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Chris Shields

INSIDE SARATOGA 2003

Around the Nightclub Turn
From familial to faux-fashionable, the watering holes of Saratoga Springs present personalities as varied as their drink menus
By Kirsten Ferguson

‘The Buttafuocos will be here soon,” quipped a Saratoga Springs bartender to the patrons slouched around his Caroline Street bar last Friday night. It was the last weekend before horse racing season, so the locals at the bar knew what he meant. “You know, the mouthy guys from New Jersey and Long Island,” someone explained. The bartender had a point: The real-life Joey Buttafuoco may never have been to Spa City, but the infamous Long Island lothario has a lot of body doubles. Saratoga’s wrinkled-linen, floppy-hat, Chanel-wearing social scene gets all the press, but year-round residents like myself have a harder time ignoring the Buttafuocos: the swaggering, loudmouth wanna-be high rollers who swarm the city’s streets during track season.

Much like the clientele of the racetrack, the nightlife in Saratoga Springs during the summer veers—at its worst extremes—from stuffy to tacky. The city’s best gin joints have true class, while the city’s worst try too hard to be classy and end up being cheesy instead. To better discern the difference, we embarked on a pub crawl of Saratoga drinking establishments. Unfortunately, we couldn’t hit them all. Before long, the night’s indulgences rendered our memories foggy and our notes illegible.

Our first stop was 9 Maple Avenue, a small brick tavern located, of course, on Maple Avenue just off Caroline Street. If any local bar has succeeded in distilling sophistication, it’s 9 Maple. The place oozes class, from the forest-green and mahogany walls to the polished jazz combos that thwap, plunk and toot away in the corner. The bar’s collection of 158 single-malt scotches—the largest in the state—will impress just about any drinker who quaffs down a brown liquor other than Southern Comfort. For those who really want to impress their date, the bar has a single shot that sells for more than $80 a pop.

Something about 9 Maple’s close quarters—the beboppers, Skidmore professors, martini drinkers and high rollers who pack the place sure are jammed in tight—promotes a degree of intimacy not found in most bars. Whether you’re alone or with an obvious date, strangers always talk to you here. “What are you, writing poetry?” slurred a man next to me when I sat down and opened my notebook. Before leaving, he and his fiancé had told me about their impending marriage—as well as their affinity for 9 Maple’s green-apple martini.

We left 9 Maple for the four-story Saratoga City Tavern next door. The owners of the City Tavern deserve credit for their extensive renovation of a prominent Caroline Street building that previously had been an eyesore. Unfortunately, you can’t erect character with brick walls and shiny wood floors alone. Something about this place—whether it’s the ubiquitous headset-wearing doormen or the preppy cookie- cutter clientele—felt soulless.

We trekked up four flights of stairs to the rooftop bar. The climb was worth the pigeon’s-eye view of Saratoga Springs in all its neon nighttime glory—it’s not everyday you can look down on the satellite dish atop Peabody’s Sports Bar, my friend pointed out. Soon we grew bored watching tow trucks haul illegally parked cars from the lot across the street. The drinks here were expensive (the same round cost us $4 less at 9 Maple); the atmosphere somehow repressive. As we left, my friend—whose boss had been escorted from the rooftop bar the week before for chucking ice cubes off the roof—joked, “If I had to be up here for three more drinks, I’d throw the chair off.”

Our next stop was the bar at Sperry’s restaurant on Caroline Street. Here I had an epiphany: Above all else, the quality of a bar lies in its service. No self-respecting adult wants to be herded around a club by a headset-wearing, muscle-bound buffoon—or served an overpriced drink by a barely legal college kid with an attitude. The best bars treat their customers with friendliness and respect. Sperry’s is one of those places. My brother and I once spent a snowed-in Christmas Eve here, and we felt like we were among family. This night was no different: We sat at the bar among a group of fellow barflies, joking with the affable, seasoned staff. Thanks to the vodka tonics and the bar’s festive atmosphere, our collective spirits were picking up. Unfortunately, we soon had to leave to pay a visit to the Luna Lounge. “They forgot that this is upstate New York,” laughed a Sperry’s patron when we declared our intention to check out the notoriously trendy club.

Despite rumors of the club’s rigid dress code, I was surprised how quickly—without hassle or cover charge—we were ushered through the gates of the Luna Lounge, at the site of the former Metro club on Maple Avenue. The other rumors are true: Somebody sank a ton of money into this place’s hyper-chic décor: oversized red velvet furniture, aluminum bar stools, a shimmering gold bar, a shower of water that cascades behind an electric blue Luna Lounge sign. Give the place some credit for trying to bring high fashion to Saratoga Springs. At the same time, I’d have to agree with the critic in Sperry’s: There is a point at which such overblown style seems awkwardly out of place in upstate New York, especially when the clientele can’t match the trendiness of the decor. Sure enough, the lounge was full of people trying desperately hard to look sleek, while a flat screen TV mocked them with anemic images from the Fashion Channel. When a bouncer told me to leave the dance-floor area (my crime: I had a drink in my hand), we jetted.

