Lark St., Albany
ago, Nick left town just before we were going to bestow this honor
upon him for his work at Justin’s and other locales; now that he’s
been back for a while and has reestablished himself at this popular
Center Square hangout, it’s time to give him his due. His bartending
meets all the prerequisites: He’s attentive and personable, he knows
his way around the bar and can mix a fine martini or bloody mary,
and he knows the regular clientele inside and out. But wait, there
are bonus points: He’s a pop-music encyclopedia with great taste,
which manifests in his conversation and his bar music selections;
and he’s a fearless Red Sox fan in a region overrun with pinstripe
envy. Whatever your stripe, you gotta admire him for that.
Stop the Plant
broad-based, and successful-against-all-odds campaign to stop the
massively bankrolled St. Lawrence Cement Plant—a proposed 1,800-acre
complex with huge smokestacks, an open-pit mine, a riverside transport
facility, and expected emissions of 20 million pounds of air pollution
a year, plunked within the breathtaking landscapes of the Hudson
River School—has prevented irreparable damage to the environment,
public health, and the region’s burgeoning tourism economy. Thanks
to the Hudson Valley Preservation Coalition (formed by Scenic Hudson
with many other groups including Olana), we can all breathe a little
easier. And Thomas Cole and Frederick Church can rest in peace.
are, the guys in red marching up and down the streets. There they
are, all four of them, pushing that rock up the mountain. Fitting
in patrols whenever their schedules allow, patrolling two cities
and desperately hoping to patrol a third. While they claim there
was a mandate from the public, it doesn’t seem much of the public
is willing to put on the red vests and patrol with them. Still,
with mounting public attention, they will try. We wouldn’t be surprised
to see the rock rolling back down, but maybe just maybe a few volunteers
will step forward to help them push it back up again.
Advocates (Actual Results)
When one potential
buyer after another appeared more interested in the vacant Madison
Theater’s parking lot potential than its history as a neighborhood
arts venue, local residents took matters into their own hands and
formed Friends of the Madison. Whether lobbying local officials,
investigating alternative uses for the building or pitching the
property to community-minded buyers, there’s little doubt that this
grassroots organization played a big role in the May 2005 reopening
of the local landmark as a first-run theater, and not as a drive-through
Best View of
Albany While Listening to Stupid Jokes
We like the
idea. We always did. And a little cutesiness is OK. We can tolerate
that. But when your tour guides on Albany’s finest amphibious vehicles
spend more time on the duck puns than on the facts (and when
their facts are often historically questionable), that’s a little
hard to swallow. There’s so much great stuff to know about Albany,
it does a disserve to say nothing about the Egg except some
apocryphal story about Rockefeller thinking of the shape after eating
a grapefruit. But hey, driving into the river from the land is pretty
Best City Under
mysteriously, every four years. Roads and sidewalks all over the
city of Albany are overtaken by repair crews in a kind of summer
miracle. Then again, perhaps it’s not so miraculous after all. Maybe
it’s just time for citywide elections again. (Note to Mayor Jennings:
Those “sorry for the inconvenience” signs with your name on them
are a nice touch. Have a nice campaign.)
got it all: saratoga springs public library.
49 Henry St.,
We’re not dissing
the main branches of other public libraries. Schenectady’s has charm;
Albany and Bethlehem have great collections; Guilderland has good
videos and CDs; and Troy has a gorgeous building. Saratoga Springs
has it all: location, a pleasing building and a solid collection.
Special props to the folks in the Saratoga history room for being
so helpful, too.
