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Arise, therefore: Water nymphs are roused from slumber in Yaddo’s gardens.
Pleased to Make Your Re-Acquaintance
Familiarity breeds contempt, so playing the tourist in your own town can rekindle a love for things too long overlooke
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By John Suvannavejh
Photos by Alicia Solsman

"Health, history, horses and the arts is how we like to present Saratoga Springs,” Sabrina shouts out to me and the two dozen or so senior citizens journeying along with me.

As a resident of Saratoga for five years (college and then some), I’d decided to test out my acquired local authority by touring the city with the newly unleashed Saratoga Experience bus tour, which promises an “insider’s look of the city’s most famous—and infamous—landmarks.”

It’s actually my second sightseeing tour of native ground this summer: While I did thoroughly enjoy bringing my Thai cousin around on the Circle Line in June (mostly due to his wishes to be photographed in front of every approaching landmark, regardless of its iconic value, e.g., the Willis Avenue Bridge and Roosevelt Island), I was a bit more hesitant about busing around Spa City with a bunch of 60-somethings. Maybe the exhausting yearly blitz of horsey lovers had taken its toll, or maybe it’s that I could never figure out how the “little city in the country” became the “August place to be” while being 200 miles from the ocean. Either way, a bus tour around Saratoga sounded about as exciting as taking a tour around, well, Albany.

Saratoga Experience, the concierge-service brainchild of local entrepreneur Eliott Mazie, is headquartered in a sparse, urban-modern storefront on Saratoga’s downtown strip, in what’s easily mistaken as a high-end audio-videophilic retailer matching the high-tech promises of the tour. If the concierge’s booking-and-planning operation is Mazie’s brainchild, then the brainmother of the tour itself is Sabrina Silver. A native Saratogian who wrote and designed the tour as part of a college internship, Silver also doubles as Sabrina the lovely tour guide. When our promised PowerPoint and surround-sound slideshow (rigged up to a monitor at the front of the bus) fails before we even take off, it’s Sabrina’s sparkling, fluent performance (and enviable recall of the slideshow’s script) that save the day for us sightseers.

To little surprise, the tour includes the usual suspects of Saratoga landmarking: water springs, North Broadway houses, the track, SPAC and Yaddo, etc. In other words, health, history, horses and the arts—just as told. A large portion of the tour is devoted to Saratoga’s architectural history and preservation efforts, which, besides being visually stunning, help me realize just how much American architectural history can be learned from poking around Saratoga. From the early Federal style of the Olde Bryan Inn, to pillared Greek-revivalist homes, high Victorians, Neo-Gothic churches and mansions (notably the exquisite Batcheller Mansion on Circular Street, which both has a patented design and is held together entirely by screws—no nails), to the gorgeous Romanesque revivals on North Broadway and the early-century American Renaissance form of the State Park buildings, the tour provides an easy-access review of just about every significant period—a very cool point of entry for anyone even incipiently interested in design.

Interesting tidbits we learn along the way: Gideon Putnam, Saratoga’s official granddaddy, had Caroline and Phila Streets named for his daughters; 3,000 horses come through the track stables each summer; Arnold Rothstein, Saratoga’s most famous gangster and fixer of the 1919 World Series, served his first and only jail stint in Ballston Spa; the Canfield Casino, which sits at the center of Congress Park, once boasted the most expensive dinner menu in the country.

We also learn that while Fred Astaire was shooting his last movie, Ghost Story, here in the spring of 1981, Eliot Mazie himself was out driving on State Street and encountered what he’d later find out was a fake blizzard on the movie’s set. As he skidded out in seasonal disbelief, he looked up in time to just avoid hitting the 82-year-old Astaire prancing across the street, narrowly escaping lasting notoriety as the man who ran down Fred Astaire in a May snowstorm. On another Astaire note, I learned that the National Dance Museum, located on South Broadway near SPAC, has an exhibit featuring his steps to “The Piccolino” painted on the floor, allowing visitors to reenact one of his deliciously silly dances.

I had initial quibbles with only a few of Sabrina’s comments: As a liberal arts institution, it’s true that Skidmore sees a lot of double majors; but, no, business/sculpture is not a typical one (they tend to be less polarized). In Sabrina’s defense, though, what I initially figured was hyperbole about making a small fortune by selling track giveaways on eBay proved to be at least theoretically true: At the time of this writing, there are already 32 John Velazquez bobblehead auctions underway.

I wasn’t surprised when the tour’s promises of infamy focused on the old red-light debauchery of Congress Street, Rothstein’s Brooks Casino and the romanticized decadence of the town’s gilded era. Had it been my tour, I would’ve elected to single out some more recent, idiosyncratic disclosures: like vandals stealing horse statues off Broadway, or the jaywalking pedestrians getting nailed by cars over the last few years. Perhaps I’d caution of the potential dangers of carousing in Saratoga’s watering holes under the watchful eyes of overzealous bouncer types. But these, I suppose, are better kept filed under “local knowledge,” and not exactly the features we fixate on when selling the city.

