There’re a lot of cool things about living in New York’s Capital Region. Being two hours from NYC and Boston is nice, but right here at home there’re some places, activities, and sights second to none. I’ve put together a list of the 10 coolest things about the Capital Region. Some of the list is pretty well known. Some may not be. So, for what’s worth, here’s my list of the top 10 coolest things about the Capital Region.
10. John Boyd Thatcher Park: When I read that David Patterson was considering closing Thatcher Park, I was outraged. Who among us, as a kid, hasn’t been on a school field trip to Thatcher? The public pool with the three diving boards always brought out the Rodney Dangerfield in me. (That’s a Back to School reference, people.) The Indian Ladder Trail is one of the coolest things on Earth, and the views of the entire region from so far above are breathtaking. The only man that would order the closing of this gem would be a blind man. Enter Governor Patterson.
9. The Villa Valenti: If you’ve never eaten at the Villa Valenti in Wynantskill, do yourself a titanic favor this weekend. The chicken parm is the best on the planet. That’s right, I said the entire planet. The salad bar is unbeatable and the bread sticks and rolls are amazing. Plus the prices are beyond reasonable: $50.00 for two with all the extras. Not to mention the family that operates the places is top notch. Emma Valenti is one of the best people in the world. Her son Ralph, the current manager, is a great guy. Plus, and this is a biggie, all the waitresses are super-cute. http://www.villavalenti.com/ 518-283-1291
8. Vinny’s Barbershop: If you want to get a great haircut and talk a little NY sports, with someone who actually knows NY Sports, Vinny’s barbershop is your spot. Great vibe, lots of cool pictures on the walls, and maybe even an episode of The Sopranos on the waiting-room TV. It’s as authentic as it gets. There’re two locations: Albany and Malta. Trust me, Vinny is the man and you’ll have a blast. And you’ll look great. But funny, when I come in saying make ME look great, Vinny says, “Brian, I’m a barber, not a plastic surgeon.” http://www.vinnysbarbershop.com/
7. Riverfest in Troy: There was a time when I loved Alive at Five in Albany. Every Thursday night we’d hit the city’s riverfront for some great music and even better sights. Then afterwards over to N. Pearl Street for chapter two of those summer Thursday nights. But in the last two years, for some reason, the vibe has gone bad. It’s just not that much fun anymore. As sad as it is to say, Alive at Five is through. Enter Riverfest in Troy. It happens every Wednesday night in the summers. The crowd is cool and the atmosphere is all fun. Put on your summer shorts and check it out.
6. Proctor’s Theatre: Located in Schenectady it is Upstate’s answer to NYC’s theatre district. Although it’s not genuine Broadway, Proctor’s still gets runs of many of the greatest plays going. Recently the theatre had a run of Wicked. It’s a very cool place to see a show and it won’t break the bank or force you to make the 160 mile trip to the City. If you’ve never seen a show at Proctor’s, take some time and check it out. You won’t be sorry. And Bill Cosby is coming in August. That’s Gov. Patterson’s all-time favorite dramatic actor. http://www.proctors.org/
5. Saint Patrick’s Day in Albany: What can I say? If you like green beer and good fun, it is the coolest day in the Capital Region. Everybody is outside for the parade and the city streets are packed from State Street all the down Pearl. Personally, I say McGeary’s is the best spot. But every place is on fire the entire day. All ages come out for this one. I’ve done it with my friends as long as I can remember. And if you can survive seeing my uncle Jack outside of Jillian’s, you’re in for a fun time. Plus the city taxi cabs really cooperate with getting people to and from safely. And it’s the first time you really feel that spring is coming close!
4. The NYS Museum: I’ve been to museums in NYC and Boston. But I still say the NYS Museum on Madison Avenue in Albany is the best museum I’ve ever been to. From the Iroquois Indian exhibit to the 9/11 Memorial, to the great programs and events, it is just an incredibly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. I like to go when it’s snowing out. There’s always something new to see, plus all the old favorites. Even Gov. Patterson could appreciate all the interesting things to see. Sidebar: my uncle Jack always told me the best place to take a girl for a first date was the museum. Try it sometime, guys. You’ll see why he was right. And if you want to ask him yourself, he’ll be outside Jillian’s on Saint Patty’s Day. The goofy one wearing green. http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/
3. Sandwiches to Go: Located on Maiden Lane in Albany. Sandwiches to Go is the best deli/lunch spot in the city of Albany. Period. The upstairs dining room is a cool little spot to grab some lunch and catch up with a friend. Plus, you might see a local politician every once in a while. Maybe even you know who. There’s two types of people in the world: people who get it and people who don’t. And people who get it know Sandwiches to Go is great. Personal advice: order a turkey BLT on rye with Russian. It rocks. http://albany.citysearch.com/profile/32880132/albany_ny/sandwiches_to_go.html
2. NYS Writers Institute: I know that NYC is the hotbed of all things literature in this country. But don’t tell that to William Kennedy and Donald Faulkner. Pulitzer-Prize Winning author William Kennedy, a lifelong resident of the Capital Region, who started the Institute 25 years ago, has brought Albany some of the world’s most famous authors. Frank McCourt, Richard Russo, Russell Banks. The institute offers free writing workshops for the community at U Albany and the Summer Institute at Skidmore. I have taken part in both. The experience/program was second to none. http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst/
1. The 42nd Floor of the Corning Tower: If you’ve never taken a few minutes to check out the observation deck of the Corning Tower in downtown Albany, I highly recommend it. The Corning Tower is the tallest building from Montreal to Poughkeepsie and the view(s) from way up there are really cool. You can even see Gov. Patterson’s mansion to the right. It’s easy. After a quick security check, just walk into the lobby, follow the signs to the observation elevator, and jump on. The observation deck even has a few of those quarter-operated binocular machines. Awesome!
Honorable Mentions: Siena Saints Basketball, Colonie Center/Crossgates Mall, Andy Rooney, Jack's Sliders, NY Giants Training Camp, Washington Park's Play in the Park, Soundoff with Sinkoff, Saratoga Raceway, Guptill's, Nipper the RCA Dog, Albany Aqua-Ducks, Jack Diamond's House on Lark Street, Bayou Cafe, Albany Medical Center, Jiminy Peak/Alpine Slide, The Great Escape, The Orchard, Lebanon Valley, Memorial Day Weekend in Lake George, Tulip Fest
Tell me about any that I forgot. Well known or not so known. We'll run a Part Two List!!