is still so quiet most of the time—in spite of the region’s most
impressive architecture, and what, now, 37 coffeehouses—that when
you turn the corner past Monument Square and suddenly come upon
galleries and Lebanese markets and jewelry stores and antiques and
funky musical artifacts—a lot of it out on the sidewalk, by the
way—for a moment you wonder whether you just strolled through a
space warp into the French Quarter or something. The folks who inhabit
this neighborhood give the block an artsy, conversational flair—and
give the impression, to those who don’t visit the block often, that
there’s something going on that everybody else just doesn’t know
Harriman State Office Campus
Sure, you can
get in and out if you know where you’re going, but even if you do,
god forbid you should daydream for a few seconds, lest you go around
the thing twice and completely lose sense of which direction you’re
headed (you’re going counterclockwise—that’s about all we can tell
you). The office buildings and parking lots and the giant ring road
have almost no relationship to the city around them—hell, it’s hard
to tell which side of Washington Avenue you’re on. We’re certain
this originally was built for some other purpose, like maybe chariot
Best WiFi Hotspot
Since the dawn
of the information age, tech geeks have had no better friends than
caffeine and sugar. The folks at Uncommon Grounds appear to understand
that relationship, and offer both a truly great cup of coffee and
a chance to surf the Web while you’re drinking it. Best of all,
it’s a free service—none of that per-minute pricing nonsense. So
if you’re looking to sit your tech-savvy self down and have a cup
of joe, there’s no better place than Uncommon Grounds to get on
248 Lark St.,
There’s a lot
to see on Lark Street, but very little of it seems to change each
year—the same wannabes, hipsters, artists and musicians with different
faces in the same places. Thankfully, people making the Madison-to-Washington
journey can rely on seeing something new and imaginative every couple
of months in the window of the Headlines hair salon. Their creative
use of one window, one mannequin and just a few simple props has
become something of a local landmark, and we can’t help but applaud
the way they help keep the face of Lark Street fresh and unique.
The current window—featuring the nightshirt-clad mannequin hanging
a rhinestone brassiere out to dry—is one of the best yet.
Space for Dancing
room at the Albany International Airport
when there aren’t many planes expected, this huge room—fronted by
a vast semi-circle of windows looking out over the runways—is empty
and inviting. You don’t even need music.
It’s not every
tiny upstate New York city that can claim to be the home base for
an internationally acclaimed fireworks company. The owners of Alonzo
fireworks, around since 1939, call Mechanicville home. And that’s
why Mechanicville Family Day is the Sunday after the Fourth
of July. Alonzo’s a little busy on the big day. But the show they
put on for the home crowd is worth a wait and a bit of traveling—the
newest shapes, tricks, sound effects and colors are sure to be there,
along with a spectacular mix of ground and aerial work. They let
you get closer than you will at most shows too, so you get the full
impact of every decibel and whirling sparkler.
So you want
to leave the gas-guzzler behind when you vacation, but are a little
tired of New York City and Montreal, and not quite up for dragging
a tent 200 miles behind a bicycle? You’ve got options. Hop on the
Montreal-bound train, but hop off at Westport (about three hours
north), and you’ve got a wonderful lakeside getaway. The Westport
Hotel is literally across the tracks from the station, which hosts
the Depot Theatre in the summer. A short walk into town brings you
to the shores of Lake Champlain, where you can swim, dine, rent
boats, listen to concerts in the park, take the five-mile walking
tour or wander up to the golf course. All without a need for wheels.
nice place to visit: Vale Cemetary.
and Franklin Street, Schenectady
cemeteries were designed to be like parks, but for the scruffily
historic Vale, you can enter through an actual park with picnic
pavilions and a playground. From there, graveled paths wind through
a lake-fed woodland with secluded memorial groves and beautifully
you could want in an urban park: great tennis courts, paddle boats,
playing fields, picnic areas, ice skating in winter, a kids’ playground,
and concerts on the Music Haven Stage—not to mention plenty of lovely
open space to stroll or sunbathe or just get lost in your thoughts.
of Hudson and Mohawk Rivers
is a gem hiding in plain sight. You can hike the perimeter trail
in under an hour—one part atop a steep bluff overlooking the Mohawk,
and the other along the furious rapids at shore level. There’s plenty
of natural and New York state history to discover on the island,
too. Take a picnic. In the winter, bring your skis.
261 Elm Ave.,
of ice for pick-up hockey games and leisure skating isn’t the only
reason the Elm Avenue Park continues to be one of the best places
to get in a bit of free ice time in the region. Consider the availability
of bathroom facilities, benches, hockey goals, evening lights, skate
guards, ample parking and smooth (for a town park) ice, and you’ll
quickly see why a visit to this park is a great way to regain your
ice legs or perfect your deke. Separate areas for kids’ hockey,
faster-paced games and lap skating make the park friendly to anyone
with a pair of skates.
