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Best Of People and Places

by The Staff on July 24, 2013 · 3 comments

Liberace Uncle Sam. Photo by Erin Pihlaja.

Best Political Win

Andrew Cuomo’s SAFE Act

Taking decisive action following the massacre at Sandy Hook, Gov. Cuomo used his political capital to force the Legislature—specifically, the New York State Senate—to pass tough, multifaceted gun control legislation. And good for him. The gunsters may piss and moan, but the SAFE Act isn’t going to be repealed.

Best Political Performance Artist

Jose Lopez

This guy’s just too much. He got us the first time around when we put him on the cover for that whole reptile-enthusiast-running-for-Common Council bit a few years back. Then there was that brilliant mass media mailing stunt about the Indian “lady doctor” who touched his privates. But then this guy goes full Sacha Baron Cohen and runs for the Albany Public Library Board this year as a pit bull-loving “multi-race, multi-culture pro-fascist,” swastika flag in his YouTube vid and everything, and pretty much gave up the gag. He can’t be serious, right?

Best Political Joke

Theresa Grafflin

Grafflin, best known as blogger Albany Citizen One/New York Citizen One, hasn’t had a good year. First, she raised eyebrows by endorsing self-professed fascist Jose Lopez for the Albany Library Board. Then, her efforts to challenge Richard Conti for his 6th Ward City Council seat were dealt a double blow when she was denied an Independence Party nod she’d thought she had wrapped up, and was tossed off the ballot in the Democratic primary. Oh well. Like Mr. Lopez, we’re sure she won’t go away.

Best Ongoing Political Fight

Chickens

Albany

The folks who want to raise ’em won’t back down. The folks who have a foul opinion of the fowl won’t back down, either. This is one cockfight that’s going to last a while.

Best Local Legislator (West of the Hudson)

Chris Higgins

(Albany County Legislature)

Those who have worked closely with Higgins know that despite not always getting a pat on the back from his peers, he works relentlessly to push through progressive legislation in the city of Albany. Be it an environmental issue, creating a land bank, or a social equality solution, Higgins is usually the one to get the ball rolling.

Best Local Legislator (East of the Hudson)

Rodney Wiltshire

(Troy City Council)

Wiltshire consistently flies under the radar but keeps managing to get the job done. He brings action to ideas that usually come about in bigger cities—municipal solar power, anti-human-trafficking legislation—you name it, Wiltshire’s probably already trying to get it done.

Best Animal Advocate

Steve Caporizzo

(WTEN)

Through his regular Pet Connection segments on the NewsCenter, and large scale-adoption events, Steve Caporizzo has helped countless cats and dogs find forever homes.

Best Unofficial Press Agent for Troy

Duncan Crary

No matter what your opinion is about this East Side ginger, you can’t deny that dude is all over every new project going on in downtown Troy, the water ways, and whatever else flows along the Hudson River. He deals in novels, press releases, podcasts (A Small American City), weird redhead-centric clubs, and just rubbing elbows at the local pub. Go ahead, try to navigate Troy without running into him.

Best Ribbon Cutter

Mayor Jerry Jennings

(Albany)

How else would we know he was still the mayor if he didn’t show up for openings of local businesses? Jerry, we love you but we haven’t seen you in ages outside of photo ops. It is what it is, we guess. At least when you’re gone, we’ll have Jennings Landing, among the other name-stamps, to mourn the loss of your actual presence in the city.

Best Downtown

Troy

Before you all get all worked up about our love for Troy, hear us out. Access to the river, walkability, wining, dining, clothing for men and women, books, art, jewelry, galleries, music spaces—the list just goes on and on. We know it’s not the only downtown that offers a great selection of services, but it’s the only downtown that offers this much and is functional on a day-to-day basis all year round. We’ve got nothing against touristy places, but Troy is just a cool little city steeped in reality. Sure, it could get even better—have we mentioned a Ferris wheel yet?