City springs eternal: Inside the Lincoln Baths.

Looking out a window designed for tourists when you’re not one is a nearly surreal exercise, not unlike hearing your own voice on the answering machine. Considering my own reservations about what kind of life Saratoga can offer me—a post-collegiate 22-year-old hungry for something but not sure exactly what—my cynicism at touring what some of us semi-fondly refer to as “Stinktown” is no surprise. But when Sabrina points out the impressive Greek revival structure that housed one of my old apartments, I’m amazed when I find myself tapping the elderly visitor sitting beside me and telling him, “I used to live there.” Even though he doesn’t seem to care, I feel an unusual pride driving past that building with my fresh-eyed tour buddies. And this moment of unintentional bragging begins to give way to plain appreciation: I’ve lived in a lovely, historically rich town while most of America is sliding off into big-box swamps.

Before they too quickly forget, everyone who lives in Saratoga should take a tour, and remember why they live here in the first place. Maybe next week I’ll get out my Polaroid and Triple-A card and head down to Albany.

Saratoga CALENDAR

 

Concerts

Congress Park (Saratoga Springs, 587-3241). Tue: Alex Torres and the Latin Kings.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center (Saratoga Springs, tickets: 476-1000). Tue: Deep Purple, Joe Satriani, Thin Lizzy.

Clubs

The Alley Bar (Long Alley Road, Saratoga, 587-9766). Sun: karaoke with Wayne from King Entertainment. Tue: karaoke with Mark the Shark.

Bailey’s (Phila and Putnam streets, Saratoga Springs, 583-6060). Thu: Bluz House Rockers. Fri: Phil Henry Trio. Sat: Richie Ortiz. Sun: Sirsy Duo.

Brindisi’s Restaurant (390 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 587-6262). Fri: Benny Cannavo, the Accents. Sat: the Heaters. Sun: Fletcher’s Band. Mon: Al Bruno.

Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 583-0022). Thu: open mic (7 PM). Fri: the Burns Sisters. Sat: Metropolitan Klezmer. Sun: Tom Mitchell.

Club Caroline (13 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 580-0155). Thu: Bipolar. Fri: karaoke with DJ Chris. Sat: E Town Express. Sun: karaoke with DJ Chris. Tue: karaoke with DJ Chris. Wed: Brian Gibney.

The Club House (30 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 580-0686). Fri-Sat: DJ Daniel Van D, hiphop, club mixes.

Gaffney’s (16 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 587-7359). Sat: the Sean Rowe Project.

The Inn at Saratoga (231 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 583-1890). Sat: the Ria Curley Jazz Group.

Horseshoe Inn (1 Gridley St., Saratoga Springs, 587-4909).Thu: TS Ensemble (6 PM). Fri: the Burners UK (6 PM). Sat: Blue Hand Luke (6 PM). Sun: the Schmooze (6 PM). Mon: Jeff Walton (6 PM).

High Rock Steakhouse at the Prime Hotel (534 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 584-4000). Fri-Sat: Lois and the Kryptonites.

9 Maple Avenue (9 Maple Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-CLUB). Fri: Jazz Works. Sat: Tom Laniewski Quartet.

One Caroline Street (1 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 587-2026). Thu: Rob Linquist (6 PM); John Park Duo (9 PM). Fri: Azzaam Hameed (6 PM); Colleen Pratt Quartet (9 PM). Sat: Dave Payette (6 PM); Lee Shaw Trio (9 PM). Sun: Scott Bassinson Duo (7 PM). Mon: Sarah Pedinotti. Tue: Masters of Nostalgia (7:30 PM). Wed: Peg Delaney Duo.

Panza’s Restaurant (Route 9P, Saratoga Lake, 584-6882).Thu: Noreen Pratt (6:30 PM). Fri: Beth LeRoy (6:30 PM). Sat: Michael Panza, Bobby Zampino Trio (7:30 PM). Sun: Noreen Pratt (7 PM).

The Parting Glass (40-42 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-1916). Fri: Vehicle. Sat: Alan Payette Band. Mon: the Off Track Band. Wed: the Burners UK.

Saratoga Springs Brew Pub (14 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 583-3209). Thu: Kevin Mullaney and Electric Life.

Theater

Meshuggah-Nuns! . . . A Nunsense Musical, Saratoga Springs City Center, 522 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. The Little Sisters of Hoboken present a shipboard musical. 8/12-14. $15. 581-9401.

Dysfunctional Divas, Saratoga Arts Council Theatre, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. Nancy Timpanaro-Hogan and Laura Roth star in a cabaret spoofing divas old and new. Through 8/28. $25. 793-8442.

