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Monday, October 20, 2014

Knickerbocker Holiday

From the Vault Dept.: I just ran across a bunch of pieces I wrote for the Schenectady Gazette about Albany's then-newly opened Knickerbocker Arena, which opened January 30, 1990, with a performance by a drunk Frank Sinatra. I've reproduced two of those pieces below to provide a twinge or two of nostalgia. As you might imagine, much of what I've detailed below has changed.

EIGHTEEN THOUSAND PEOPLE RARELY AGREE on everyday subjects like politics and parking, but face them with the extraordinary and you can gather together a lot of faces. Now that the Capital District’s Knickerbocker Arena is providing the space we need some extraordinary events to fill it.

They’re on their way.

Abany's Knickerbocker Arena
Frank Sinatra is an entertainer whose own influences are as eclectic and varied as those whom he has influenced over the years. Citing Jascha Heifetz and Tommy Dorsey as two of those who shaped his style, his singing has shaped the interpretive technique of musicians of all disciplines and category. He’s also a top-notch actor and songwriter and a good person to have as a friend. That he’s opening the arena with a gala concert Jan. 30 says it all. There will be black ties and gowns and probably a sweatshirt or two.

What you see on TV when you see Bill Cosby has little to do with what he’s really all about. Sure, there’s the hit series, but he started that to combat the wasteland of prime-time programming. What he offers best is simply a point of view. A point of view that is devastatingly funny. He sits back in his canvas chair, rolls a cigar in his fingers and talks, and tells us about things, familiar things, that we never analyzed in such a fashion. He’ll be at the Arena on Feb. 2.

Tom Petty’s current tour brings him to the arena Feb. 3, and a Feb. 4 open house will formally present the facility to the public before the Albany Patroons swing into action against Rapid City.

The Patroons have settled in for a comfortable season of home games in the arena, facing Topeka Feb. 6 and returning Feb. 12 and 13 for matches against Columbus and Grand Rapids.

If you find yourself taking it all a bit too seriously by then, limber up with the Harlem Globetrotters on their Feb. 16 performance.

Although the fall dates haven’t yet been set, we can expect a minimum of two exhibition games apiece from the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association. Teams and dates will be announced.

Another opportunity for an Albany deep freeze is provided by the arena, and three events are planned for the ice this year: Stars on Ice for one Feb. 17 performance; Walt Disney’s Kingdom on Ice (starring Pinocchio) Mar. 13-18, and, for date to be announced in the fall, the Ice Capades.

In terms of preparation, the biggest event is probably the Billy Graham Crusade, a week-long event in April (22-29) that rolls out the red carpet for you. Free to get in, but you may have to do some tricky bargaining to exit.

A couple of circuses are coming, making it a downtown Big Top: the Moscow Circus rolls in Feb. 7-11 and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performs May 10-13.

Stoke that gladiator spirit with events of anger, competition and savagery. The United States Hot Rod Association presents two such outings, with a Truck Pull Feb. 23-25 (there will be three performances) and a Mud Bog for three performances Mar. 30-Apr. 1. I’m assuming one or both of these will include that business where trucks with very large wheels are driven over helpless, squealing cars.

The World Wrestling Federation presents long-haired men wearing no shirts and large belts in highly theatrical bouts of combat on Feb. 18, and if you’re a 14-year-old boy who doesn’t date much, the Feb. 15 concert by Whitesnake, a group of headbangers, should rechannel that libido.

Tops on the not-announced-but-everybody-knows-it-anyway list is the Grateful Dead appearance in March. The East Coast hotline says Mar. 23-25, the West Coast line puts it a day later; whatever the case, listen to the ten-minute recording and follow the amazingly detailed instructions to the letter if you want to sit anywhere near the group.

There’s nothing like getting right down there onto the stage yourself, and a few upcoming shows offer that opportunity. Mar. 8-11 brings in the Capital District Boat Show; an auto show takes place Oct. 18-21, and a three-day arts and crafts festival is scheduled Dec. 7-9.