Best Public Park (Recreation)

The Crossings

(Colonie)

This gorgeous piece of tranquility nestled behind Wolf Road and Albany Shaker Road is an oasis for all to enjoy. Have kids and want to wear them out? Let them swing and jump over the massive jungle gym that always seems to be packed with kids all looking to be the next Olympian. If running, biking or inline skating is your thing, there are six-plus miles of trails that take one past a farm and its herd of cows. Beautiful manmade lakes and great views of the Heldeberg Mountains, and every Saturday is the farmers market.

A view from Prospect Park. Photo by Erin Pihlaja.

Best Park Vista

Prospect Park

Troy

When it comes to overlooks of the Hudson Valley, Prospect Park is a tough one to beat. The thing that differentiates this view from other awesome Capital Region spots, is that it looks really cool from the other side too. Wave to anyone looking up, and they’ll see you gesturing wildly over the giant white “Troy” set into the hillside. Hollywood on the Hudson, baby.

Best Outdoor Gym

Empire State Plaza

The Empire State Plaza is becoming a destination for those who like their cross-fit and aerobics workouts outdoors. Get up early and watch the sun rise or at night when the sun sets—both are spectacular at the plaza. Biking, running, cross-fit classes (structured and freelance) abound. With all the great nooks and crannies the plaza has to offer, not to mention the great views of the Capitol building and the pools, this has become a cross-fit mecca.

Best Waterfront

Troy

Troy just has what Hudson River expansion locations want—easy access to the river and space. We like it for what’s it’s become in the last few years and what we think it might become (see Ferris wheel entry).

Best Cemetery

Vale Cemetery

State Street, Schenectady

Being showcased in the film The Place Beyond the Pines put the spotlight on Vale Cemetery, a Schenectady (and National Historic) landmark. From the millionaires who founded the city to freed African slaves, the history contained within Vale’s gates is fascinating and awe-ispiring.

Best Historic Site

Historic Cherry Hill

523 1/2 South Pearl St., Albany

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Path Through History initiative apparently took a detour when it came to this 1787 Georgian Mansion. Built by Albany’s First Family, the Van Rensselaers, then occupied by near-relations, the Rankins, the house has seen centuries of uninterrupted residential history allowing for a rare amassing of 300 years of American social and material culture. Some items are so important that they go out on loan to museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Yet this national treasure is at risk of closure. Financially depleted by renovation costs, the mansion, in partnership with other Albany historic sites, was denied grant money by the state from regional development funds. Private donations may yet rise to the rescue, though the ormolu clock is ticking . . .

Best Swimming Pool (Neighborhood)

Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park is what a city park ought to be, and the enormous pool at its heart is what summertime in the city should feel like. On any given day, you’re likely to find the truest cross-section of Albany’s population splashing and sunning, and that enormous bowl is big enough that it never feels crowded.

Best Swimming Pool (Destination)

Peerless Pool

Saratoga Spa State Park

A repeat winner because this is the destination pool for familes. For one thing, it’s large enough to accommodate the throngs that decend upon it during heat waves; it also has special features like the wade-in end, the fountain in the kiddie pool, and the large corkscrew slides.

Best Bike Riding

Saratoga National Battlefield

If history, spectacular views and a vigorous bike ride are what your looking for, then the Saratoga National Battlefield is the best bike ride in the region. Stop first at the museum and see the movie memorializing the turning-point battle of the American Revolution. Explore the museum and gift shop. Speak with the park rangers about the park and its history. Then embark on your 11-mile ride that dissects the park. You’ll experience great biking conditions, beautiful vistas, deer all over the park, and if you’re lucky, maybe that day they’ll have a reenactment.

Best Skiing

Jiminy Peak

37 Corey Road, Hancock, Mass.

A repeat winner: It’s smaller but closer than the major mountains of Vermont and the Adirondacks, and it has a good mix of trails for its size. The prices are still reasonable, and there’s more going on off the mountain than ever.

