Tag Archives: Saratoga Springs

Selling out: Why classic movies should return to theatres

23 Mar

Making the case for resurrecting the classics in local movie houses, and for why downtowns (especially mine) need quality theatres to screen these gems


On Wednesday evening, my mom and I saw Casablanca on the big screen as a part of a nationwide showing to celebrate the film’s 70th anniversary. While our area boasts the Palace Theatre–born as a plush movie house in the 1930s, and now enjoying popularity as a live performance venue–and Proctors–a storied vaudeville theatre expanded to host touring Broadway productions–this special screening of Casablanca took place at a modern multiplex. The sort of place I typically avoid at all costs, for its exorbitant prices, first-run crowds, maddening munching noises, sticky floors, texting tweens, and 20 minutes of in-your-face previews.

On this night, an eclectic but mostly older crowd has gathered. The theatre is packed, virtually sold-out. The movie is timeless magic. The audience claps at the end. In this over-the-top era of 3D movie spectacles, Hunger Games hype, and every other new release about war (real or imagined, past or future, alien or human), it makes my heart happy to see so many like-minded souls appreciating the quiet power of Ingrid’s teary glances, Bogart’s restrained anger, Claude Rains’ cheeky humor. In original aspect ratio, and flat, stark, black-and-white, no less.

“If only we could see more movies like that in theatres on a regular basis,” Mom and I muse on our way out. For years, I have hoped/wished/dreamed for a space in my hometown that would screen classic movies or alternative/independent-type films. We live in a small city, and like to think of it as a liberal, artsy, college town that would welcome and support an independent movie house. But nothing like that has “stuck” here. (Instead, we have become the bar-Italian restaurant-bar-Italian bistro-bar-Italian gelato hub.) Hubby and I enjoyed one of our early dates in the mid-1990s watching Rebel Without a Cause at an in-town theatre that was novel for showing classic and second-run movies to patrons seated in cozy wraparound booths, enjoying a full dinner with wine and beer. But that theatre went out of business at about the same time the nearby suburban mall was being reborn with an expanded multiplex. Years later, in the same space, idealistic entrepreneurs tried to resurrect the “dinner-and-a-movie” model, and were met with the same lack of community interest and ultimate business failure.

Popcorn Noir | Easthampton, MA

But maybe the time is right now…or soon. On the way in to work this morning, I hear a segment on APM’s Marketplace, about an enterprising couple in nearby Easthampton, Massachusetts, with a unique movie house called Popcorn Noir. It is genius. Here, all manner of movies–classic movies, film noir, kids’ features, cult favorites–are screened for free. For reals. (Or, should I say, for reels?) It is a great concept: Charge nothing for the movies; charge only for the quality food and drink, provided to patrons in an appealing, intimate setting (20 seats!). It’s doing so well that the owners are contemplating opening another location.

So this is my open plea…

  • To the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association and/or Chamber of Commerce and/or Zoning Board and/or any other entity that mysteriously shapes our fair city’s Master Plan and business mix: Please support the idea for a downtown theatre of this sort.
  • Downtown building owners: Please make it affordable for something other than a national chain, or someone other than a trust-fund socialite, to do business Downstreet.
  • Tom Doherty and Kristen Davis of Popcorn Noir: Please consider Saratoga Springs, NY for your second location.

Borders abandoned us…Let’s transform that still-empty brick behemoth on Broadway, and celebrate the classics–and cult faves, and independent films, and budding local cinematographers–in a big screen way.

www.easthamptonpopcorn.com | facebook.com/popcornnoir


Oh la la poutine!

30 Jan

French-Canadian poutine comes to Saratoga Springs, courtesy of Shirley’s Restaurant 


One of the best things about living in Upstate New York is our proximity to a bunch of diverse and really interesting destinations: New York City, Boston, Montreal, the Adirondack Park, the Finger Lakes. Each place has its own unique character, topography, culture, and, of course, cuisine. For sheer variety and number of restaurants, though, I’d have to say Montreal is tops. It is second only to NYC as having more restaurants per capita than any other North American city. These folks love their food. I, in turn, love them.

Hubby and I visit Montreal at least twice a year, once in the winter–when these snow-loving citizens celebrate with a half-dozen festivals–and once in the summer, when we try to take in the annual NASCAR (yup, NASCAR) or Formula 1 racing event. Each time we visit, we attempt to broaden our dining horizons. Because in Montreal, just about every culture and cuisine is represented: from the traditional Italian and French, to regional Québécois, to the more exotic Hungarian, Lebanese, and Russian…even Ethiopian! But Montreal also boasts really good diners, and our trips across the border just wouldn’t be complete without the most quintessential of Québécois greasy spoon dishes: poutine.