Walk Within City Limits
Rumor has it
that a beaver was recently sighted around this nature preserve in
the Arbor Hill section of Albany—proof that, as one Tivoli visitor
recently laughed, no matter how much junk and cement we dump on
it, nature will persevere. Walking around Tivoli Lake, surrounded
by wildflowers, the buzz of insects and the occasional splash of
an ambitious fish, it’s easy to forget that this area was once an
urban dumping ground. The dedicated community groups that tamed
Tivoli’s wilds in recent years have much to be proud of, as few
cities can boast about hosting such natural beauty within their
State Park, Saratoga Springs
Victoria Pool, with its arched promenades, was once called the most
beautiful pool in America; its current restoration is bringing it
back to that grand state. Nestled in the tall pines of Saratoga
State Park, “The Vic” is the premier destination for adults looking
for a well-mannered pool crowd. The cool and crisp pool water is
wonderful during heat waves (like the entire summer thus far). Get
there early to grab a chaise lounge, then dine or have a cool drink
in the outdoor café. Spend the day, shower in their on-site facilities,
and walk across the lawn to catch a show at SPAC. Perfect!
It’s a bit
of a drive for most of us, but if you’re in southern Columbia County
and your back is sticking to your car seat, you can’t beat this
place: an old quarry with the requisite cool, deep water, plus a
shallow kiddie pool, lots of green grass to lie on, changing rooms,
lifeguards and two floating docks for diving. What are you waiting
Best Golf Course
Hills at Albany
and years of renovations, this course has finally grown into itself.
The recent name change is also very fitting. Yes of course it’s
in Albany, thus the Capital moniker, but hills, now that’s an understatement.
This is a good track for beginners and will also challenge the seasoned
players. The most difficult aspect of the course is lying in the
middle of the fairway and not having a level stance. Albany residents
get a big discount and tee time priorities, but even the non-Albanians
have to get a run at this course: You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Best Golf Course
this course the best for so many years, you’d think they would give
us an honorary membership, but no, we still have to test it out
by bribing the kid in the pro shop. Just kidding—we actually get
out with a legit member and we love it. If you ever wondered what
it’s like to play a course like the pros play, this is the best
this area has to offer. Even the professionals who come to town
have a hard time with the greens and managing this tough track.
So what are you waiting for? Go bribe that kid in the pro shop.
Best Golf Course
(When the Boss Is Paying)
458 Union Ave.,
Our boss is
very generous and we love him very much but, yup, you guessed it.
He doesn’t pick up the greens fees. Regardless, this $100-plus round
of golf (prices vary based on day) is well worth the price of admission.
Get out and play it now because after next week this track will
be packed with the racetrack patrons, and you’ll have to wait till
September. Wetlands and water hazards in play on all 18 holes and
enough sand traps to start a public beach, and the greens—well,
let’s just say we spent a little extra time testing the greens.
This course is a must-play for any avid golfer.
the pros play when they come to town—enough said. Tons and tons
of green-covered macadam, rarely a wait, and all in a setting that
is beautiful. Yes, we know it’s in Schenectady, but deal with it,
the pace is lovely. Make sure you check out the Buzz, Schenectady’s
own professional tennis team.
Shaker Road, Albany
We’ve all had
this happen: “Honey, did I tell you my mother is coming to town
this weekend? Will you clean out the den?” Your answer should be,
“Yes, I’ll clean out the spare room, but I’ll also make a reservation
for my wonderful mother-in-law at a five-star hotel.” The accommodations
are wonderful here: pool, billiards table, nice pub-style bar and
a great restaurant. On second thought, let the wife’s mom have the
run of your crib (she’ll love some special time with the grandkids)
and you and your wife have a little getaway, Americana style.
