Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Were you looking for, maybe, Eliot Spitzer? Sorry, but Cuomo takes the cake in the contest of who got what done by sheer force of will and intimidation. Cuomo set his agenda, and public outcry, legitimate policy concerns, government transparency and even the dysfunctional legislature be damned—he got done what others could not. He even had the New York Post cheering him on and publicly eviscerating his outspoken critics along the way. His greatest triumph? Passing same-sex marriage, which simultaneously granted millions of New Yorkers a basic right and tricked his Democratic base into thinking he is a liberal.
Best Public Official
Sen. Neil Breslin
This year was not only Breslin’s resurgence but his renaissance. Breslin seemed a bit harried and tired during his party’s run in the majority—who wouldn’t with Pedro Espada as a colleague?—but this year, as deputy minority leader to the Senate Democrats, Breslin was reinvigorated and is helping shape the Senate Democrats into a respectable body. Sure, there is still more housecleaning to do, but Breslin has given the Democrats a much-needed steady hand at the wheel.
Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings
We don’t mean geek as in “nerd” but by its original usage: “a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake.” Jennings bit the head off of Albany’s chickens when he vetoed the backyard-chicken bill passed by the Albany Common Council—despite massive public support. The Orange One promised to do “research” into the bill before he decided whether to approve or veto it. We wonder where he did his research: the tanning bed or a KFC.
Best Bumper Sticker
Those devilish Albany Chickens activists struck again with this red-and-black bumper-sticker protest against Jerry Jennings’ veto of the backyard-chicken law. Cluck cluck cluck!
Best Public Servant Upgrade
Chief Steven Krokoff
In the wake of several Albany Police Department scandals, one of which lead to the resignation of Chief James Tuffey, newly appointed Chief Steven Krokoff entered a department in desperate need of reform. In the year since he took the helm, there has been a noticeable effort to increase community policing and increase the number of minority officers in the department’s ranks, all commendable upgrades.
Best Public Advocate
East Line Books owner Robyn Ringler has long been known as one of this area’s staunchest advocates for gun control—a passion that began when, as a young nurse, she was called on to care for Ronald Reagan after his assassination attempt. But her benevolence expands into the field of social justice. This year Ringler organized a Campbell’s soup drive following an alleged incident of ethnic profiling at Bowman Orchard. The drive showed support for the Muslim community in response to a conservative boycott of Campbell’s new Halal line.
Best Get Out of Jail Free Card
U.S. Supreme Court to Joe Bruno
In spite of an expensive, detailed, long corruption trial at which the U.S. government tried to nail ex-New York state Sen. Joe Bruno with a laundry list of corruption charges, the jury returned convictions on only a couple of counts. Then the U.S. Supreme Court up and declared unconstitutional the laws underpinning Bruno’s two measly convictions. The prosecutors are stalling, but we say, “Free Joe!”
Best Political Cesspool (East)
Troy topped even its own outrageous record of voter fraud this year. The city government tangled in an embarrassing web of infighting and petty partisan shenanigans, and the City Hall debacle is a remarkable emblem for bureaucratic inefficiency.
Best Political Cesspool (West)
In Schenectady, it’s deemed perfectly normal for the head of the city council to assume the mayor’s duties when the sitting mayor resigns. Then, there’s the Machiavellian way ex-Union College prez Roger Hull is positioning himself for mayor. Then, there’s the fact that a large block of the city’s population is not adequately represented in city government. It ain’t Troy, but it’s a long way from paradise.
Best Bar (Selection and Attitude)
Mahar’s Public Bar
1110 Madison Ave., Albany
Looking for a bar with an excellent selection and a bartender with the gumption not to take no guff from any screechy college girls or bros with ‘tude? Then Mahar’s is your place.
Best Bar (Old School)
403 River St., Troy
Troy nightlife is rocking, and one of the anchors is Ryan’s Wake. Old-world energy permeates the premises. A bar that looks like it came out of Al Capone’s Chicago. Owner Chris Ryan’s smile is as infectious as the energy that permeates the bar. Go on a weekend night and you’ll be amazed by the diverse crowd. This is what a great bar should be. Unpretentious, with great bartenders and real community in a legendary establishment.
680 River St., Troy
What doesn’t the Ale House deliver? A classic pub menu including award-winning wings and a hot turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes to die for, a neighborhood bar scene that is a throwback to another era, and a dining room that converts into an amazing small music venue that books the best local and some great national talent. They even host a bass-fishing tournament and serve as headquarters for the Troy Turkey Trot. Truly a local institution.
Best Bar (Community)
895 Broadway, Albany
Wolff’s and its eclectic crowd of sports fans, college kids, tourists, politicos, and the art-and-music crowd still offer the kind of camaraderie you want out of your favorite local bar. And if you feel like breaking into song while watching a soccer match, you’ll feel right at home.