For the uninitiated: Poutine (pronounced sort of like pooTEEN) is a French Canadian specialty. Literally translated, I think it means “potato-gravy-cheese heaven”. Thick, hand-cut French fried potatoes, topped with oodles of fresh Cheddar cheese curds (not shredded cheddar…we’re talking about the lumpy bits sold in little plastic tubs at the grocery store specialty cheese counter…you know, like what Miss Muffet ate with her whey), and drenched in dark brown,  gelatinous gravy. There are variations on poutine, with my personal favorite calling for a generous helping of Montreal smoked meat (which is salted, cured, spiced beef brisket, resembling corned beef).

Incredibly, this tasty concoction is now available just a few miles from the ol’ upstate homestead. Remember Shirley’s? My new breakfast mecca? Well, Jean-Pierre Lareau, the newer owner of this establishment, is a Montreal transplant. With him, he has brought a few mannerly Montrealais wait staff, and no less than five variations of the beloved poutine. A recent lunch time trip saw me hungrily devouring this heart attack on a plate. Complete with smoked meat! Oh la la!

Local folks: Try it, Shirley’s style. Everyone else: Whether for poutine or any other no-fail Montreal meal, make like Anthony Bourdain and get gobbling Canuck-like.

Chocolate-covered bacon and other Southern Adirondack wonders

17 Jan


It isn’t often that Hubby and I are up early on weekends. This past Sunday, we had occasion to be up with the sun, and decided to put the time to good use. We hadn’t taken any road trips in a while–for fun, we drive without maps or navigation and see how lost we can get within a 1-2 hour drive-time radius–and so decided to take a ramble in The North Country.

But like I said, we don’t use maps. So what started out with northerly intent ended up being westward wandering. At least in the beginning. Hubby suggested we start with breakfast at Shirley’s Restaurant, on the west side of town. Despite living in Saratoga for over 15 years, and passing this place dozens of times, neither of us had ever been. It’s been around for about 50 years, owned by the same family. I remembered news of the place’s namesake dying quite suddenly a few years back. But the restaurant was carrying on without Shirley, still being run by family members, so that’s nice to hear.

But I hesitate about going. As shallow as it is, I have been judging this book by its nondescript cover: a pretty odd 1960s brick edifice wedged between a Mobil station and a seasonal ice cream shack. Stepping inside, my outlook doesn’t improve much (bland, dated decor; drop ceilings and wood paneling; ho-hum breakfast menu). But the place is pretty busy for 8 a.m.–a mix of hunter/snowmobiler types, older couples, and a few families–so I think they must be doing something right. We seat ourselves, and the waitress arrives promptly with really good coffee, rattling off the morning’s specials. Hubby latches on to the homemade-hash-and-eggs special. I decide on the Eggs Benedict with home fries, and also ask for a grilled pumpkin muffin. Within 10 minutes, we are served up two piping plates of sheer breakfast bliss.

OK, so maybe that’s an overstatement. I mean, it’s diner food. But really, really good diner food. Check out these Eggs Benedict. Perfectly poached orbs atop crisp English muffins and two slices of Canadian bacon each, enveloped in sublime, silken Hollandaise heaven. The home fries are among the best I’ve had, not too salty/over-seasoned, not greasy at all, and absent those unsavory burned bits. Just uniformly browned and crisp, perfect for mopping up the extra egg and golden saucy goodness. And the pumpkin muffin is so good that Hubby–who isn’t typically a “sweets” guy, and who rolls his eyes every time I order this indulgent extra bit of carb “on the side” when we have breakfast out–sheepishly asks for half, and then wants to know if I am going to eat the rest. His homemade hash is equally as good (though not as pretty to look at, so no photo). Total bill comes in at under $20. This day is off to a good start. Fueled up and ready to hit the road with happy bellies.

(Important update! When searching online to see if Shirley’s had a website, I found this article that appeared recently in the Business Review. Apparently, Shirley’s was bought last month by a fashion designer and former president of a now-defunct horse racing facility (funny career combo) from Montreal. He isn’t/won’t be making many changes to Shirley’s, except for adding things like poutine…man, this place just keeps getting better. Next time: Lunch a must!)

