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Best of People & Places

by The Staff on July 19, 2012

Best Democrat Who Acts Like a Republican

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

State Capitol, Albany

Setting aside Cuomo’s Nixonian obsessions with enemies and secrecy—which are not inconsiderable—the governor’s most notable achievement has been to cozy up to Republicans in the state senate to maintain his sway over both houses of the Legislature. A rise in the minimum wage? Forget about it—Cuomo says it’s too hard. Helping Democrats win the Senate? No way.

 

Best Politician Who Still Thinks He’s Important

Harry Tutunjian

Troy

The ex-mayor has relocated to the Rensselaer County Legislature, but still swans around like he runs the town. Dude, it’s over.

 

Best Preservationist

Don Rittner

Albany, Troy, Schenectady

A prolific local history author and activist, Don Rittner hasn’t slowed a heartbeat. His latest endeavors range from completing certification for the Onrust, a re-created 17th-century Dutch sailing vessel he helped to create, to spearheading the restoration of Troy’s long-vacant but still gorgeous Proctor’s Theater, to an ambitious and meticulously researched preservationist development for Albany’s contentious lower downtown.

 

Best Park (Multi-Use)

TIE: Washington Park, Albany; Central Park, Schenectady

Some years we find a reason to pick one over the other, but really, these two spots have one thing in common: They are both terrific urban parks that serve their respective cities with outdoor activities like skating, tennis, cross-country skiing, volleyball and children’s playgrounds, as well as concerts, special events, picnicking, or just plain old solitary relaxation.

 

Best Park (Get Away From It All)

Cherry Plain State Park

Cherry Plain

Tucked deep into the hills and woods of eastern Rensselaer County, Cherry Plain State Park is a little tricky to find, but well worth it—especially if you’re looking for a more serene park experience than, say, Grafton. An ideal spot for a family picnic, a rowboat ride, or a refreshing swim in the cool, clear lake.

 

Best Park (Recreational)

Schodack Island State Park

Schodack Landing

Chances are if you’ve got an outdoors activity in mind, this is the park for it. Located on the eastern shore of the Hudson, Schodack Island is over a thousand acres and offers eight miles of hiking and biking trails, some of them through wildlife estuaries where you might see blue herons and Cerulean warblers. Its most impressive amenity is a state-of-the-art boat launch that has its own boat-wash station. Bring some provisions, because you’ll want to stay a while and there are picnic tables and grills, and lovely pavilions, and a nice playground, and volleyball nets and horseshoe pits . . .

 

Best Cemetery

TIE: Albany Rural Cemetery; Oakwood Cemetery

Cemetery Avenue, Menands;  Oakwood Avenue, Troy

These two nationally important examples of the Rural Cemetery Movement have many similarities and striking differences. Both reflect the1830s sentiment that the dearly departed should rest in a place of great pastoral and artistic beauty, where magnificent architecture, ornamental plantings, and sublime stone sculpturing would ease the pain of bereavement as well as giving all residents a parklike refuge in the time before the great parks. Albany Rural has the resting place of a U.S. president and the grave of its greatest sculptor (Erastus Dow Palmer); Oakwood has many Civil War and industrial luminaries, but they are equals in representing the highest achievements in what later became known as the American Romantic Landscape Movement.

 

Best Memorial

The Mothers’ War Memorial

Capital District Psychiatric Center, Albany

The Lady of the Lake (South Lake Avenue, that is) stands in tranquil solitude in midst of CDPC’s tree-shaded grounds. Created by renowned sculptor Attilio Piccirilli and Erected in 1923, this marble statue of a cloaked young lady, who holds an Arthurian sword with the pommel covered by a palm frond, represents the supreme sacrifices that led to victory in “the World War.” Perhaps her melancholy expression comes from the realization that the World War would soon need a number.

 

Best Ruin

Rensselaer Rolling Mills

foot of Monroe Street, Troy

Rensselaer Rolling Mills photographed by Ann Morrow

In this gloomy complex of crumbled red brick foundations and detritus-strewn factories, the aura of history in the making still pervades. The last remnants of the Rensselaer Rolling Mills iron works, this is the site where iron was cast into rivets and sent to Brooklyn for the USS Monitor. Without this mighty Troy mill, the Monitor might not have been constructed so rapidly, and the outcome of the Civil War could’ve been very different indeed. Abandoned after an afterlife making fire hydrants and reduced nearly to rubble by arson, the site is literally a shell of its former self, and soon the elements will eradicate its existence altogether. But for now, it clings to its culvert, offering the curious an ambience of fallen glory illuminated by fantastical streams of light through dilapidated windows.

