The opening of Saratoga Race Course on Thursday means more revenue in Saratoga Springs, and after two summers of pandemic disruption businesses in the city are poised for a much better track season.
Visitors to the Spa City can expect some new restaurants with more staff, shop owners with fewer masks and what will likely be a general feeling of less fear.
Restaurants, hotels and stores are welcoming guests with open arms after tourism dramatically decreased during the 2020 and 2021 horse racing seasons as COVID-19 and its variants decimated livelihoods worldwide.
One of the newest additions to the dining scene is Rhea at 389 Broadway, which added more seating in the dining room and has installed a new outdoor patio space for the season.
“There is no better benchmark on how your business is doing than eight weeks of track season,” said head chef Peter Hahm.
Rhea began as a small pop-up selling noodle dishes, wontons and dumplings in the other neighboring restaurant it owns, Seneca. As its popularity grew, the Noodle House pop-up transformed into a full Asian-influenced dinner-and-drinks restaurant.
“Track season is where you get a lot of big fish from places like Manhattan and New York City who want to spend big bucks. On Broadway, you can go to a burger place or a steakhouse and both could be very expensive. There’s nothing bad about those places, but what makes Rhea unique is we hold our own with all of those menus with our drinks, food, dessert — and you won’t feel like you broke the bank when you leave,” said Hahm.
To gear up for track season, Hahm is focused on keeping a positive mindset.
“If you’ve been through the track, it’s stressful and you’re grinding bone to bone every single day. There is no such thing as days off because it won’t ever be slow. … The key is getting ahead on prep every day and staying organized. My job in the kitchen is to make sure everyone on the line is prepared and trained,” said Hahm. “To be a part of something brand-new in the midst of Saratoga race track, you can’t ask for a better opportunity.”
At the Adelphi Hotel, which is heading into its 148th season, both its restaurants — Morrissey’s Lounge & Bistro and Salt & Char on 365 Broadway — will be well-staffed. The historic downtown landmark, which has hosted guests such as the Vanderbilts, Carnegies and Theodore Roosevelt, expects to have 240 employees on staff, up from the 140 during the year. Rooms can run more than $1,000 a night during peak season, while in the off-season they range from $300 to $500.
And now visitors can find an Adelphi restaurant right on-site at the track, said Patrick Toomey, director of the Adelphi’s restaurants.
“Last year we saw a lot of last-minute cancellations with COVID. This year we are finally getting a full track season. I can feel it already,” said Toomey, who has spent six years at the Adelphi. “It’s going to be a unique season. I think it’s going to be very busy.”
Toomey was born and raised in Saratoga Springs, and spends the majority of his time working at the hotel. “We open at 7 a.m. every day and we don’t leave until the guests do,” he said.
“We never closed during COVID. No one missed a shift,” he added. At the height of the pandemic, Morrissey’s prepared 200 to 300 three-course takeout dinners a day at $15 each, Toomey said. “We have a valet that can host 10 cars out front to do walk-out service. We took advantage of what we had. The boss had a vision and green-lighted it, and it was fun.”
The restaurant sent 1,000 meals to the Wesley Community Nursing home during the pandemic, and now that goodwill — call it karma — is finding its way back to the restaurants.
“Since doing that, we’ve made so many new customers just based on the offering we made during the pandemic. We made no money, but we made a lot of friends,” said Toomey. “Many of those people have come back since and still talk about what we did. It’s a big reason why we are as busy as we are now every day.”
The hotel is undergoing a multimillion-dollar expansion expected to be completed in late 2023 or early 2024
While the Adelphi is charting a growth path, retailer Hat sational! has consolidated its locations since the pandemic.
“We closed down our one store during COVID” after business came to a halt, said owner Joyce Locks, but on the upside: “We survived.”
The challenge with the hat business, said Locks, is that “hats are something that need to be tried on, so it was difficult.” The year-round shop at 506 Broadway supplements its walk-in business with online shopping and shipping. “There’s a lot more that goes into hat-wearing than people think. Someone’s stature, the fit of the hat and your outfit are ways to figure out what hat is the best for somebody,” said Locks.
Tailgate and Party Shop moved to Phila Street and Putnam from Caroline Street, and is counting on more foot traffic. The small merchandise store sells a variety of party games, decorations, supplies, gift bags and activities for holidays or small gatherings. It opened two years ago in the midst of the pandemic. The owner, Kirsten Lambert, had to wait to open until COVID regulations were lifted.
Hours at the shop will be extended to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday during the season, and the shop will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends, said Lambert.
Another operation that has extended its hours for the season is The Bourbon Room and Soundbar nightclub at 8 and 6 Caroline St.
“The main thing with the track is, it just dumps so many people on the street,” said Brian Miller, marketing director. “The other 40-some-odd weeks are where the bills are paid, and the profit comes from the track.”
Soundbar, a tiki-inspired indoor lounge, will add Thursdays to its regular Friday and Saturday schedule.
“There’s just so much stuff. You have SPAC, the No. 1 music venue in the country, right around the corner,” said Miller. “There’s been times where, like, when American Pharoah was the only horse to win the Triple Crown and the Travers — no one’s done it — and on the same day Zac Brown sold out SPAC. They capped it at 55,000 people at the track, 40,000 people at SPAC, and there were another 100,000 people just coming into town to be a part of it. That’s what makes Saratoga.”