Saratoga County

Group plans to renovate Caffe Lena

Historic Caffe Lena at 47 Phila St. has plans to renovate its building in the coming years to stabil

Historic Caffe Lena at 47 Phila St. has plans to renovate its building in the coming years to stabilize the old building where the young Bob Dylan got his start in the early 1960s.

“We have exciting plans. The building does need a lot of work,” said Sarah Craig, executive director of the oldest continuously operating folk music coffeehouse in the United States. “We want to stabilize it and make it safe.”

Any renovations would include handicapped access to the upstairs venue where the current public entrance is accomplished by climbing 15 steps to the second floor.

Caffe Lena was started by Lena Spencer in 1960 and was dedicated to folk music that was then having a nationwide revival.

Spencer, who died in 1989, introduced Saratoga Springs to Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Noel Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary, and Don McLean, who performed regularly at Lena’s before his “American Pie” fame, among other folk artists.

Plans for renovating the building are in the early stages and will be followed by a fundraising campaign prior to construction, Craig said.

A nonprofit real estate holding entity called 47 Phila Inc., which has an all-volunteer board, owns 47 Phila St. and 45 Phila St., where the legendary Hattie’s Chicken Shack is located on the ground floor.

Beverly’s restaurant, which had been located on the ground floor of 47 Phila St. for more than 20 years, serving breakfast and lunch, was asked to vacate last month. Craig said Caffe Lena is going in a different direction with the downstairs space.

“We wish him well in moving his business to a new location,” Craig said about Beverly’s owner J. Michael Bowman.

Beverly’s space is currently empty, but a new occupant will be moving in soon, Craig said. She said she could not yet release the name of the new tenant.

Caffe Lena, which was converted to a nonprofit institution after Spencer’s death, was able to purchase the building in 1998 through a major fundraising effort and a state grant. The buildings —45 Phila St. and 47 Phila St. are separate buildings connected by a brick wall — were later transferred to the ownership of 47 Phila Inc., which is closely associated with Caffe Lena.

Craig said it will be a year or two before a fundraising campaign is launched and renovations are started.

The nonprofit that owns the buildings has already done some important basic stabilization of the building, including foundation and electrical work, Craig said.

Caffe Lena also offers theater productions in what was first called its Gallery Theater and is currently known as the Black Box Theater.

Spencer and her Caffe continued to thrive into the 1970s and 1980s as some folk music venues in other parts of the United States were closing down. As some of the folk revival clubs closed their doors, such as Gerde’s and the Gas Light, Caffe Lena inherited the status of the longest continuously operating folk club in the county.

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