 

Best Swimming Pool

Peerless Pool

Saratoga Spa State Park

While we also love sipping cocktails and dipping our feet in the more sophisticated Victoria Pool in the same park, the larger 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 Skiing

Jiminy Peak

37 Corey Road, Hancock, Mass.

Yes, Jiminy now has an entire village at its base, with lodging and year-round activities. But its core attraction is the mountain, and though smaller than some of the most popular Northeast resorts, Jiminy has a great mix of trails and is right in the Capital Region’s backyard (less than an hour from downtown Albany). And while the enhancements have raised Jiminy’s destination profile, the prices are among the most reasonable you’ll find—check out the twilight pass, for example.

 

Best Mini-Golf

Oasis Family Fun Park

97 North Greenbush Road, Troy

A repeat winner. We still love this course, which offers a variety of challenges on a course tucked into a hillside off of Route 4 with plenty of shade.

 

Best Mini-Golf (Vacation Kitsch)

Lake George

Pirates! Subway stations! A towering Paul Bunyan (courtesy of the New York World’s Fair)! Golfing at Around the World, Around the United States and Pirates Cove will get you so in the mood for more kitschy vacation escapism that you’ll rent a cheap motel room and head into Lake George Village for more tawdry thrills.

 

Best Golf Course Winter Re-Use

Capital Hills Golf Course

65 O’Neil Road, Albany

Golf courses often are laid out to meander through naturally beautiful terrain, and thus make ideal conversion to certain winter pastimes. Capital Hills has long been a local fave for cross-country skiers, showshoers and tubers, and the landscape there is, indeed, quite lovely on a crisp, white winter’s day. All we need now is a crisp, white winter’s day. Winter?? Are you still out there??

 

Best Hike With a View

Mount Jo

North Elba

Accessible from the Adirondack Loj near Lake Placid, Mount Jo offers the best of two worlds for people who enjoy hiking and seeing beautiful sights, but are happy to leave the more serious hikes to more serious hikers. It’s a relatively small mountain for the Adirondacks, with two trails to the summit that even children can handle. And when you finish your upward climb, the view couldn’t be any better: Heart Lake below, and out in front of you, several of the majestic high peaks that are lovely to look at, and, for some of us, a bit much to climb.

 

Best Nature Hike

Peebles Island

End of Delaware Avenue, Cohoes

Around here you often hear of the “confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers,” and this beautiful little state park is where that confluence is, offering a breathtaking variety of terrain in just a few short walks. From river rapids and waterfalls with spectacular views (and bird sightings) to sunlit meadows and wooded groves, Peebles is nature at its finest—and easiest.

 

Best Bike Park (Suburban)

The Crossings

Albany Shaker Road, Colonie

The Crossings in Colonie is our vote for best bike path: It’s a meticulously maintained park with six-plus miles of trails. Whether you run, walk, dog walk, bike or rollerblade, you will cherish this oasis. With the cows grazing in the farm next to the path and the beautiful fountain pond, the Crossings is a true suburban gem of green space.

 

Best Skateboarding

Washington Park tennis courts

Washington Park, Albany

Ballin’ at the Graveyard documents the vibrant basketball culture in Albany’s Washington Park and we suspect it’s only a matter of time before someone documents the enormous skate scene that has taken over the two-tiered section of defunct tennis courts along Madison Avenue. In lieu of a proper skate park within Albany, this is the place to show off that 180 nollie shove-it.

 

Best Rock Climbing

The Adirondacks

Just this month, Rock and Ice magazine ran a big glossy spread of the endless climbing potential that is the Adirondacks. Between old-school classics in Keene Valley, bolted beauties at Poke-O-Moonshine and the growing number of bouldering zones and sport crags that are being developed by a younger generation, the Daks are the new Gunks.

 

Best Indoor Rock Climbing

The Edge—Halfmoon

1544 Route 9, Halfmoon

The Edge--Halfmoon photographed by Leif Zurmuhlen

Just built last fall, the Edge is a plastic paradise for climbers looking to crimp, pinch and heel-hook their way up simulated rock climbing features. With a free-standing top-out boulder and massive lead wall, the gym is likely one of the best in the Northeast and has begun to land the regional climbing competitions to prove it.