We decide to start rambling northward by way of Route 9N, a winding but well-traveled road that travels north and west out of town, going through the towns of Greenfield, Corinth, and Luzerne, before looping back east and ending in the village of Lake George. We’ve taken this route before. Wanting to change things up, we opt to turn left off Route 9N on the outskirts of Corinth, onto County Route 10, following signs and heading west for the Great Sacandaga Lake. Our travels take us up, up, up, on a narrow and winding road–to where the snow from a few days ago still clings to the trees and the plowed banks seem curiously high compared to home–before we descend down, down, down, ending at the northern end of the Sacandaga. We follow the lake’s eastern/southern edge for a time, until we tire of it, and then, before we have to commit to going around the entire lake’s perimeter, we take a bridge (under sizeable construction, hence the crane) across to Northville . This is a huge lake. And sort of an odd one, too.

Former homes in the now-flooded valley

The Great Sacandaga Lake was formerly known as the Sacandaga Reservoir. It lies in a valley, and is actually a man-made reservoir created in the 1930s to control the disastrous springtime floods that impacted businesses and communities downstream of where the Sacandaga River meets the Hudson. Thousands of people then living in the reservoir area were displaced, and their homes were destroyed or moved to make way for the new lake. I used to work with someone who had a summer camp on the lake. He had a reputation for telling tall tales. He recounted stories of going diving in parts of the lake, where he could see the ruins of buildings that used to be in the valley before the flooding, things like church steeples. I couldn’t find anything about that sort of “Atlantis” online. But I did learn that there used to be a popular amusement park and railroad on the valley floor in the late 1800s. And that the reservoir was built at a cost of $12 million, fully funded by contributions made by area business owners who benefitted from the flood protection provided by the resevoir…not a bit of tax money used for its construction!

The fabrication of this lake renders it less appealing to me, and makes it much less authentically “Adirondack”, where it serves as a sort of southeastern gateway to the state park’s wild expanse. The views from the road winding along the lake are pretty enough. But knowing the history of this lake, I feel a sadness. And am haunted by thoughts of what used to be, before billions of gallons of water rushed in to drown the valley…A place where people lived and played and worked and died…gone, because a bunch of business people wanted to safeguard their downstream establishments from flood damage…

Which is why I am glad to leave the lake area, and to head north along the not-man-made Sacandaga River on Route 30. A tranquil stretch, with snow-laden pines and the occasional year-round cottage circled by chimney smoke. Glimpses of mountains in the distance, whose tree-topped peaks look like they are coated in confectioner’s sugar. I’d love to meander this stretch longer, right up to Lake Placid if time allowed; this route runs roughly parallel to the 133-mile Northville-Placid hiking trail, which I’d like to explore in the warmer months.

But Hubby and I make the decision to start homeward. We turn off Route 30 onto Route 8 and then Route 28, heading eastward now, back toward the Northway which will carry us swiftly back to reality and to home. But not before we make a quick detour to cruise the packed parking lot at the base of Gore Mountain, and then head into the village of North Creek. This hamlet is seeing a renaissance of sorts, since the Saratoga & North Creek Railway began running passenger service again this past summer, bringing tourists to the area for foliage in the autumn, Polar Express rides at Christmas, and now skiers. We are hoping to land a nice hot cuppa at Sarah’s Place on the main drag, but abort when a bevy of downstaters fills the place and begins barking out their cappufrappelattecino orders to the overwhelmed hipster behind the counter. The price of success, I guess.

One last stop before we hit the interstate: Oscar’s Adirondack Smoke House in Warrensburg. This place is legend. A mainstay for 50 years, Oscar’s was leveled by a fire in 2009. But liked a smoked pig with wings, it has miraculously taken off since. Oscar’s has all manner of smoked meats, from beef and pork, to venison and boar. Not to mention cheeses (some with smoked meats in them, of course!), sauces, local foodstuffs, desserts, and…wait, what’s that? Do my eyes deceive me? Could it be? Is that for real, or have we been on the road too long? Chocolate-covered bacon. Oh yes they did. Hubby gags at this, but I jump at the chance to experience this taste sensation, adding a few pieces to the armful of edibles we have gathered to take home. Verdict? Smoky-salty-sweet yum.

A mere thirty minutes later, we pull back into the driveway. A fun ramble, a few new discoveries. And the fixins for dinner later in the week…

Want to ramble? Map below…click on the pins for descriptions of the route along the way!


