Schenectady, New York is not your typical vacation destination. While it lacks the common tourist allures––there are no beaches, mountains or vineyards––it is full of thriving independently owned restaurants, stores, theaters, and other attractions. Correspondent Shannon Krause offers a local’s tour of the city’s unique independent establishments.
Schenectady (pronounced skuh-NECK-tuh-dee) doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue like Marbella, Kauai, or even Woolloomooloo. Once home to Thomas Edison’s General Electric Company, it’s the birthplace of all things electric. With a thriving Italian-American community, Schenectady also boasts some of the best Italian bread and Italian ice this side of the Atlantic.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been pumped into the rebirth of the city and now visitors have a wide array of locally-owned attractions, nightlife, restaurants, and stores to explore.
The Stockade Historic District is New York State’s first historic district and the oldest residential neighborhood in the United States. This village has more than 40 pre-Revolutionary War homes making it one of the largest collections in the U.S.
Visit during the summer art shows or annual walkabouts to see residents dressed in period clothing. Grab a walking tour brochure at The Schenectady County Historical Society and start exploring.
More than one million historical images from the General Electric photo collection can be rediscovered at The Hall of Electrical History at The Schenectady Museum & Suits-Bueche Planetarium.
The museum contains the seventh-largest photographic collection in the United States, and includes over 30,000 locomotive images and 15,000 street lighting installations from around the globe.
Schenectady’s Central Park, similar to New York City’s Central Park, is located in the middle of the city and has activities for all ages including paddle boats.
The Central Park Rose Garden, located at the Wright Avenue entrance of park, has more than 4,000 multi-colored bushes and garnered third place int he 2010 America’s Best Rose Garden award.
On Friday night on the banks of the Mohawk River, watch the U.S. Water Ski Show Team practice barefoot skiing off a wooden ski jump and their four level human pyramid.
On Saturday morning, the Greenmarket has more than 60 vendors who produce everything they sell. The star of the market is Saratoga Peanut Butter Company’s “Adirondack Jack” – a heavenly jarred combination of almond butter, peanut butter and cranberries.
Be sure to explore The Open Door Bookstore and Gift Gallery, a unique emporium featuring local writers and uncommon gifts.
Jumpin’ Jacks Drive-In, is an authentic roadside charcoal pit. Established in 1952, it still remains a local summer favorite. Here the cook yells your order to the rest of the staff using their unique lingo. Order the “whale fry and twisters” (fish fry and curly fries).
For the young, pierced and tattooed, the gritty Bombers Burrito Bar just might be the best burrito joint in New York. Sample one of their 50 beers and grab some late-night eats.
Chez Daisie has a French country-style ambiance where the crepes are stuffed to near explosion. Snag one of the few tables outdoors on the Jay Street Marketplace pedestrian walkway and scope out the eclectic one-of-a-kind shops to target after breakfast.
One of Schenectady’s famous eateries, Perecca’s Bakery hasn’t changed much since it was established in 1914. The worn wooden floor creaks with every step and the loaves of warm, crusty bread—“shorts,” “longs,” and “rounds”—are stacked in the window, but they don’t stay there for very long.
Even Jack Nicholson fell in love with the bread when he was in town filming the movie Ironweed. Enjoy a traditional Italian sandwich on their famed bread and some tomato pie or head next door to their restaurant for an authentic Italian meal.
Conveniently located right across the street is Civitello’s Italian Pastry Shoppe. Established in 1921, it is best known for its Italian Ice, made from a secret family recipe handed down through generations. The lemon ice is made daily during the summer months and its unique texture, distinguished tangy sweetness and flecks of lemon zest draws lines outside the door.
Villa Italia has over 40 different pastries, mountain-high specialty cakes and creamy gelato. It’s hard to make a decision, but be sure to leave with at least one sfogliatelle, a flaky shell-shaped almond-filled pastry that is an Italian staple.
Enjoy a sophisticated and romantic dinner at Aperitivo Bistro. Sample an array of small plates, indulge in a specialty pizza, and explore their extensive wine selection. Ideal Order: “Tour of Italy” red wine flight, broccoli rabe and sausage pizza, rigatoni with gorgonzola.
Established in 1929, Proctors Theater was famous for its wide array of vaudeville acts and, in 1930, was the site of the first public demonstration of television. It is the shining star of the Schenectady’s revitalization and the anchor of the city’s entertainment district.
From the iconic Phantom of the Opera to the hilarious David Sedaris and the quirky Blue Man Group, Proctors offers an array of entertainment. There are frequent film festivals which revisit forgotten silent classics with live organ accompaniments.
If you are looking for an intimate setting head to The Van Dyke Restaurant and Lounge. The second floor has a legendary stage which has played host to acts from Earl Hines to Chick Corea.
Should you want something a little rowdier try Clinton’s Ditch Bar and Grill across the street, where you’ll find local 20-somethings dancing to Top 40 hits and a back garden with an occasional live band.
Ambition Coffee House and Eatery is a wacky coffee house/eatery/music venue that resembles a Greenwich Village haunt.
Schenectady is located 15 miles northwest of Albany on the banks of the scenic Mohawk River. A 2.5-hour drive from NYC via 1-87N (exit 25) and a little over three hours from Boston via 1-90W (exit 25). Schenectady is serviced by Amtrak. A rental car is ideal as taxis are rather scarce and unreliable.
The Parker Inn is a 23-room hotel ideally located next to Proctor’s Theater and within walking distance to a variety of restaurants and the Jay Street Marketplace. Prices range from $149- $325 per night.
The English Garden is a bed and breakfast built in the 1760s and furnished with antiques. Book in advance as there are only five rooms and keep in mind there is no AC. Prices range from $110-$165 per night
The Inn at Glen Sanders Mansion is a 22-room hotel situated on the Mohawk River. Enjoy a two-person jacuzzi, gas fireplaces, sleigh beds and private patios. Prices range from $154 for a standard room to $350 for a suite.
By Shannon Krause for PeterGreenberg.com. Visit Shannon on the Web at http://travelingolive.com.