 

Best Urban Safari

Poestenkill Gorge

Troy

It’s only a matter of time until someone makes the “Troy Is Gorges” T-shirt (Design It Together?). The small waterfalls and wading pools that channel out a ravine between Troy’s Linden and Spring Avenues are some of the most breathtaking and accessible places to explore without leaving the city limits. Just be careful.

 

Best Inner-City Spring Water

Troy Spring

Spring Avenue, Troy

Seriously, the best water around comes out of a tiny pipe on the side of Spring Avenue in Troy. Ask any Troy old-timer and they’ll tell you the same. Just bring a couple jugs to the spout along the Spring Avenue hill and fill right up.

 

Best Bar (Central)

The Point

1100 Madison Ave., Albany

A repeat winner for both the excellent cuisine of chef Jennifer Hewes and the pleasant atmosphere for bar conversation. Its the kind of relaxing, upscale-but-not-oppressively-so place that makes bargoers of all ages feel comfortable. Good late-night menu too.

 

Best Bar (East)

The Ruck

104 Third St., Troy

Live music, an extensive craft beer menu, notorious chicken wings, veggie entrees, shuffleboard (yes, shuffleboard!), trivia night, karaoke, and operating hours seven nights a week until 4 AM including food service until 1 AM…what more could you possibly ask for in a bar? The Ruck is the epitome of a neighborhood watering hole. Buy us a beer here and prove us wrong.

 

Best Bar (North)

Desperate Annie’s

12 Caroline St., Saratoga

If you’re looking for a laid-back spot to hang, DA’s is it. Great music in the jukebox (extra points for even having a jukebox), great trivia, and there are always plenty of copies of Metroland on hand. (Bonus!). The postcards on the ceiling provide infinite amounts of entertainment, and no one will judge you for . . . anything.

 

Best Bar (South)

The Spotty Dog Books and Ale

440 Warren St., Hudson

It’s such a simple proposition: Give the people something to drink and then give them something to read. We’ve recognized the Spotty Dog in the past for this novel combination of literature and libations but, with an impressive live music calendar and a vibrant night life, the Warren Street institution has asserted itself as the best watering hole south of our Albany home.

 

Best Bar For Getting Pickled

The Olde English Pub

683 Broadway, Albany

Though the pub is only part of this Merry Old England-style restaurant (the dining room looks like the elegant residence it once was), its libations have gotten a reputation, in the best sense. Aside from the pub’s menu of British Isles beers and stouts and porters (including the wildly popular Hobgoblin ale), Olde English is now infamous for serving “pickle-back shots”: a shot of Jameson Irish whiskey chased with pickle juice. Sounds heretical yet tastes “amazing,” as many a wobbly patron will attest.

 

Best Dive Bar

Palais Royale

164 Jefferson St., Albany

No surprise here. The Palais has a wall of these awards dating back almost 20 years. Don’t change. Ever.

 

Best Gay Bar

Oh Bar

304 Lark St., Albany

It doesn’t matter what your sexual preference is, chances are that after a night on Lark Street you’ll end up at Albany’s premier gay bar, Oh Bar. Between the fabulous drink specials, pool table, darts, karaoke, and a to-die-for outdoor patio, there are so many reasons why this bar is one of the most popular in downtown Albany. We’d be hard pressed not to recognize these reigning queens-supreme.

 

Best Hipster Bar

Susie’s

8 Delaware Ave., Albany

This small space down a few steps from the Delaware sidewalk has friendly bartenders, a good beer selection and an outdoor patio. And on busy nights it fills up with an interesting mix of artists, musicians, students, restaurant workers and other neighborhood residents who combine to give the place a refreshingly—and not obnoxiously—bohemian air.

 

Best Biker Bar

Dunkin Donuts

Corner of Lark Street and Madison Avenue, Albany

You want to hang with the hogs? This is where the bikers be.

 

Best Sports Bar

Wolff’s Biergarten

895 Broadway, Albany

Wolff’s Biergarten photographed by Leif Zurmuhlen

Wolff’s is the place to watch an important soccer match, as anyone who crammed in for the recent Euro final between Spain and Italy can tell you. On a normal day Wolff’s is not only popular but comfortable, with big screens and great beer. It’s the kind of place where you might suddenly find yourself singing an English soccer chant—or the Italian national anthem.

