Saratoga is a great place to be morning,
noon and at night
Downtown Saratoga Springs is alive and always has something going on at night, all year-round. Saratoga has numerous bars, restaurants and pubs on Broadway and side streets, where you can find an array of different genres from jazz to folk, rock to pop, and so much more.
Saratoga has become synonymous as a music hub for up-and-coming artists, such as Sarah Pedinotti, a local jazz favorite who has been critically acclaimed by Billboard Magazine. Our Caroline Street is best known to be lined with bars and clubs, including Tin ‘N’ Lint where Don McLean first wrote the lyrics for “American Pie.”
Saratoga is also home to the oldest continually operating coffeehouse in the country -
Caffè Lena, where Bob Dylan played one of his first appearances and Don McLean first sang “American Pie”, as well as the likes of Arlo Guthrie, Emmylou Harris, Ani Difranco and so many others.
Saratoga also boasts a new night club, Vapor Night Club at Saratoga Casino & Raceway, where you can enjoy live entertainment from local and national musicians or join the DJ dance parties. Saratoga Springs doesn’t stop when the sun goes down.
After the call to the post, the sounds of summer draw the crowds downtown.
Walk the streets of downtown Saratoga Springs on a hot summer night and you're bound to hear the live music drifting from the bar patios before you even see their storefronts - a mix of jazz, pop, traditional Irish, folk, country, rock and just about any other genre imaginable.
It's a natural extension of Saratoga's already music-rich history. The city is home to the legendary Caffé Lena, known for helping to launch the careers of Bob Dylan and Don McLean, and Saratoga Performing Arts Center, with its annual popular music series each summer hosting everything from hard rockers Rush, to classic acts like Crosby, Stills and Nash, to more modern fare such as O.A.R. and Dave Matthews Band.
Though it may be hard to believe today, local music took a bit longer to catch on in the city. When Joan Desadora first opened The Parting Glass at 40-42 Lake Avenue in 1981, she struggled to drum up interest for such Irish groups as Donnybrook Fair and Hair of the Dog. Getting customers to pay a cover charge to hear local live music was unheard of at the time.
"I'll never forget this - when we first opened, we told people, 'We will buy you a beer if you'll pay a $1 cover, and it all goes to the band.' That's a good deal, and they were still skeptical of it," Desadora says. "But we were determined to see it through, and as people found out how entertaining the music was, we increased it to a $2 cover."
Kevin McKrell landed a weekly Saturday night slot at The Parting Glass with his band, the former Donnybrook Fair. The group went on to sell out the venue for two years. "There really wasn't much of a scene; there really wasn't much going on," McKrell says. "Several years after that things started to get going and more places started having live music."
Gaffney's Restaurant, established in 1978 at 16 Caroline Street - the former Saratoga Traders - was one of those early places. When John Baker purchased the bar in 1982, he began hosting live music Friday and Saturday nights. Over the years, these offerings have expanded to four nights a week during winter, spring and fall, and every night during the track season.
Gradually Gaffney's expanded from a single bar to include a second bar, The Starting Gate, as well as an outdoor bar, the Winner's Circle, and outdoor seating in the garden. During the summer, local musicians - ranging from acoustic soloists like Tim Wechgelaer and Frankie Lessard, to full bands - play out on the patio.
"We have a little bit of everything," says Kim Smith, Gaffney's manager.."And because we have the three bars, there's always something for everyone. Sometimes an older group will gather up [in the back], or a younger group will gather down at The Starting Gate, and outside is just a mish-mash of everything."
Gaffney's isn't alone in offering live music outdoors in the summer. Bailey's Café at 36 Phila Street has a back patio where musicians perform three nights a week, beginning in spring, weather permitting.
Dango Fitzgerald's Irish Pub, Steakhouse and Sports Bar, a new business located at 38 Caroline Street (the former location of Madame Jumel's, It's Confidential, and others), has two outdoor bars and a large covered dance area and stage, also outside. The fifth business in the Glens Falls-based Dango's Inc. chain, Dango Fitzgerald's is entering its second summer in Saratoga, but has already pulled in regular performers from the city's rock music scene, including Funk Evolution and Skippy and the Pistons.
Jazz is also well established on the Saratoga scene, with 9 Maple Avenue and 1 Caroline Street Bistro leading the charge.
Gene and Judy Sirianni, along with their son Mike, opened 9 Maple Avenue in 1990. Over the years the bar has become known just as much for its 158 varieties of single malt Scotches as its jazz offerings. The shoe-box shaped building is small, and when jazz combos perform on Friday and Saturday nights it can be tough to even reach the bar. "I always tell [customers] there's room in the back, and then they look for the elusive back room," Mike Sirianni says.
The bar, at 9 Maple Ave., is a listening room, too, with regular performances from such local jazz heavyweights as the Arch Stanton Quartet, Michael Benedict Jazz Vibes and New Regime. "There's such great talent," Mike says. "Talent like Eric (Walentowicz, saxophonist in New Regime)-he's the most mild-mannered, polite, laid-back, easygoing guy, but you put a horn in his mouth and you get the hell out of his way. It's unbelievable."
David and Dianne Pedinotti have owned and operated One Caroline Street for the past 17 years. In addition to jazz from regulars such as saxophonist Brian Patneaude, pianist Lee Shaw and saxophonist Keith Pray, the venue also dabbles in rock - David Pedinotti leads the Masters of Nostalgia every Wednesday night, covering American and roots music from Neil Young to Wilco. The Pedinottis' daughter, Sarah, is also active on the local music scene with her rock group, Railbird.
Nearby, The Paddock Lounge at 6 Caroline Street, which opened in June of last year, offers live music in a more upscale setting.
Another relatively new addition in Saratoga, Putnam Den, is in its third year of presenting concerts from both local and national acts, ranging from hard rockers such as Skeletons in the Piano, to acoustic rockers the Ryan Montbleau Band. This dedicated concert hall also includes a bar, and an outdoor area for live entertainment in the summer. Owners Tiffany and Jonathan Albert are also expanding into 30 Caroline Street, formerly Johnny Luc's, with the 1920s-themed restaurant and lounge The Living Room. The couple have plans to open a late night restaurant, The Kitchen, next door, and a nightclub, The Attic, above The Living Room.
It's not all about downtown. Siro's has been a fixture at 168 Lincoln Avenue, adjacent to the racetrack, since the 1930s. The venue is only open during the summer momths, beginning its season every year with their annual Kentucky Derby party. Both full bands and soloists perform outside, while pianist Roger Morris, a regular at Siro's for the past two decades, entertains inside.
"After the track was over, people just wanted to talk about the races and hang out, so they started kind of migrating across the street," says Keith Kantrowitz, owner of Siro's for the past three years.
Speak with club owners and patrons across town, and the one common thread explaining the vibrant music scene is the performers. "What I've really seen in Saratoga is a real community of musicians who have really raised the bar," Dianne Pedinotti says. "There's always something here that you're not going to get anywhere else."
And it's the people that keep drawing the musicians back. Glens Falls-based cover band The Master Cylinders is a regular at Siro's, The Paddock, Dango Fitzgerald's and The Irish Times, among others. The four-piece group is led by former Blue Oyster Cult drummer Jimmy Wilcox. "I just love the people, love the atmosphere," Wilcox said. "It's just a great place to be."