– Schenectady Sunday Gazette, 26 January 1990


THE KNICKERBOCKER ARENA IS ALSO a little mall, although you don’t have to wait for an event to take yourself shopping there. About 16,000 square feet of space was made available for offices and retail stores, and almost all of the latter has been rented. As of last week only a 1200 square foot area remained.

Take the South Pearl Street entrance to shop at the sporting goods store operated by Dave Panzer, who also owns Saratoga Sports, or Charles Souvenirs, a gift and souvenir shop concentrating on historic Albany.

Albany's Cafe Capriccio
Otherwise, it’ll be food you’re interested in. On one side of the Arena you’ll find Panfilo’s Restaurant, owned by Joseph and Jill Cardinale, which promises to preserve that civic center atmosphere by offering both a full-service sit-down restaurant and a sports-bar facility.

Across the way our two favorite ethnic eateries are opening: the  Sapienza Pizza Company for traditional American Italian fare, and Lam’s Kitchen, a full-service and take-out Chinese restaurant, bringing Manhattan restaurateur Lam Fong to Albany.

With the potential of 18,000 customers in search of a pre-show meal, you might want to venture a little farther for dinner. Albany has long had a plethora of restaurants waiting for you within walking distance, and once you take the trouble to get properly parked you won’t want to drive between dinner and the show – or vice versa.

There are the expected franchise fast food joints in the area, and quite a few taverns and cafeterias. What follows is a highly personal selection of places I’ve tried and revisited over the years. If your favorite isn’t on the list it probably only means I haven’t gotten there yet.

Italian restaurants are a staple of the area, and one place that is an evening’s entertainment all by itself is Jim Rua’s Cafe Capriccio at 49 Grand St. Northern Italian is the featured fare, but look for a variety of original specialties as well.

Traditional Italian menus are featured at Calsolaro’s Restaurant, 244 Washington Ave.; Citone’s Italian Restaurant, 457 Elk St.; Gaspary’s, 164 Madison Ave.; Lombardo’s Restaurant, 121 Madison Ave., and Pagliacci Ristorante, 44 So. Pearl St.

Two restaurants with fine French food are in walking distance: La Serre, at 14 Green St., and L’Auberge, 351 Broadway.

Other styles and nationalities are scattered about. El Loco Mexican Cafe at 465 Madison Ave. has the best Mexican food in the area, besides being a charmingly eccentric place. If you don’t mind a boozeless meal, try the Middle Eastern food at Mamoun’s Falafel, 206 Washington Ave. Nature’s Way Cafe, 277 Washington Ave., serves vegetarian fare for the health conscious – or even for the rest of us.

You’ll find a number of Chinese restaurants in the area. A couple of good ones are the Amazing Wok, 267 Lark St., and Mandarin Chinese, 134 State St.

For an interesting mix of Indonesian and continental fare, Yono’s, 289 Hamilton St., presents the work of award-winning chef Yono Purnomo.

I’m calling the next few places continental, although you’ll find a variety of original touches at each. Jack’s Oyster House, 42 State St., puts an emphasis on seafood, and it’s been happening there for almost half a century. Also try the Bleecker Restaurant, 137 Madison Ave.; Justin McNeil’s, 301 Lark St.; Ogden’s, 42 Howard St.; Quackenbush House Restaurant, Clinton & Broadway.

The Albany Hilton, at State and Lodge Streets, has two restaurants within: Truffles is the formal dining room with a continental menu, while Cinnamon’s offers pub fare in a coffeeshop setting.

Pub fare abounds in the neighborhood, with some good beer selections as well. Try a few of the following: Barnaby’s, State and Eagle Sts.; Downtown Athletic Club, 238 Washington Ave.; Farnham’s Larkin, 199 Lark St.; Hudson River Trading Co., 388 Broadway.; Lark Tavern, 453 Madison.; McGeary’s Restaurant, 4 Clinton Square.; Ozzie’s, 423 Madison Ave.; P D Ladd’s Restaurant, 32 Dove St.; Quintessence, 11 New Scotland Ave., and the York Stone Pub, 79 North Pearl St.

– Schenectady Sunday Gazette, 26 January 1990

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