I love exploring New York.
No, not the isle of Manhattan, but the other New York, the one you don’t see in television shows like Law & Order or Marvel movie blockbusters. I’m talking about the New York that prefers trees to skyscrapers, farmland to brownstones, and lakes and rivers instead of traffic jams and crowded sidewalks.
By taking a ride up the 87 Interstate, that runs north from the Bronx to Montreal, passing the capital in Albany, you end up in Saratoga Springs, aptly named because of the natural mineral springs in the area, making it a popular resort destination for over 200 years. Native Americans believed the springs had medicinal properties and had been attracting wealthy patrons for decades. The springs can be found all over town covered by small pavilions and marked by plaques; others, however, are less conspicuous, sometimes just a spigot in a rock. Instead of playing Pokemon on your phone, I dare ya to find all the springs.
Nowadays, the big draw of Saratoga is its thoroughbred horse racing track. Opened in 1863, it is often considered to be the oldest major sporting venue of any kind in the country. The Saratoga Race Course has several nicknames, the most notable is The Spa (for those aforementioned mineral springs) and the Graveyard of Champions, because famous race horses like Man o' War, Gallant Fox, and Secretariat, all champions, but for some reason are beat by lesser horses and long shots at the legendary track. The track has also been a setting for many movies including: 12 Years a Slave, Seabiscuit, The Horse Whisperer, and The Way We Were.
The horse racing track, the Racing Hall of Fame, or losing all your money betting on the ponies is not the only draw to the area.
Besides more than 20 golf courses in the area, there are beautiful parks like the Saratoga Spa State Park that contains the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, a wonderful amphitheater, which is the summer home of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York City Ballet, which also hosts a weekend-long jazz festival and a Native American festival each year; a big enough park to also host the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame, and the Saratoga Automobile Museum. Plenty of things to do, just by walking in a park and unlike Central Park, you probably won't get mugged, maybe by a duck.
Downtown Saratoga Springs also deserves to be walked and is just as vibrant as any neighborhood in Manhattan. Back in the day, musical legends like Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, and Don McLean played at Caffè Lena. (Contrary to a popular legend, McLean has stated that his song "American Pie" was not composed at a table in the Tin & Lint, a bar around the corner on Caroline Street.)
Come on now, lets sing along, "Bye, bye Miss American Pie, drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry....drinking whiskey and rye....
How do you like my voice?
I can sharpen my musical chops at Caffe Lena, located on 47 Phila Street, just a block or two from Broadway, the main downtown boulevard. The cafe is widely known as the oldest continuously operating folk music venue in the United States, also recognized by The Grammy Foundation.
Four blocks west of Broadway is Beekman Street, once the center of a working-class residential neighborhood, has become an art district, housing four galleries, a restaurant, a pub and teahouse, and a bistro. Artists live and work in co-ops and arrange social events.
You really need to Get Lost in Saratoga; you just don't know what you might find.
Sitting behind the Saratoga Race Track, hidden in the trees is Yaddo, a 400-acre artists' community that has hosted 68 authors who later won the Pulitzer Prize and one Nobel Prize winner, Saul Bellow. Leonard Bernstein, Truman Capote, Aaron Copland, Sylvia Plath, and David Sedaris have all been artists-in-residence.
Walt Disney World Resort has a themed resort called Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, whose theme and design was inspired by this city. Additionally, the Walt Disney World Railroad station at Main Street U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom was modeled after and closely resembles the former Victorian era railroad depot that once stood in downtown Saratoga Springs.
Like I said, taking a walk anywhere in Saratoga Springs will have you standing in front of a glorious Victorian home, or park home to sublime fountains and duck ponds and there are a ton of stories that come out of this Other NY.
In 1853, a diner visiting Moon's Lake House was unhappy with the texture of his fried potatoes and sent them back to the kitchen repeatedly so the chef, George Crum, allegedly became so annoyed with the customer that he sliced the potatoes much thinner than normal, covered them in salt, and deep fried them. Hence, the creation of the potato chip. Unfortunately, the house had burned down and rebuilt at least four times and no longer exists as it was. Where would Lays and Ruffles be with out Crum, probably eating potatoes like apples.
It is also believed that the club sandwich was invented in the Canfield Casino in 1894. The casino, built in 1870, is the only surviving building from that resort era gambling was ended by reformers in 1907. The building now houses the Saratoga Springs History Museum. I don't have anything funny to say about Club Sandwiches.
In all the times I have been to Saratoga Springs, I still haven’t discovered everything, not to mention the rest of upstate New York.
I didn’t even touch on Cooperstown yet for all you baseball fans out there. That is another wonder of the Other NY.
So you know what, next up in the Other NY series: Cooperstown.
Cheers, Now Get Lost!