Best Mini-Golf

Oasis Family Fun Park

97 North Greenbush Road, Troy

A repeat winner. We still love this course—more important, our kids love it.

Best Rock Climbing (Indoor)

The Edge Halfmoon

1544 Route 9, Halfmoon

In a little over a year, the Edge has already expanded its facility, enforcing the fact that it’s become the epicenter of the Upstate climbing community.

Best Rock Climbing (Outdoor)

The Adirondacks

Gunks shmunks. The Adirondack Park is the largest state park in the country and only a fraction of what’s climbable has been discovered and developed. But there are plenty of folks out there right now doing that good work. Skip the New Paltz crowds and get on that anorthosite.

Best Destination for Childhood Nostalgia

Hoffman’s Playland

608 New Loudon Road, Latham

The jolly clown face on Route 9 is as iconic as Nipper or the Egg. Almost unchanged since it opened in 1952, this family-owned amusement park is filled with such retro delights as a merry-go-round, scrambler cars, and a tot-size choo-choo train. And as a real throwback to the Eisenhower era, there’s no admission charge. One of the very few opportunities for family fun with very small children, Hoffman’s also has a charm all its own, perhaps from all the kids who grew up to return with kids of their own. Enjoy it now, however, because it’s up for sale, and tilt-a-whirling will never be the same again.

Best Preservation Trend

Large Buildings

During heated debates over the demolition of soaring St. Patrick’s Church in Watervliet, an oft-cited excuse for the building’s destruction was that it was simply too big to be readapted. Yet at the same time, such enormous edifices as the block-long Clark building in Troy have been restored and revitalized—by small businesses. The once-decrepit Clark is now open for groceries, St. Joe’s Venue in Cohoes is booking weddings and parties, and the Cohoes Armory is brewing up beer production while the Schenectady Armory gets in gear for major sports events and concerts.

Best Bar (Literally)

Ryan’s Wake

403 River St., Troy

Sure, Ryan’s Wake has great drinks, food, people and atmosphere—they’re a perennial winner in this category. But they also have the best actual bar in the Capital Region. It’s a real beauty.

Best Neighborhood Bar (Saratoga)

Desperate Annie’s

12 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs

To our mind, Desperate Annie’s is the most welcoming bar in Saratoga Springs. Whether you’re a tourist or a local, wearing a T-shirt and jeans or a suit and tie, you’ll feel right at home. They serve beer, which is of course crucial, and they have a wicked sense of humor on the Internet—visit their website or check out their Twitter feed if you don’t believe us.

Best Neighborhood Bar (In Exile)

McGeary’s Irish Pub

4 Clinton Square, Albany

Speaking of feeling right at home, this brings us to McGeary’s. We still have the feeling that McGeary’s is the old Tess’ Lark Tavern in disguise. The reason? Tess Collins of course. She brought a spirit of community and fun with her from Lark Street. Also, it seems, all of her old customers.

Best Hook-up Bar

Lionheart Pub

448 Madison Ave.

A standing favorite with a good drink selection and ample loitering room. Take a walk down the bar and see, or be seen by, what lies ahead. 

Best Gay Bar

Oh Bar

304 Lark St., Albany

We still love the vibe (and the cocktails, and the karaoke, and the outdoor patio) at Oh Bar, the gay bar where anyone feels welcome.

Best Hipster Bar

Susie’s

8 Delaware Ave., Albany

This is where hipsters go to drink (the cranks say it’s where hipsters go to die). No matter, on busy nights it still fills up with an interesting mix of artists, musicians, students, service workers and other neighborhood (and non-neighborhood) bohos.

Best Sports Bar

Wolff’s Biergarten

895 Broadway, Albany

You can watch a Yankees-Red Sox game anywhere. But Barcelona vs. Bayern? You know where the serious fans of world sports are. And you know what quality imported beer they’re drinking.

Best Dive Bar

Thatcher Street Pub

16 Thatcher St., Albany

Beaver Basketball—’nough said. 