Classical

Performance

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs. 8/12, 8:15 PM: The Philadelphia Orchestra, featuring cellist Truls Mork, will perform works by Dvorák and Sibelius. 8/13, Pianist André Watts is featured with the Philadelphia Orchestra on works by Strauss, Zwilich and Brahms. 8/14, 8:15 PM: Charles Dutoit conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra in works by Bartok, Liszt, Weber and Ravel. 8/18, 8:15 PM: The Philadelphia Orchestra will perform works by Ravel, Saint-Saëns and Berlioz. $57.50-$15. 587-3330.

Spa Little Theater, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs. 8/15, 2:15 PM: Saratoga Chamber Music Festival presents the Austro-Hungarian Connection. Works by Schubert, Zwilich, Haydn and Dohnányi. 8/16, 8:15 PM: SCMF presents a program of works by Beethoven, Eisler and Brahms. 8/17, 8:15 PM: SCMF features pianist Stephen Hough and violist Roberto Diaz on works by Mozart, Schubert and Frühling. $33.50-$28.50. 587-3330.

St. Clement’s Church, 231 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs. 8/15, 7 PM: The annual concert of the Saratoga Choral Festival. Handel’s Dixit Dominus is the featured work, with other pieces by Mozart and C.V. Stanford. $15-$10. 438-6548.

Literary

Readings/Signings

Craven Books, 441 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 8/14, 7-9 PM: Author R. Austin Healy will sign copies of his Saratoga-based mystery novels. 583-0025.

National Museum of Horse Racing, 191 Union Ave., Saratoga. 8/14, 10 AM-noon: Sally Jenkins will sign copies of Funny Cide by The Funny Cide Team. 8/17, 10 AM-noon: Joe McGinniss will sign copies of The Big Horse. 584-0400 ext. 117.

Events

National Museum of Racing, Union Ave., Saratoga Springs. Wed-Sun through 9/5, 8:30-10 AM: Exclusive Tours of the Oklahoma Training Track. Reservations recommended. $10. 584-0400 x 120.

Lectures & Learning

Discussions/Speakers

National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, Union Ave., Saratoga Springs. 8/15, 8:15 AM: Photo Finish at Oklahoma Training Track, guided by racing photographer Barbara D. Livingston. Ages 10 and up, no strollers or backpacks. $20, $15 members. 8/18, 11 AM-12 PM: Guests in the Gallery: Trainers. Free with museum admission. 584-0400.

Saratoga Springs Public Library, 49 Henry St., Saratoga Springs. Tuesdays in August, 10 AM: Brown Bag presentations in the Community Room. This week: “The Restoration of Yaddo Gardens.” Free. 584-1198.

Events/Workshops

National Museum of Dance & Hall of Fame, 99 South Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 8/13: Visitors of the museum can observe a class free with museum admission. 584-2225

Kids

This Week

Children’s Museum at Saratoga, 69 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs. Tuesdays, 10 AM-noon: Tuesdays for Tots, for ages 5 and under; create projects and experience new art materials. 584-5540.

Creative Sparks, 42 Phila St., Saratoga. 8/17, 10 AM-noon. “Creating with Clay” workshop, Clay Buffet (funky food art). $15, plus $5 fee to paint finished items. Every Saturday, 7-9 PM: “Kids Nite Out,” pizza and pottery. $20 per child. All workshops ages 8 and up without supervision, younger children welcome accompanied by an adult. Registration required. 583-2030.

Farmers Markets

Saratoga Springs Farmers Market. High Rock Park, Saratoga Springs. Saturdays, 9 AM-1 PM; Wednesdays, 3-6 PM.

Saratoga Race Course

Open daily through Sept. 6, except Tuesdays.

Location 267 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs, 584-6200.

Admission $3 grandstand, $5 clubhouse; children under 12 free; seats are $6 and $7, respectively.

Parking $10 per car at the track side and $5 across Union Avenue at the Oklahoma Training Track. General parking is free.

Racing Nine or 10 races a day; pari-mutuel wagering on every race.

First Race Post Time 1 PM (except Travers Day, Aug. 28, when it’s 12:30 PM).

Major Stakes Races The Sword Dancer Invitational (Aug. 14 ); the Alabama Stakes (Aug. 21); the Hopeful Stakes (Aug. 21 ); the Saratoga Breeders Cup (Aug. 22 ); the Travers Stakes (Aug. 28).


Saratoga SHOTS
By Martin Benjamin

Curtis Sliwa, Guardian Angel, at the track in the exclusive finish line clubhouse box seats, on Sunday (Aug. 8). Apparently when not hiding out in Tokyo because of fear of an impending rubout by the mob, Sliwa enjoys a day at the races.

Spotted in Saratoga
By Ashley Hahn

Where: The Downtowner Parking Lot
Who:
Gabrielle (left)
From:
originally from California, now lives in Greenfield
What are you doing here?:
“We’re selling Kettle Korn. It’s a kind of popcorn,
you cook it in a kettle, we add sugar and salt to it.”
What’s the best part about Saratoga?:
“I like the downtown part and the
polo club.”
If Saratoga were a movie, what would it be called?:
Saratoga Beat


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