The Red Lion
30 Main St.,
like a Norman Rockwell painting. . . . Um, actually, the Red Lion
Inn was immortalized in Rockwell’s famous painting of Main
Street (he did live here, after all). One of the few American hotels
continuously operating since the 18th century, the Red Lion is known
for gracious service, an excellent dining room, a cozy pub, and
charming guest rooms that look and feel nothing like chain hotel
rooms. There are plenty of old-hotel curiosities, like the library
somewhere up on the second or third floor, and then there’s the
front porch, arguably the best spot in the Berkshires to relax with
a cocktail and watch the tourists go by (hint to locals: Since rooms
will be hard to come by during high season anyway, try it after
leaf season for a nice romantic getaway).
deserves mention: The Governor’s has the only heart-shaped hot tubs
within a 50-mile radius. Many of them, in fact. And lots of mirrors,
too. This isn’t the kind of place where you’d put your parents up
when they’re in from out of town. It is, however, the place to go
for a spur-of-the-moment “honeymoon,” especially if you’re planning
on vacating the premises before your partner wakes up.
434 State St.,
the lounge at The Parker Inn! With its deep, soft colors, long,
gleaming bar, and clusters of tables and chairs, it is both romantic
and urbane. Linger over martinis and split one of their tasty antipastos.
Best Gay Bar
304 Lark St.,
out plenty of gay bars in our time, and we have to come back to
our perennial favorite for this year’s pick. The community feel
and friendly service of Oh Bar are aspects we value, and they have
a kickass karaoke night on Thursdays.
Best Bar (Department
19 & 21
Caroline St., Saratoga Springs
behemoth of a bar has Saratoga Springs’ only rooftop terrace. Each
floor has a different vibe and different music; the huge picture
windows allow for some spectacular views of the city; and the décor
is refined and tasteful. Also, the City Tavern’s fancy pub fare
(Italian egg rolls and Tuscan bean dip, for example) is sure to
please late-night cravings.
Shopping (for Hookups, That Is)
59 N. Pearl
One bar, all
sorts of different types of people. Hooking up has never been easier.
Whatever your taste, you’ll most likely find somebody who’ll do.
You have the arcade on the bottom floor for the geeks and gamers;
the restaurant on the first floor for the casual drinkers, diners,
and various live-music attendees; upstairs, you have the Long Island
crop of both guys and gals (a plethora of them hailing from the
UAlbany campus during the fall and spring semesters) getting their
groove on to Top 40 and radio hiphop beats. Something for everybody.
But be warned: You probably won’t find the hipsters here (psst .
. . climb the hill to Lark Street).
Best New Bar
403 River St.,
has been tending bar at area bars and restaurants for many years,
so it seems appropriate that he finally has a bar of his own. Ryan
has done a fabulous job of transforming the old dance hall into
a beautiful establishment with a gorgeous 26-foot mahogany bar as
its centerpiece. The bar frequently attracts crowds from Albany,
in addition to the local regulars. So if you haven’t yet, stop in
and say hi and congratulations to the amicable Ryan, and tell him
Metroland sent you.
Bar and Grill
When a bar
can schedule karaoke for more than half the week (including Friday
and Saturday nights) and consistently draw a crowd, they’ve got
to be doing something better than the rest. We’re not sure whether
it’s the extensive song list, the cheap drinks (because really,
who sings karaoke sober?) or the intensely earnest expression on
the faces of Bourbon Street’s “singers” that bring in the crowds,
but whatever it is, it’s working for them. Personally, we enjoy
watching the karaoke regulars stop just short of self-flagellation
when they screw up a line in “Sister Christian.” Whether you’re
there as audience or participant, it’s worth a visit—don’t let the
occasional sour note or mangled harmony prevent you from learning
how much fun karaoke can be.
Best Dive Bar
(Lifetime Achievement Award)
For more years
than most of us have been alive, the Palais served cheap bottled
beer and well drinks to all manner of drinkers, in an atmosphere
that was part mom’s basement, part Elks lodge, and all class. Sadly,
that era has come to an end. Proprietor Rocky Nigro passed away
last winter, and some murky business dealings yanked the whole kit
and kaboodle out from under Jeannie, who ran the place for the last
10 years or so. So it’s with a collectively heavy heart that we
dedicate this final, posthumous award to the Palais Royale. There
will never be another quite like it.
Best Bar (Resurrection)
The Plaza Grill
had a great run in this locale, but time took its toll and without
a facelift the crowds drifted elsewhere. Well, now the bar is redone
and the crowds are back. Live music fills the downstairs, a nice
menu is served upstairs and a banquet is on the third floor. Come
back and enjoy the rebirth of this institution.