What makes Albany, NY a cool place to live?
August 2, 2007 8:48 PM   Subscribe

What makes Albany, NY a cool place to live? I recently accepted a job that's going to take me there in a few months, and I must admit, I know next to nothing about the place.

What's it like there in terms of food, music, culture, weather, etc?

What can one do in Albany? Can one take a train to New York City, Boston, Montreal, anywhere else that's cool? How much would that cost?

Is it scenic? Are there lots of parks? Camping? Mountains? Rivers? Lakes?

What's the traffic like? Is there a lot of crime?

Any information, no matter how random or miniscule, would be appreciated. I am trying to get excited about my move, but I know nothing about this place.
posted by scooterdman to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
There is still a decent independent bookstore there. A friend who's moved up there hosts karoake poetry every so often(check the site for details--it doesn't have to be something you written). If you have AAA you can get a discount for Amtrak and Regal cinemas (after ten days).
posted by brujita at 9:09 PM on August 2, 2007

You've written
posted by brujita at 9:10 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I took a few short trips to Albany over the past year. I was in the city center the entire time, so I don't have a great overall view of the area. But I did pick up a few tidbits.

Anyway, there is a nearby Amtrak station (technically Rensselaer, which is across the Hudson). When I made my first trip, I ended up taking the "Maple Leaf" from Albany to NYC.

Also, while I was there, locals would recommend Jack's Oyster House.
posted by jennyesq at 9:25 PM on August 2, 2007

Best answer: Well, I grew up in Albany...

Do you drink? There are some GREAT bars in Albany. We are known for it, really...what else do politicians do...
Mahar's is a beer-drinker's paradise. McGeary's, the Big House. These are "beer" bars.

There are also a ton of crappy little holes, such as Paulie's Hotel (the oldest continuously run bar in Albany), and my "family bar" (which is not owned by anyone in my family, but it was around the corner from my house, hence we all drank there) Lynn's Uptown Tavern. Lynn's was the Ironhorse forever and ever, and many people still call it that. It is the finest in gin mill boozery. Keep in mind that the bars in Albany clsoe at 4AM. W00t! There is also the Barge, kind of a one-trick party bar, but fun sometimes.

Not a ton of really great eats, but some all-stars. When we do it, we do it right-- specifically, Jack's Oyster House. There is also Lombardo's For brunch there is the Madison Ends. There are other really fine places downtown by the capital, and some excellent places in the suburbs as well. Good, cheap Indian at Shalimar on Central. Good Vietnamese on Delaware at My Linh. The Bagel Bite is out o this world-- also on Delaware.
Here is a Chow Hound thread about Albany-- mostly up to date:

The area's indie movie house is on Delaware as well. It is called the Spectrum. Tours of the Capital are actually fun and not too dorky. Lark Street is small but it is the indie part of Albany, what with the head shops and the tattoos and such. There is a festival there every year called, you guessed it, Larkfest. I believe that is in September. One of my favorite Albany traditions is the Tulip festival, complete with a Tulip Queen contest and a festival. That is in May. Summertime sees live music down by the capital-- that is Alive at Five. Many of the bars have great live music as well. Look for the Tom Healy Band!

In the summer you can also travel to Saratoga for the races and the finery that happens there in August. It sounds really kind of odd, but it is great.

There is tons of excellent, beautiful architecture in Albany, as it is a super old Dutch city (we date back to 1686!). So just walking around downtown and looking at all that stuff can be wonderful. The NYS museum is a bit lame, but the Albany Institute of History and Art is nice.

Getting to NYC is relatively easy by bus, and a little more challenging by train. The train station is in Rensselaer (Right-- we have a lot of Dutch names for things, too, so Renssalaer, regardless of its Dutch pronunciation, is said Ren-Suh-Leer or Renn-Sler. Hey, you asked for minuscule). You are very close (an hour or so) to Lake George and various other beautiful Adirondack locations.

Let me think some more and talk to my sister. Email in profile for questions, but if you had some more specifics about wher eyouwill be and what you like to do...
posted by oflinkey at 9:37 PM on August 2, 2007

Not too far up the Northway there's Saratoga Springs, which is a town built on a strong foundation of Horse Racing. If you like betting on the ponies, that is. And if you go just a little further north you are in the Adirondack mountains.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 9:40 PM on August 2, 2007

I live in Vermont and travel through Albany on my way to NYC. I went there one year for the Edible Books Festival which was at the Albany Institute for History and Art. I enjoyed it a lot. The thing I really like about Albany besides the fact that it's on the loveliest river in the world, is that you can take a train to NYC in a few hours or go the other way and be in rural Vermont in an hour or so. I think Montreal's pretty simple by train from there but with border crossings I'm not sure if that's still true. Albany is sort of a pain to drive in or through but it's a neat destination and has a lot of funky architecture and capital city stuff in it.

