergstein said she had intended that scene to be a homage to her mother, who was an expert golfer — Marjorie was supposed to be giving Jake advice. But, she said, Mr. Orbach surprised himself by sinking a couple of decent putts on camera and was so pleased about it that she wanted to leave that footage in. And so, in the movie, it is Jake who is the good golfer, Marjorie who needs coaching. Ms. Bergstein said she has come to regret not retaining the original hat tip to her mother’s golfing prowess.

“If I had known this many people would see it,” she said, “I would have left it in.”

The Dance Floor

Much of the cast is said to have stayed at the Lake Lure Inn and Spa during filming, a 1927 beauty that today boasts a Patrick Swayze Suite and a Jennifer Grey Suite. I chose the Grey Suite, a corner room on the third floor. And yes, it’s odd that it’s a corner room when the best-known line from the movie, emblazoned on T-shirts and in the memories of countless fans, is, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

The hotel has a delightful collection of antique music boxes in its public areas, but it is another inn just down the road, the Esmeralda, that is said to have an actual piece of the movie. That inn, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, burned in 1997, and the rebuilding happened to coincide with the demolition of the old gymnasium at the boys camp, where the climactic dance scene that ends the film was shot. The floor was donated to the Esmeralda; when you’re in the inn’s lobby, you’re standing on it.

Another must-see spot, a mile from Lake Lure, has nothing to do with the movie but was used in the 1992 film “The Last of the Mohicans,” so I made the pilgrimage. It’s Chimney Rock State Park, a majestic formation that culminates in the wonderfully named Exclamation Point.

The view from Exclamation Point is said to be spectacular, though you couldn’t prove it from my photos. I made the climb — 1,658 stairs up and back — in a fog-shrouded rain. At the summit, where one hopes to see endless vistas, I could see only a wall of white.

Yet I had the park all to myself, since only an idiot would climb that many stairs in a drizzly fog, and there was something profound about the solitude. It was the perfect place to reflect on sights seen and not seen, images preserved and lost.

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