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Friday, June 28, 2019

Hots to Trot

From the Food Vault Dept.: An entertainment arena opened in Albany, NY, in 1990. Originally monikered the Knickerbocker Arena, fiscal sponsorship deals have lured it through different names. I wrote a series of articles about it for the Schenectady Gazette in advance of its opening, two of which are here. Here’s an entertaining third, which was supposed to be about the foodservice at the arena, provided by what was then known as ARA Leisure Services, and now is the behemoth Aramark, which provides the overpriced, mediocre food at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, much (if not all; it’s hard to find confirmation) of the SUNY college system, and many other such places around the world. Here’s the note I attached to the piece when I submitted it: “The outfit providing the in-house food at the Knick Arena was singularly uncooperative in providing information, never returning calls and getting downright belligerent by Friday. I offer the following as a much more enjoyable substitute.” The lede, by the way, is complete fiction.


WHEN MY FATHER FIRST TOOK ME to the Saratoga Racetrack I was much too young to appreciate the subtleties at work. On the one hand there was the beauty of the racehorse itself to be considered; on the other, Dad's deft maneuver to get out from under Mom’s financial supervision and fling a few dollars luckwards – all in the name of my education.

I fear that most of his money went to shutting me up, however, because I discovered something that consoled me then and has since been a mainstay of my sporting and entertainment travels: concession stands. While to some people “hot dogging” is a form of ski travel, I use it to describe my tendency to eat my way from event to event. I have hot dogged from ballpark to theme park across the country, and I look forward to doing so in Albany next month.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Nine-Miles Delicious

WHAT SHOULD BE THE COST of a healthy meal? We know that it’s going to be more expensive than what we’re accustomed to paying, whether in supermarket or restaurant, although that’s a reality that I, at least, try to hide from. You can see the difference in your fruits and vegetables, but it’s the pesticide-laden produce that sparkles so gorgeously.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
The camaraderie at a farmers market eases the pain. It’s less painful to slip those extra bucks across the counter when the amiable person behind it is the one who grew your lettuce. It’s more abstract at a restaurant, of course, where higher food costs are reflected in a higher bill, and you’re also paying for the ambiance and service.

But when you see the setup at Saratoga Apple, you’ll realize right away that you’re going to get a bargain. And you are. And you do. Twenty-five dollars for a four-course meal is an exceptional value for the home-grown fare that you get. The fact that it’s not served on anything fancy actually complements the rustic feel of the event.

9 Miles East is the farm that has been serving weekend dinners at Saratoga Apple. Not surprisingly, that’s also its distance from Saratoga Springs. “My wife and I started 9 Miles East in 2005,” says co-owner Gordon Saks, “with 29 acres and a commercial catering kitchen. Now we have 35 employees.”

Friday, June 21, 2019

Saratoga Stately

From the Vault Dept.: Thirty years ago, the Saratoga-area newspapers went into puff-mode overdrive with pieces about the city and its racetrack during the summer, and I contributed a few of those pieces. The one below was part of an improbable photo spread – improbable because nothing dims the charm of a house portrait more than black-and-white newsprint, Garry Brown’s photographic prowess notwithstanding. You can find current views of the properties mentioned on Google Maps Street View. I note that all of the addresses given in the piece (and the original captions, which I didn’t write but which I reproduce here) omit the “north” in what should be North Broadway; I have no idea why this happened.


UNTIL FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT demonstrated that you could remove walls and even hide the front door and still have a good-looking house, American architecture featured a continual reinterpretation of things European.

QUEEN ANNE: The Kilmer House, 722 Broadway,
was built in 1887 and is a fine example of the Queen Anne
style with its many varied features – turrets and gables,
spindles and bands, wood, terra cotta, stained glass,
and differing kinds of roof. Photo by Garry Brown.
Old houses in Saratoga Springs offer an amazing array of styles, reflecting the changing tastes of an affluent turn-of-the-century town that was lucky enough to suffer a financial decline during the recent decades when similar cities razed such buildings.

One of the pleasures of a day or two in the city is the chance to perform old-house detective work and identify the styles that were once so fashionable. In the realm of Victorian design, this city offers an example of just about every notable style – and these examples have even rated a mile's worth of North Broadway houses to gain National Register of Historic Places recognition.

Two architects who contributed heavily to Saratoga's 19th century look of opulence were R. Newton Brezee and Samuel Gifford Slocum, both of whom were born in New York State and maintained Saratoga offices.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Banking on Banks

From the Actual Vault Dept.: For many years I was quite happy to write to order, so long as the checks came in, and I produced a number of pieces for the dry-as-dust Capital District Business Review. Here’s one that presents a very nostalgic picture of the area’s banking industry just before all the interstate banking laws were changed. Wish I’d made a few of the investments suggested below!


TIME WAS WHEN INVESTING IN A BANK was something done by nervous elders looking for security. It was absolutely safe, promising a small, steady increase in earnings.

But in this decade there have been a slew of banking deregulations that have changed small-town banks into branches of big-city conglomerates, and not without substantial profit for savvy investors.

“If you had bought 500 shares of Citizen’s Trust of Schenectady back in 1950, it would have cost you $500. Today, you’d have KeyCorp stock worth $125,000,” said Michael Brockbank, who owns Brockbank Investment Research, an investment advisory firm in Schenectady.

The history of that stock is a history of the changes characterizing all banks. Citizen’s Trust became National Commercial Bank, which became Key Bank N.A., a part of KeyCorp.

“The dramatic rise in value only occurred in the last ten years as we’ve entered an era of banks acquiring other banks and going on to become holding companies,” Brockbank said.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Mark the Polo!

