OF PEOPLE & PLACES:
Avenue, Saratoga Springs
meeting: Saratoga Skate Parkt.
Photo byAndrea Fischman.
the crackdown on skaters in Washington Park, Albanians have
had to find new places to skate legally. Enter Saratoga Skate
Park, the closest public skateboarding facility to Albany.
The wooden park is made up of a full-size half-pipe, a street
course and a miniature pool. To skate there you have to sign
a waiver, wear a helmet and pads, and pay a fee—a small price
to pay compared with the price of a ticket. Saratoga Skate
Park is also home to infamous skate team the Silly Pink Bunnies.
Snowboarding and Skiing
We know, we know, it’s a big mountain run by a big corporation,
and the lift tickets are not cheap, but let’s face it, the
snowboarding and skiing are second to none. With more than
90 trails, a gondola, four high-speed quads and six terrain
parks to choose from, you can count on spending the day cruising
down the mountain rather than standing in long lift lines.
Not to mention the incredible half-pipe where each year the
U.S. Open of snowboarding is held. And it only takes an hour
and a half to get there.
nation: Birkshire Bird Paradise.
Photo by Mark Gallucci.
Red Pond Road, Petersburgh
Founded in 1972 by Peter Dubacher, this 20-acre sanctuary
for disabled and unwanted birds is home to more than 1,700
avians of about a hundred different species. Eagles, falcons,
owls, hawks, ospreys can be found there alongside other domestic
birds. You’ll also find a herd of deer once destined for a
shooting preserve roaming freely on 10 acres, along with a
burro, a goat and a wild horse. The Berkshire Bird Paradise
is a nonprofit organization staffed entirely by volunteers.
John J. Boyd Thacher State Park
Hiking, biking, poolside lounging and swimming, a view of
the Capital Region that rocks and tons of green space to picnic
in—all within 30 miles of Albany—make Thacher our pick for
Best State Park in the region.
View of the Catskills
Drive across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, Hudson
If you’ve driven from Hudson toward Catskill on the Rip Van
Winkle Bridge—especially just before sunset—you know what
we’re talking about. The Hudson River is below you; the stunning
peaks of the Catskills rise above the foothills in the distance.
Sure, lots of people love the classic bird’s-eye view from
Olana; others love the clear vistas from Route 23. For us,
though, there’s nothing more awe-inspiring than seeing these
mountains directly from the Hudson River, looming in front
of us. The only better view we can think of would be from
a boat directly on the water.
View of Albany
Route 4, East Greenbush to Averill Park
Next time you’re driving from East Greenbush toward Averill
Park on Route 4, keep your eyes peeled to the left (if you’re
not driving, that is). Sometime after the Denny’s and before
the Grand Union, you’ll see what looks like a giant, alien
creation that landed in the middle of a great green sea of
trees. Look closer: You’ll recognize the Corning Towner, the
Empire State Plaza office buildings and the Egg. There’s not
a view in town that makes Albany look weirder and more interesting—quite
fitting, we think, for our weird and interesting little city.
The Stables at Skidmore
Road, Saratoga Springs
Some of you older, more seasoned mountain bikers know this
trail by its original name, Devil’s Den. It was built on private
land, back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, by a bunch of
dedicated cyclists who constructed a 15-or-so mile network
of trails on private land now owned by the Finch Pruyn paper
company. A few years back, after a few riders were injured
using the trails, Finch Pruyn wanted to close them to mountain
bikers to avoid being held liable for broken bones and scraped
knees incurred by users. Props to the gents from All Outdoors
in Saratoga Springs, who swooped in to save the day. Through
the Saratoga Mountain Bike Association, they leased the land
from Finch Pruyn, making it possible for members to enjoy
the trails legally simply by joining the club and paying a
$35 membership fee. Some still call these trails Devil’s Den;
others know them as the Daniel’s Road trails; still others
call them the Stables trails, because they’re just behind
Skidmore College’s riding stables. Whatever they’re called,
everyone who rides them knows they offer some pretty advanced
technical single-track challenges: think stream crossings,
knotty rock-and-root terrain, slab rock and short but aggressive
ascents and descents. This is the best place we can think
of in the area to hone your skills. If you want to use these
trails, though, remember to stop into All Outdoors on Van
Dam Street first. Pay your membership fee, get a sticker and
help keep the trails open for posterity.
Honorable Mention: Grafton Lakes State Park, Long Pond
Road, Grafton. OK, some of the trails here are way too rocky
and flat. Unless you’re a super-technical rider, you’re gonna
get stuck and fall flat. Others are simply not technical enough
for the hard-core mountain bike crowd, which complains of
having to ride on gravelly access roads to find the good stuff
in the park. But if you know where to look and just want to
enjoy a good ride, there’s something for everyone at Grafton
Lakes State Park: wide access roads, some single-track riding,
ascents and descents, even views of the lake in some places.
Try the Spruce Bog Trail in the spring—muddy and rocky, tons
of fun and quite a challenge in springtime.
Lincoln Park Pool
It’s a crying shame that the future of Albany’s Lincoln Park
Pool is uncertain (the mayor seems to want to cut its size
in half). The large circular pool is a diamond in the rough,
serving a city neighborhood and beyond—yes, people come from
all over to bask in the lakelike environs. Wherever you step
in, the pool is shallow, with depth increasing as you proceed
inward—which is great for the wee ones—and the shore is grassy.
There’s also some playground apparatus, food vendors surrounding
the place and a bathhouse to change clothes in . . . and it’s
free. Hang out there for a day, then write to the mayor and
tell him to keep his hands off our pool.