The path less traveled: Spa State Park rediscovered (alternately, The Geyser Fallacy exposed)

10 Jan


I often take for granted our proximity to the Saratoga Spa State Park, and all that the park offers. In our youth, it was the perennial field-trip-and-class-picnic destination. In adolescence, the site for those first rock concerts “alone” (you know, when you and your Huey-Lewis-and-The-News-loving posse got dropped off by your folks for a night of quasi-freedom, then had to return to reality three hours later, piled into the back of the family Buick wagon…so uncool).

Now, in adulthood, we like to think we have a more mature and sophisticated appreciation for the park. We see the New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra perform at SPAC in the summer. We lounge at the I’m-too-sexy-for-this-scene Victoria Pool during the two weeks it’s open (or so it seems). We enjoy ogling The Fancy People in their Ferraris at the Saratoga Automobile Museum in the fall. But ultimately, the Spa State Park is still a big, beautiful, mostly free, year-round playground. In the spring, Hubby and I enjoy riding our bikes there. In summer, we chill curbside with our camouflaged beers and listen to bunches of rock concerts for free outside the SPAC gates. Snowy winters sometimes find us there on snowshoes or cross-country skis. But we rarely take the time to explore the hidden patches of the historic park by foot.

So on Sunday, we decided to take advantage of the relatively mild and dry weather, and to stretch our legs before an afternoon of TV football playoffs (read, “napping”), by taking a hike through the park. What started out as a stroll on the park’s access road soon deviated, to a new path (to us), a more recently marked and contiguous “5 Mile Trail”. What a find! And given the absence of foliage and undergrowth, what a nice way to take in different views of the park.

We picked up this trail off North South Road, across from the golf course, and followed its meandering route. Atop a ridge overlooking Geyser Creek, down to a grassy (not snowy…eerie for January) knoll, along and across the creek at the park’s southern end, up and around the more far-flung picnic pavilions, along the freshly restored Vale of Springs…a serene walk, filled with simple surprises: red squirrels, a mysterious pine cone pyramid (work of the red squirrels), solitary “taking of the waters” at the various springs in the now-deserted picnic area, a lone moss-covered picnic table, tufa…

Wait…what? Tufa?

You know, those other-worldly, flesh-and-rust-colored mounds that we see at the base of the park’s geyser (which isn’t a geyser at all, but more on that shortly) and along Geyser Creek (near the pedestrian bridge that crosses into SPAC): Tufa. A sort of limestone, made up of accumulating mineral deposits from the natural springs. The one pictured here is from the incredibly mineral-y Orenda Spring, from which you can taste a tapped sample, about 30′ up and 30′ back from the base of this chalky, cheese doodle-y mound. And I am amazed to learn that this stuff accumulates at a rate of about a half-cup per 100 gallons of water…Am I the only one freaked out by this figure? I mean, given that no one ever turns off these natural springs, it would seem that these mounds might overtake all of Saratoga in the not-too-distant future. And then we’d know this charming hamlet as…Saratufa?

And the whole geyser thing…So hard to stomach that we proud Saratogians have been (and continue to be) duped! For years, along with “health, history, and horses”, we have bragged about having “the only geyser east of the Mississippi”. Well, thanks to the beautiful signage installed in the park to celebrate its centennial last year, we learned on Sunday that this is patently wrong. We cannot boast having a geyser. What we have, occupying its own tufa island in the middle of Geyser Creek, is a spouter.

Island spouter sign reveals The Ugly Truth

A geyser is an erupting spring whose waters shoot up and out as a result of heat-driven forces inside the earth (think magma and volcanic action), often accompanied by steam and vapors. We do not have this. What Saratoga has is a spouter. This looks like a geyser to the unenlightened, but is actually the manifestation of trapped gases present in Saratoga’s subterranean mineral waters. The irony of this is not lost on me: Saratoga is full of (not-so) hot air. Spouting crap for all these years. Ain’t that a gas?

Nonetheless, “Geyser” sticks. It has to. We have a road named after it, along with a few housing subdivisions, an elementary school, a creek, a bed-and-breakfast, a park, a mineral spring, and probably some sort of gelato flavor or panini in one of our downtown eateries. “Spouter” just wouldn’t do. But now we know.
So, a winter Sunday ramble in Saratoga Spa State Park…educational, invigorating, enlightening. And a perfect precursor to football-watching (napping).

The ramble in pictures 

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