Alice Broderick understands the Saratoga experience.
“It’s visiting and nostalgia in a beautiful horse town,” said Broderick, a manager and spokeswoman for the Olde Bryan Inn restaurant on Maple Avenue.
The city’s downtown has been packed in recent weeks with families on vacation and fans of music and dance at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Even more people have checked in during the past couple of days, ready for the annual summer opening of Saratoga Race Course. First post is Friday at 1 p.m.
Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said the city fills up during the summer.
“If you count the race track and SPAC, you’re over a million people, easily,” Shimkus said.
Compiling an exact number of people who visit Saratoga during the summer can be tricky. Shimkus said some people rent houses or stay with friends or relatives for a week. Some just drive up for the day and return home to other towns in the Capital Region. They’re not all coming for the races and concerts — they come for golf, or to visit museums or the Spa State Park, with its swimming pools, trails and picnic areas.
Many visit the Roosevelt Baths and Spa in Saratoga Springs, or the Saratoga National Historic Park in Stillwater and every July and August.
The park, commonly referred to as the Saratoga Battlefield, attracts about 60,000 people during the summer months, said Gina Johnson, chief of visitors services.
In Saratoga Springs, the downtown buzz continues after dark. Shimkus said about 75 bars and restaurants are in operation downtown.
“One of neat things about the restaurant scene and the bar scene here is that you can pretty much decide based on taste what you feel like having that night,” he said. “You have any number of restaurants that specialize in a wide range of items, everything from steak to sushi, Italian to Mexican.”
Many restaurants offer entertainment during the summer. Some will stay open until 4 a.m.
“We have restaurants that tell me they never stay open after midnight except during the summer,” Shimkus said. “A restaurant like Hattie’s is an example. They’re normally closed at a fairly early hour but there are weekends during the summer when they will extend their nights because they can make a decent profit on those nights.”
Plenty of choices
There are lots of choices — casual outdoor dining in Gaffney’s celebrated courtyard, elegance at the Mouzon House, the festive atmosphere at Circus Cafe, the tradition and history of Lillian’s.
“I think to a large extent we’ve become the Capital Region’s downtown,” Shimkus said. “This is where people come to have a great night out, do some shopping, dine and have a good time.”
Broadway, Caroline Street, Phila Street and other spots are not filled exclusively by race track visitors.
“Downtown itself has become a destination,” Shimkus said. “What you end up with is people who are just coming downtown for the night and you have all the people coming downtown after the track.”
Retailers take advantage of the nighttime visitors.
“The smartest retailers I know downtown tell me their best days are actually at night after people have had dinner,” Shimkus said. “It’s the stores that stay open until 9 or 11 that tend to do the best business downtown.”
Broderick said the Olde Bryan will be busy for the meet, which ends on Labor Day, Sept. 7.
“It’s like welcoming old friends back into town,” she said. “Typically, we are on a nice pace by 7 p.m., we get a lot of the ballet people who come in after a performance.”
Friday and Saturday it’s first come, first served. Reservations are taken Sunday through Thursday for parties of at least five people.
Ravenous, which serves sweet and savory crepes, does not stay open late into the night. But Julie Raymond, who owns the Phila Street restaurant with boyfriend David Zuka, stays busy, before and after the track opens.
“We get a good lunch crowd and then it’s the usual calm during the day,” she said. “We get a rush after the races.”
Raymond considers Phila the restaurant street and Caroline the bar street. “We have Hattie’s, we have Harvey’s, we have the new Park Side Eatery. There are a lot of people.” She added that some people have been visiting Ravenous for years — sometimes at different times of the year.
“We have a good Skidmore business, we have a good local lunchtime, people who are working in downtown,” she said. “When Skidmore leaves, and that includes teachers and students, then we get the tourists. We get about three different types of customers right now. We’re in the tourist time now and we rarely see our regulars because people can’t find parking.”
Places to park
Parking is always a challenge during the summer. City officials are mulling plans for a proposed five-story parking garage on city-owned land across from the Saratoga Springs City Center, but for now, the hunt for prime parking positions will continue.
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter.
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