Bike and Inline Skate Path
Mohawk-Hudson Bike Path
Sure, it’s got its less-than-optimal spots (the unpaved section
between the Colonie Town Park and Cohoes, the brutal hill
between Knolls Atomic Power Lab and the always fragrant town
landfill that borders it, a couple of creepy stretches in
Schenectady and Rotterdam where no one would hear you scream),
but if you know where to go—and where not to go—you can’t
beat this fabulous riverside path for biking, inline skating,
walking, picnicking or watching others do all of the above.
The best bits of the path are between Dunsbach Ferry Road,
near the Colonie Town Park, and Lock Seven Park in Niskayuna.
Scenic Drive (Near)
Sure, the Taconic Parkway is pretty, and sure, it’s deserted
. . . but it’s still got four lanes and long enough sight
lines that you can sort of zone out while driving (at least
before it becomes a harrowing rock-and-wall-dodging course
in Westchester and Putnam Counties). Not so with the even
more pristine and deserted State Route 22, which runs from
the north to the south of New York on the same side of the
Hudson River as the Taconic. If you want to taste and see
a little bit of rural New York as it really is, not as Robert
Moses wanted it to be, this is your road to nowhere. And back.
Central Ave., Colonie
A bar swing, a pole, mirrors and beautiful women: What more
could you ask for? Except, perhaps, for the cocktail waitress
to be a dancer, too. This club is clean, and the girls put
on a good show. And hey . . . women get in for free. What
Bar That Should Be Famous (But Isn’t)
We’ve all seen them in the movies—bars that look too cool
to exist in the real world. Picture this: an unpretentious
but funky exterior; an overstuffed, authentically junky interior;
hand-lettered signs; good food (mostly of the artery-clogging
variety); and a proprietor who can play a mean fiddle if caught
in the right mood. And of course, the women are beautiful,
the beer is cold, and the Dixie Chicks are wailing from the
juke box. We’re not messing with you—it’s all happening at
the Turnpike Inn, a few miles south of Ghent
Pub With an Unpronounceable Name
Peint o Gwrw
Main St., Chatham, New York
Peint o Gwrw has the genuine look and feel of that pinnacle
of civilization, a British pub. With a selection of top local
and international brews, it’s a haven for the discriminating
beer drinker and even has hard cider on tap. Smokers are directed
upstairs to the Buffalo Lounge, a haven of a different kind:
it looks like John Waters’ living room, complete with big-screen
TV, darts, and of course, a water buffalo. And that name?
It’s Welsh for “Pint of Ale,” but regulars just call it “the
Oasis Park Miniature Golf
North Greenbush Road, Troy
It’s not just the fact that Oasis Park Miniature Golf, unlike
so many other mini-golf centers, is impeccably maintained.
Nor is it just because the course is fun and challenging,
with such neat features as a green in which you’re supposed
to get your ball in the waterfall or the three-tiered one
that maddens even the practiced mini-golfer. And it’s not
that the fact that everyone—kids and adults—truly is welcome
or that the employees don’t cop an attitude when you inform
them that you’ve lost a ball in the verdant trees that surround
the course. What makes this place the apex is that it sells
damn good ice cream (Perry’s) at unbelievably good prices,
a sweetly satisfying ending to 18 terrific holes.
Great courts, lots of ’em. Why do you think the big tournaments
are always played there?
a walk: The Stockade.
Photo by Martain Benjamin.
the No. 1 reason why Schenectady might have a renaissance
someday? The fact that the Stockade is so well preserved and
so pleasant to be in. It’s full of history, dating back to
the late 1600s (abundant markers in the neighborhood will
help you piece some of it together). Strolling its narrow
streets and viewing its historic homes is an architecture
buff’s dream date—with or without an actual human companion.
Best of all, the Stockade is a reminder of what communities
looked and felt like back when people remembered how to build
A repeat winner, this lovely piece of property on Crystal
Lake offers a large patch of well-tended grass for sunbathing,
a huge sandbox for the kids, various rental boats and rafts,
a dock and a float, and, best of all, access to one of the
cleaner, more refreshing bodies of water in the area.
Empire State Plaza
Sure, some of the big complexes have more complete facilities:
skate rental and sharpening, equipment stores, concessions,
arcades, multiple sheets of ice, even organized birthday parties.
But Empire State Plaza has something none of them can touch:
the charm of outdoor skating in the middle of the city on
a quiet winter’s evening. Residents will forever debate whether
the plaza’s architecture is lovely or loathsome, but as its
forms encircle you while you whiz around the rink, their grand,
modern scale is strangely comforting.
Strenuous enough to be a challenge yet easy enough that you
can take the kids—that is, if they like this sort of thing—Monument
Mountain affords a perfect hike/picnic combo with a great
payoff at the destination: a splendid view of the valley below.
Lionheart CafÉ, 258 Lark St., Albany
From a pure mixology standpoint, there may be better ones,
though we’re not sure—Barnett keeps us so busy with conversation
that we sometimes forget to watch what he’s doing. His charm
and outgoing banter often pull the entire room into one conversation—or
one trivia question, as the case may be. He’s at the Lionheart
most every Monday, and trivia contests are common, usually
with a theme. Warning: Barnett likes to be challenged, and
he doesn’t give up easily. If his “research department” can’t
come up with the answer, he may ask you to give him another
Best Golf Course
Saratoga Spa State Park
Empire State Plaza
Grafton State Park
Saratoga State Park
Mohawk Bike Path
Local Sports Team
The Van Dyck
Ferry Street Pub
Kerry at the Ale House
Artie at Lansingburgh Station
Tie TGI Fridays and Jillian’s
Ferry Street Pub
The great outdoors or Tuesdays at El Loco
Local Celebrity (got out)
David Hyde Pierce
Local Celebrity (still here)
Carl McCall (tie)