 

Best Bar to Get Loose (East)

Bootleggers on Broadway

200 Broadway, Troy

With ample space and two bars, you can’t go wrong at Bootleggers. This Troy venue offers live music, DJs and at least five or six dart boards. Stop in on a Wednesday after Troy’s own Rockin on the River for a dense crowd, cold drinks and a video DJ spinning essential hits circa 2004.

 

Best Bar to Get Loose (West)

The Union Inn

517 Union Street, Schenectady

A well-known spot for townies and (surprise) Union College students to get down to business, and that business is partying. The Union Inn features a good bar, loud music and a unique experience in the heart of downtown Schenectady.

 

Best Place to Get Loose (North)

Fourth Floor of the Saratoga City Tavern

21 Caroline St., Saratoga

Grinding did not get left behind in the ’90s. It’s just been hiding on the fourth floor. It’s about having sex . . . vertically. With your clothes on.

 

Best Bar to Get Loose (South)

Pearl Street Pub

1 Steuben Place, Albany

There’s a dance scene alive and well deep in the belly of the Pearl Street Pub. Show up any time after midnight and you’re destined to find a healthy group of people trying to have a heck of a good time.

 

Best Gentlemen’s Club

DiCarlo’s

1165 Central Ave., Albany

True, you can see plenty of half-naked women—and much, much more—on the Internet.  But that’s precisely why DiCarlo’s atypical combination of unintimidating strip club and friendly neighborhood bar offers what lonely cyberfun cannot: real conversation with real women. The avuncular Sal DiCarlo is still a nightly presence, and his manager, the gorgeous former feature dancer Brandy, has done a remarkable job updating the ambience and staging drink promotions and other fun events. If you haven’t stopped at DiCarlo’s recently, or consider gentlemen’s clubs to be of a bygone era, you might be pleasantly surprised at how much you enjoy today’s DiCarlo’s experience.

 

Best Place to Run Into a Stage Star

Aperitivo Bistro

426 State St., Schenectady

Because they’re located by Proctors, proximity is a big part of why Aperitivo Bistro is a hangout for actors. The other part is quality: Shirley MacLaine paused to extol the virtues of the bistro in the middle of her one-woman show.

 

Best Time Machine

Margie’s Grill

221 4th St., Troy

If you can find this sign-less South Troy hole in the wall, you’re liable to find Margie herself behind the bar. This is where she’s been late into the night for decades, serving bottled Budweiser in chilled glasses to off-duty cops and Little Italy late shifters. If you find the place, you may feel as if you’ve stumbled into your grandparents’ basement circa 1954, so cue up Sinatra on the jukebox and please observe the strict “no cursing” policy, lest you land Metroland on the chalkboard “enemies list”—along with National Grid and the mailman—displayed over the bar.

 

Best Movie Location (Logan’s Run)

The Troy Atrium

It’s the tiled shopping mall of the future, where civilization is forced to live underground due to solar radiation up above, and from which young people strive to escape once they learn of their dystopian fate—with fresh greens and a loaf of multigrain bread under their arm.

 

Best Movie Location (Star Wars)

The Empire State Plaza

We’re certainly not the first to notice its striking likeness to the Imperial Fleet and Death Star.

 

Best Movie Location (Blue Velvet)

Canajoharie

Sure, it looks like a quiet, all-American town; that is, until you find a severed ear outside the old Beech-Nut plant.

 

Best Movie Location (Gattaca)

University at Albany

1400 Washington Ave., Albany

The plot of this sci-fi film revolves around a society where DNA determines social class and the exteriors were shot at a Californian civic center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. We still think that UAlbany is a perfect fit for a sequel. Or a prequel. Or whatever. It’s been rumored that the campus was a mistake, a design intended for a school in Arizona. Let’s make the best of its cold, wanna-be futuristic, institutionalized feel, eh?

 

Best Movie Location (RoboCop)

Railroad Avenue

The Albany-Colonie Industrial Borderlands

We’re talking about the Eastern part of Railroad Avenue, not the retail-friendly portion behind Target. Desolate and weird with mysterious warehouses and strange corners, you expect RoboCop to wander in looking for miscreants and methheads.

 

Best Movie Location (Twilight)

Oakwood Cemetery

Troy

Who’s that chillin’ behind the vault, all dreamy and weird and moon-eyed? Why, it’s Bella and pale, pale Edward. And who’s that smoldering with hate and passion behind that headstone? It’s Jacob. Stay out of their way, mortal.

 

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