From the Vault Dept.: Saratoga Polo is about to begin its season, a tradition that begin there in the first year of the 20th century. Thanks to a search through the Saratogian’s clip files (this was back in the filing-cabinet days) and a piece in a 1902 Harper’s Weekly, I assembled the story below. The photo came from Harper’s, too, but the Gazette never returned the original – what you see is a scan of a clipping. For information about the current season, check out the association’s website.


RACING ALWAYS STEALS AUGUST’S ATTENTION, but the ancient sport of polo is again attracting notice in Saratoga Springs. When it was introduced here, 88 years ago, it was front-page news. Ten years ago it returned after a break of almost 45 years, and it is again bringing the world’s best players to a small, lavishly-maintained lawn just over the city line in Greenfield.

From left: Kingdon Gould, Jay Gould, Benjamin Nicoll,
and George Jay Gould. Photographed in
Saratoga Springs, July 1902.
In the very early days of the sport, a player simply assaulted an opponent with his horse or anything else that was handy, but dignity and skill replaced brute power as the game evolved. It’s not surprising to realize how little polo has changed throughout the century; what is surprising is to see how little its social aspect has altered. The millionaires and royalty may not take to the field so much, but the air of glamor remains.

William Collins Whitney furnished the original field, near a popular golf club, in 1901. For the first season, professional teams competed for the Hitchcock, Ballston, and Sanford Cups. A year later, over 200 polo ponies arrived in Saratoga during August.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Sound of Silents: The Charles Chaplin Film Music Anthology

MY FIRST VIEWING OF “CITY LIGHTS” took place in a midtown-Manhattan revival house in the mid-1970s. I went to a midday showing with a high-school friend who had landed a job with a nearby ad agency. The half-filled theater was populated by men, mostly, men in business suits, taking, I suspected, an extra-long break from the workday.

What knowledge I had of Chaplin’s movies was gained from TV showings of his silent shorts, movies that had been mangled over the years and were interrupted by commercials. I fell in love with them anyway.

“City Lights” transported me to a very different place. Now I was enjoying Chaplin’s work with an audience around me, raising the delight factor even as the shared laughs caused the timing of the gags to land as they were intended. Released in 1931, it was a silent movie thumbing its nose at the newly born talkies. But it wasn’t at all silent.

Chaplin long had been telling his stories with little or no dialogue. Part of his genius lay in using the constraints of the screen and the versatility of framing and cutting to convey or heighten the emotional changes that inform the universe he evolved. He knew that pathos and comedy effectively complement each other, and combined them to greatest effect in “City Lights.”

Friday, June 07, 2019

Dinner and a Movie, Maybe

From the Food Vault Dept.: Somehow I managed to experience a dinner-and-a-movie venue in Saratoga Springs without actually seeing the movie, and I was very kind about the food weendured. But this was in 1997, when the world was young. The place endured for at least a decade, but it succumbed to Saratoga’s upscale pretentions, and is now an Embassy Suites. Which was the only photo I could find of the complex.


“SPORTS BAR? I HATE SPORTS BARS,” I muttered as we pushed our way into the place. Too much football regalia. Too many TV screens. Too much – but then I spotted the baseball stuff. Baseball stuff is good. And I’m too much of an Anglophile to resist a dartboard, even if I don’t take a crack at it myself.

What's there now.
My wife and I were in the Broadway Joe’s half of Joe O’Hara’s sports and movie complex, in the former Grand Union at Congress Plaza, a half-block down East Congress Street from Broadway, across from Congress Park.

Our intention: to check out the dine-while-you-watch movie theater. Our problem: we weren’t really crazy about seeing any of the listed movies.

The politest way to get from the sports bar to the theater is to go outside: there are separate entrances. (You could squeeze by the ticket counter, but I hate dislodging service staff trying to get their work done.) “Here for Star Trek?” asked an usher/waiter.

Monday, June 03, 2019

The Century Club

AS WE CONTEMPLATE the implications of the life-changing choices we make, we’re dogged by a persistent worry: What will the neighbors think? For Joan and Stevie, recently settled in a Florida condo-style residence, it’s more than a worry. Their new neighbors start by mistakenly occupying Joan and Stevie’s residence, and it goes downhill from there as scatterbrained Helen and imperious Ray undermine what little remains of the other couple’s sense of well-being.

Kevin McGuire, Colleen Corcoran,
and Keith J. Conallen.
Photo by Richard Lovrich
Richard Dresser’s “100 Years,” which is getting its world premiere in a production by Troy Foundry Theatre, puts us not too far into the future as two couples contemplate the implications of a life-changing decision they’ve made. They have signed up (at great expense) to undergo a mysterious process that requires them to live in this cookie-cutter community and consume nine large portions of some kind of shake each day, shakes that seem to have all the appeal of a dose of Miralax.

“I don’t like all the rules here,” Joan declares early on, and it’s easy to see how stifled she feels. Colleen Corcoran has a beauty of a role with this character. Her relationship with husband Stevie (Keith J. Conallen) is, on the whole, a happy one, but we see a credible range of contention and discontent as they grapple with their odd new life and odder new neighbors. Conallen also conveys the complexity of such a relationship, as well as deftly giving us a character who isn’t as tough as he’d like us to think.

And just as we’re getting used to them, the neighbors appear. Helen is Raymond’s second wife. His first, she explains, died in a sinkhole, an accident that “didn’t have to happen, but, then again, what does?” In order to marry Ray, Helen gave up her job consulting for trauma victims – “Talk about a growth industry!”