the Nightclub Turn
familial to faux-fashionable, the watering holes of Saratoga
Springs present personalities as varied as their drink menus
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
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
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
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.
recommended Saratoga nightspots: the Adelphi Hotel (Broadway),
the Wine Bar (Broadway) and Desperate Annie’s (Caroline Street).
Week in Saratoga
New York City Ballet. Saratoga Performing Arts Center,
Saratoga Springs. 2 PM; 8:15 PM: Coppélia. For
more information and tickets, call 584-9330.
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.
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.
College, Gannett Auditorium, Saratoga Springs. 8
PM: Fiction and poetry reading by Robert Stone
and Carl Dennis. 580-5590.
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.
& Noble, 3029 Route 50, Saratoga Springs. 7
PM: Jammietime program, with various themes. 583-7717.
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.
College, Gannett Auditorium, 815 N. Broadway, Saratoga
Springs. 8 PM: Fiction reading by William Kennedy
and Jay McInerney. 580-5590.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, 815 North Broadway,
Saratoga Springs. 1 PM: guided exhibition tours. 580-8080.
Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, 815 North
Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 1 PM: guided exhibition
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
daily through Sept. 1, except Tuesdays.
Union Avenue, Saratoga Springs, 584-6200.
$3 grandstand, $8 clubhouse, children under 12 free:
seats are $5 and $8, respectively.
$7 per car at the main gate and $5 across Union Avenue
at the Oklahoma Training Track.
At least nine races a day; pari-mutuel wagering on every
Race Post Time 1 PM (except Travers Day, Aug. 23,
when it’s 12:30 PM).
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).
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).