Best Karaoke

Elda’s on Lark

205 Lark St., Albany

Sometimes, during a night out, it just doesn’t feel right heading home until you’ve belted “Friends in Low Places” at your friends, enemies, exes and strangers.

Best Uncle Sam

The Original (Liberace) Uncle Sam Statue

Or, as we like to call him, “Liberace Uncle Sam.” There’s a chicken in every pot and an Uncle Sam on every corner in Troy right now. As clever and cute as some of those citywide sculpture installations are, none are as fierce, flamboyant and iconic as the original metal memorial next to the River Street bus stop: Liberace Uncle Sam with his wind-swept coif and flowing cape.

Best Pig Swallowing a Pig

The Union of Troy Pig Out and Bacon Fest

Troy

Just when you pork-mongers thought it couldn’t get any better, the Troy Pig Out event and the Bacon Fest united in holy swine matrimony. Oink, oink!

Best Thing to Happen to Troy

Heather LaVine and Vic Christopher

First they opened the instantly-loved Charles F. Lucas Confectionery & Wine Bar. Then they bought the endangered Clark House, opened up a garden patio and started plans on a much needed downtown grocery. Then they started dropping cool-ass events on us: Yappy Hour (bring your dog in for drinks on the patio), and Troyster night (raw bar on the patio)—all in the past year. We can’t wait to see what they bring to downtown Troy next.

Best Thing That Could Happen To Troy

Ferris Wheel

First of all, let’s all recognize that the inventor of the Ferris wheel, George Ferris, went to school at RPI and his design was reportedly influenced by Troy’s Burden Iron Works water wheel. Give us one good reason why the many acres of prime and largely unused waterfront in this just-on-the-verge-of-making-it upstate city shouldn’t be home to a destination attraction that has changed the landscape of places like Seattle and London? Seriously, we need one good reason so we can stop being obsessed.

Best Place to Get Arrested

In the Vicinity of the New York State Capitol

Bribery, election fixing, weed—let’s just say that this year was a really interesting one for those of us who follow the antics of elected officials like it’s our job. Thanks guys, we had a good time at your expense.

Best Nude Tax Code Challengers

Nite Moves

677 New Loudon Road, Latham

When the strip club in Latham was audited for admission-fee taxes, they argued that their performances were dance, and exempt under New York state tax law. After a loss in New York’s Court of Appeals and a segment on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report, owner Stephen Dick is still fighting the good fight, which could go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Best Crime (Fake)

Ryan Gosling in Place Beyond the Pines

Gosling’s Trustco Bank-robbing motorcycle daredevil in the region’s big movie event gave crime a pulse-pounding intensity—even if it didn’t exactly work out well for his character.

Best Crime (Psychedelic)

Marty McFly on Acid

It was a crime Dr. Emmett Brown would have been proud of. Last fall, Terrence Rudes of Saratoga attempted to build a flux capacitor in his brain by mixing LSD and alcohol, then drove his car into another car expecting to time travel. Whether he didn’t reach the requisite 88 MPH or hadn’t purchased the proper model DeLorean remains unclear. But he got a year and a half in prison to iron out the details.

Best Crime (Sci-Fi)

Schenectady Death Ray

Welp, the short of it is that two men, one an employee at General Electric, tried to build a mobile death ray to give enemies of Israel fatal doses of radiation poisoning. They got busted when they tried to peddle the machine to local synagogues. It seems as if there was no possible way the machine could ever work, but the bozos still face 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine each if convicted.

Best Crime (Dairy)

The Ice Cream War

In an ice-cream-truck turf war this spring, Sno Cone Joe owner Joshua Malatino and his girlfriend, Amanda Scott, were arrested for harassment and misdemeanor stalking after trying to drive Mr. Ding-A-Ling out of town. We can only hope this becomes a Will Ferrell flick.

Check out the rest of this year’s Best Of issue:

Best Media

Best Arts

Best Goods & Services

Best Music

Best Food