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Best Skateboarding

Saratoga Skate Park
Lake Avenue, Saratoga Springs

Board meeting: Saratoga Skate Parkt. Photo byAndrea Fischman.

Since 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.


Best Snowboarding and Skiing

Stratton Mountain
Stratton, Vt.

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.


Best Bird Sanctuary

Avian nation: Birkshire Bird Paradise. Photo by Mark Gallucci.

Berkshire Bird Paradise
43 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.


Best State Park

John J. Boyd Thacher State Park
New Scotland

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.


Best View of the Catskills

Drive across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, Hudson to Catskill

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.


Best 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.


Best Mountain Biking

The Stables at Skidmore
Daniel’s 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.


Best Pool

Lincoln Park Pool
Lincoln Park, Albany

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.


Best 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.


Best Scenic Drive (Near)

Route 22

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.


Best Strip Club

1165 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 a bonus!


Best Bar That Should Be Famous (But Isn’t)

Turnpike Inn
Route 66, Ghent

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


Best Pub With an Unpronounceable Name

Peint o Gwrw
36 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 pub.”


Best Mini-Golf

Oasis Park Miniature Golf
97 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.


Best Tennis Courts

Central Park

Great courts, lots of ’em. Why do you think the big tournaments are always played there?


Best Historic Neighborhood

The Stockade

Take a walk: The Stockade. Photo by Martain Benjamin.

What’s 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 them.


Best Beach

Crystal Cove
Averill Park

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.


Best Ice Skating

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.


Best Scenic Hike

Monument Mountain
Great Barrington, Mass.

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.


Best Bartender

Peter Barnett
The 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 week.


Readers Poll Results:

Best Golf Course

  1. Saratoga National
  2. Saratoga Spa State Park

Best Skiing/Snowboarding

  1. Gore Mountain
  2. Whiteface Mountain

Best Ice Skating

  1. Empire State Plaza
  2. Big Arena

Best Swimming

  1. Victoria Pool
  2. Grafton State Park

Best Park

  1. Washington
  2. Saratoga State Park

Best Playground

  1. Washington Park
  2. Voorheesville School

Best Miniature Golf

  1. Hoffman’s
  2. Mill Creek
  3. Oasis

Best Bike Ride

  1. Mohawk Bike Path
  2. Corning Preserve

Best Local Sports Team

  1. River Rats
  2. Diamond Dogs

Best Local Coach

  1. Rob Lanier

Best Local Athlete

  1. Anthony Weaver

Best Local Bar

  1. Lansingburgh Station
  2. The Van Dyck

Best Gay Bar

  1. Oh’ Bar
  2. Ferry Street Pub

Best Bartender

  1. Kerry at the Ale House
  2. Artie at Lansingburgh Station

Best Happy Hour

  1. Lansingburgh Station
  2. Tie TGI Fridays and Jillian’s

Best Karaoke

  1. Ferry Street Pub
  2. Maxie’s

Best Smoke-Free Environment

  1. Bailey’s
  2. The great outdoors or Tuesdays at El Loco

Best Day Trip

  1. Lake George
  2. Great Escape
  3. LSD/mushrooms

Best Local Celebrity (got out)

  1. Chris Kapostasy
  2. David Hyde Pierce

Best Local Celebrity (still here)

  1. William Kennedy
  2. Alan Chartock

Best Public Official

  1. Jerry Jennings
  2. Mike McNulty
  3. Carl McCall (tie)

Best Citizen Advocate

  1. Alice Green
  2. Mark Dunlea


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