Best Bar (Sophisticate)
1100 Madison Ave., Albany
Though many folks come here to sample the tasty cuisine of chef Jennifer Hewes, this handsomely refinished space in what formerly was Peking and Alibis now attracts an evening bar crowd that seems more interested in conversation than in shouting over loud music, watching sports or looking for a hookup. There are plenty of bars that cater to those needs; it’s nice to see one designed for meeting friends and actually talking.
Best Reinvention of a Saratoga Hotel
Maestro’s at the Van Dam
353 Broadway, Saratoga Springs
In its 19th-century glory, one of Saratoga’s jewels was Rip Van Dam Hotel. Long disused, it’s now the new, elegantly appointed location of Maestro’s, John LaPosta’s gourmet Italian restaurant formerly housed in a tiny space a couple of doors away. Menu offerings range from burgers to full-blown fancy meals.
Best Gay Bar
304 Lark St., Albany
When the state government passed same-sex marriage a couple weeks back, footage of Oh Bar revelers was broadcast all over the state. Oh Bar always strives to make gay and happy synonymous, but lately they’ve had extra special occasion.
Best Flamboyant Gay Bar
76 Central Ave., Albany
With shot boys, foam machines, musical guests like Tiffany and Crystal Waters and weekly events like Ferry-oke, the Waterworks people aren’t lying when they say it’s “a great place to come out to.”
Best Gentleman’s Club
1165 Central Ave., Colonie
The popular image of a gent—what the hell, strip club—is one of skanky dancers, sleazy backrooms and bad, overpriced drinks. And let’s face it, that’s an accurate description of quite a few of these establishments. But DiCarlo’s breaks the mold. It’s as much friendly neighborhood bar as erotic emporium, presided over by its avuncular owner, Sal DiCarlo. One wall holds a massive fish tank, and who ever heard of a strip club with landscaping? Even the food is delicious. What have we left out? Oh yeah, there are half-naked girls too.
Best Cheap Night Out in the Summer
Tri City Valley Cats
Joe Bruno Stadium, 80 Vandenburgh Ave., Troy
This beautiful ballpark is packed every night, thanks in part to prices cheap enough for a family of four to enjoy a game without breaking the bank. The games feature great developing talent that have put many players in the major leagues, but the fun doesn’t end there. The people-watching is super, and the park offers delicious food and craft beers at reasonable prices. The sunsets are beautiful, and many games end with fireworks. Play ball!
Best Bike Ride
Saratoga National Historic Park
Route 4, Schulerville
We’ve been going to the Saratoga National Battlefield since we were kids, and it remains one of the most beautiful places in our region. This 12-mile bike ride has everything for the casual bike rider: great hills, a slight grade in the final two miles, even a little off-road if you wish. But, most of all, it’s just breathtakingly beautiful, with a glorious history, sweeping vistas of the Hudson River Valley, frolicking deer and, if you’re lucky, a Revolutionary War reenactment.
Peebles Island State park
If you want a gorgeous trail run this is the spot. A two-mile loop bordering the Mohawk River on one side and the Hudson River on the other. You run along a trail that hugs the ledge of the rivers high above the shorelines. If you’re lucky, you might see a bald eagle nesting before a trip south. And you can take your run out of the park, across the bridge onto Waterford’s canal district, where there is a weekend farmers market and boats galore. The historic replica the Onrust (the first fur-trading ship built in America in 1614) is even docked there.
Best Boat Ride
Lake George Steamboat Company
57 Beach Road, Lake George
Nothing is more breathtaking than taking a boat ride on Lake George. The queen of all lakes is a magnificent beauty; nothing compares in our region. Mountains, islands, great historic shoreline houses, sunsets that mesmerize: Lake George has it all, and the Lake George Steamboat Company’s scenic cruises on their paddlewheeler and steamboats will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Olana State Historic Site
5729 Route 9G, Hudson
Climb the hill to Frederic Edwin Church’s landmark home, and see the magnificent Hudson River vistas that inspired one of New York’s great visual artists.
Best Nature Walk
Five Rivers Environmental Education Center
56 Game Farm Road, Delmar
Five Rivers Environmental Education Center describes itself as “a living museum,” and we agree. The wildlife preserve boasts more than 10 miles of interpretative trails, winding around beaver ponds, through forests and wetlands and meadows. It’s a birdwatchers paradise, with more than 225 species documented on their 450 acres, and home to turtles, geese, frogs, deer, foxes and more. There are trails for all levels of explorer, so make a visit and keep your eyes peeled!