We ended the night at another Saratoga establishment that has been cultivating personality for years: Hattie’s. The bar special of the night there was the Funny Cide (champagne, raspberry Stoli vodka and cranberry juice), but we went to Hattie’s for the mojitos: a tasty Cuban drink containing white rum, simple syrup, fresh mint and sugar cane. Mojitos are also surprisingly potent: After Hattie’s, my notes became an unreadable scrawl.

Out at the back bar, surrounded by strings of glowing red lights and bright blue walls (my Scandinavian side appreciates the primary colors) we were on welcome turf once again.

Other recommended Saratoga nightspots: the Adelphi Hotel (Broadway), the Wine Bar (Broadway) and Desperate Annie’s (Caroline Street).

This Week in Saratoga

Thursday, July 24

New York City Ballet. Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs. 2 PM; 8:15 PM: Coppélia. For more information and tickets, call 584-9330.

Saratoga County Arts Center, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. Noon: Members of the New York City Ballet orchestra will perform Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-flat major. $5 donation. 587-3241.

Saratoga Springs Public Library, 49 Henry St., Saratoga Springs. 7:30 PM: Paul Lamar will read from his own work and lead a discussion on Memories of a Catholic Girlhood by Mary McCarthy. 584-7860.

Skidmore College, Gannett Auditorium, Saratoga Springs. 8 PM: Fiction and poetry reading by Robert Stone and Carl Dennis. 580-5590.

Friday, July 25

The Arts Center, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 10 AM-4 PM: Camp creativity explores the visual and performing arts in two age groups: ages 8-11, and 12-14. $170 for members, $180 for nonmembers plus a $10 materials fee. For more information and to register, call 584-4132.

Barnes & Noble, 3029 Route 50, Saratoga Springs. 7 PM: Jammietime program, with various themes. 583-7717.

New York City Ballet. Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs. 8:15 PM: Concerto Barocco, Chaconne, Carnival of the Animals. For more information and tickets, call 584-9330.

Skidmore College, Gannett Auditorium, 815 N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 8 PM: Fiction reading by William Kennedy and Jay McInerney. 580-5590.

Saturday, July 26

New York City Ballet. Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs. 2 PM: Coppélia. 8:15 PM: Symphony in Three Movements, Carnival of the Animals, Western Symphony. For more information and tickets, call 584-9330.

Sunday, July 27

Alsop Hall, Davidson Drive, Saratoga Springs. 3 PM: Oh Boy, Oboe featuring Randy Wolfgang, first oboe of the New York City Ballet orchestra. Works by Mozart, Bach and Brahms. $22. 584-4132.

Baroque Festival Studio, 165 Wilton Road, Greenfield Center. 4 PM: A program of instrumental works by Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti, Scarlattiana, will be performed by Robert Conant, harpsichord. $15, $10 students. 893-7527.

Family Music Festival and Barbeque, to be held at the Pine Grove Christian Camp in Saratoga Springs. Entrance, entertainment and parking are free and all are invited. Dinner will be offered from 5 PM-8 PM for $8. For more information call Thompson Herrick at 423-4177 or the Salvation Army at 584-1640.

Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, 815 North Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 1 PM: guided exhibition tours. 580-8080.

Tuesday, July 29

Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, 815 North Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 1 PM: guided exhibition tours. 580-8080.

Wednesday, July 30

Day at the Races fundraiser will be held the Saratoga Race Course at the Rail Pavilion. Gates open at 11:30 AM with the Post Time at 1:00 PM. Tickets are $125 each and $100 (35 yrs. and under). For reservations or information call (518)382-3884.

Saratoga Race Course

Open daily through Sept. 1, except Tuesdays.

Location Union Avenue, Saratoga Springs, 584-6200.

Admission $3 grandstand, $8 clubhouse, children under 12 free: seats are $5 and $8, respectively.

Parking $7 per car at the main gate and $5 across Union Avenue at the Oklahoma Training Track.

Racing At least nine races a day; pari-mutuel wagering on every race.

First Race Post Time 1 PM (except Travers Day, Aug. 23, when it’s 12:30 PM).

Major Stakes Races The Diana Handicap (July 26); The Whitney Handicap (Aug. 2); The Jim Dandy (Aug. 3); The Sword Dancer Invitational (Aug. 9); Alabama Stakes (Aug. 16); Travers Stakes (Aug. 23); Hopeful Stakes (Aug. 30).

Promotional Item Giveaways Edgar Prado Bobblehead (July 24); Seabiscuit Mug (July 27); T-shirt (Aug. 3); Baseball Cap (Aug. 10); Wall clock (Aug. 17); T-shirt (Aug. 31).

 


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