Best Suburban Park
580 Albany Shaker Road, Loudonville
This 130-acre park is a pastoral oasis in mall and big-box territory, and it’s always hopping with happy folks making good use of the ponds, walking and biking paths, pavilions, rolling picnic meadows, labyrinth and state-of-the art playground.
Best City Park
The Capital Region boasts two Frederick Law Olmstead-designed parks, but this gem in the Electric City takes the prize for being not only beautiful, but brimming with opportunities for fun, including the Music Haven concert series, tennis courts, a pool, a disc golf course, and picnics by the pond or in the breathtaking rose garden.
Best Picnic Spot
Everyone who’s ever been to a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert at Tanglewood knows that the beautiful lawn in front of the music shed is the summer spot for some of the fanciest-looking picnics you’ll ever see. But you don’t need Chopin to break out the chardonnay and chevre; go there anytime the weather’s nice, spread out a blanket, and enjoy your picnic amid the splendid scenery on the Tanglewood grounds. And when there isn’t a concert going on, you can also toss a Frisbee, kick a soccer ball with your kids, or take a pleasant stroll around the sprawling campus.
Best Park (If You Can Find It)
Cherry Plain State Park
Tucked deep into the hills and woods of eastern Rensselaer County, Cherry Plain State Park is so off-the-beaten-path that the 40-some-minute ride from Albany seems longer than it really is. At the end of your drive is a lovely, serene, low-key park where you can relax for the day without battling the unruly hordes. A great spot for a family picnic, a rowboat ride, or a refreshing swim in the cool, clear lake.
Best Park (Multi-Use)
Saratoga Spa State Park
Tennis, anyone? How about golf? In-line skating? Swimming? Cross-country skiing? Just lazing in the sun? Maybe you’d like to visit a museum or a mineral baths. Or maybe you’d like to see a play, or a rock show . . . or, what the hell, get married—in a beautiful WPA-era building, no less! Saratoga Spa State Park has all of this, and probably more.
Best Swimming Pool
Saratoga Spa State Park
Speaking of the Spa State Park and its many attractions, there are two great swimming pools there. While we also love sipping cocktails and dipping our feet in the more sophisticate-oriented Victoria Pool, its larger counterpart, Peerless Pool, is the Capital Region pool for families. Your toddler can wade in on the gently sloping entry side, or frolic under the fountain in the kiddie pool, while your teens race down the corkscrew slides.
Best Way to Cool Down
City of Albany Spray Pools
Five locations throughout Albany
If you’re looking for a jolt of refreshment in the summer heat, the City of Albany’s public spray pools are just the ticket. The invigorating blasts from the industrial-scale sprinklers cut through the hottest day, and the peals of laughter from the crowds of splashing kiddos would brighten any afternoon.
Best Ice Skating
Clinton Avenue, Albany
Little has changed over the years at this midtown Albany rink, which offers covered open-air skating, just like we remember. The free learn-to-skate and hockey programs are a huge hit with the family set, plus they’ve got snacks and hot chocolate to warm you up after a spin on the ice. A repeat winner.
Best Downhill Skiing
A repeat winner for being one of the best, friendliest, and most reasonably priced skiing options that won’t set you back a tankful or more of gas.
Best Bowling Alley
363 Ontario St., Albany
The only thing cooler than this classic retro bowling alley/arcade/bar is the $3 bowling socks you can buy at the front desk.
Oasis Family Fun Park
97 North Greenbush Road, Troy
A repeat winner. An interesting course with a variety of challenges, tucked into a hillside off of Route 4 with plenty of shade, and some really tasty ice cream awaiting you at the 19th hole.
Best Mini-Golf Mecca
These days it’s quite possible to literally putt your way around Lake George. Between Pirate’s Cove, Goony Golf, Lumber Jack Mini Golf and Around the World Mini Golf, you might not ever actually make it down to the waterfront.
Best Public Library System
Albany Public Library
This wonderful system has a first-rate main branch and spectacular neighborhood branches. If only the taxpayers were willing to pay for it.
Best Place to Find Saratoga
Remember that locally owned business you once patronized in downtown Saratoga Springs? There’s a good chance you’ll find they’ve moved to Ballston Spa. They don’t call Saratoga the $pa City for nothing.
Saratoga Winner’s Shitter
(Former) 1375 New Loudon Road, Cohoes
Saratoga Winner’s hardcore heyday has long since past. The legendary roadhouse has been vacant since 2006, and it burned to the ground (under shady circumstances) in April 2009. But by some miracle of concrete and mortar—or ironic interference from the gods of punk—Saratoga Winner’s toilet still stands. Pay homage.
Best Newspaper Office Mascot
Metroland, 419 Madison Ave., Albany
We will put our beloved vermin against any other paper’s beloved vermin any day.