From Wikipedia we learn that it's the most populous place named Albany on the whole planet and the fourth oldest city in the US and a minor league hockey team called the Albany River Rats.
posted by jessamyn at 9:45 PM on August 2, 2007

I grew up in Schenectady County, about 40 minutes from Albany itself.

Albany itself is fine but boring. Music Shack is a fine independent music store and The Spectrum is a fine movie theater...and the capitol is neat to look at...and...erm...I'm not sure what else. Oh, there's The Egg. And that's about it, aside from the very nice train station which can spit you out in Montreal, NYC, Vermont, or wherever.

However, the region itself has a lot to offer. The wilderness is beautiful and but a quick drive away. Adirondacks, Lake George, Saratoga National Historical Park, whatever. Saratoga is a lovely college town, and although I've never been to the racetrack, it's quite an attraction to some people. Most people get a kick out of its main drag, with its shops and attractions.

Nearby Troy and Schenectady (the three cities form the Capital Region) are a little frayed at the edges, but the architecture is gorgeous and there are nonetheless sights to be seen. Just don't get caught in Hamilton Hill after dark.

I don't know the specifics of crime, but it's highly dependent on where you are living exactly. Are you living in the city itself or one of the exurbs?

(To be perfectly frank, and this has very little to do with your original question, but I feel inclined to mention it: the Schenectady County Public Library (Main Branch) will always be one of my favorite libraries. There. I said it.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:05 PM on August 2, 2007

the Albany Institute of History and Art is nice

Very true.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:14 PM on August 2, 2007

Winter Sports. Albany is a great area for winter sports. Decent skiing is not too far away. Lake Placid (olympic skiing) is a two hour drive. Plenty of places to play hockey. Albany even has a curling club (and if you have never curled before, it is funny and easy to learn (though impossible to master), and curling clubs are usually looking for new members). If you like winter sports, winter in Albany is not so bad.
posted by Flood at 10:18 PM on August 2, 2007

A recent thread had much extolling of the Capital District's virtues.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:18 PM on August 2, 2007

I originally am from Albany and my entire family still lives there. One thing I love about the area is how affordable it is to buy a home there. I love the brownstones off of Lark Street, downtown, and third the gorgeous architectural sights.

Bombers Burrito shop is one of my favorite places to eat and drink. There is a wide variety of really tasty, authentic, diners in the area with the Latham 76 as one we've been going to forever. They are in the process of renovating the Colonie Center and have just put in a Cheesecake Factory if chains are your thing. I also seem to remember a good coffee shop on Wolf Road which is just up the street from the Center.

Boston is 3 hours away, the Berkshires are 45 minutes away, and NYC is a 2 hour drive. The Berkshires are gorgeous and Tanglewood is a must do in the summer.
posted by dagnyduquette at 5:02 AM on August 3, 2007

I've lived in the area all my life... It's a nice location; right at the borders of NY, MA, and VT, and an easy drive (or train ride) to Montreal, NYC, and Boston.

Over the last few years, Albany has been on an upswing, with lots of high-tech corporations and R&D facilities being built here. In the next 5 years, Albany has the potential to have a booming tech sector job market.

These links may help with your questions:

City-Data (a ton of info, stats, and photos)

Albany.com (lots of info)

NWS (weather info)

Albany Events (special events, festivals, etc.)

Times Union (Albany's crappy newspaper)

Metroland (Albany's great, free, independent newspaper - great resource for restaurant reviews, movie & show info, art, etc.)

BestPlaces.net (a pretty good overview)

Insider Reviews (user-submitted reviews)

Cafe Capriccio (my favorite Italian restaurant in Albany)

My Linh (a great Vietnamese restaurant)

Spectrum 8 (the best independent movie theater in Albany)

Tess' Lark Tavern (shameless plug for my friend's place - food, drinks, live music, very mixed crowd ~ young/old, gay/straight/, politicians/students)

Albany Pro Sports (local pro sports)

Lake George (1 hour from Albany - popular tourist town ~ nice lake, mountain trails, hotels & camping, amusement parks, outlet shopping)

Prime Outlets (45-minutes from Albany - outlet shopping)

Crossgates Mall (the largest shopping mall & multi-plex movie theaters in the area)
posted by NYScott at 5:10 AM on August 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

Also in Saratoga, a bit north of the capital is Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) - a great venue for music of any kind. The pavillion is set in the forest of a park with unbelievable acoustics. It is also a lovely little town with a great Indian restaurant.
posted by bluesky43 at 6:20 AM on August 3, 2007

Is the Palais Royale still around? I heard that Rocky passed away so I don't know if they closed their doors. I miss that place. Where else could I enjoy cheap beer, talk with friends, and play Dolly Parton pinball--all while listening to the Utica Club theme song.
posted by toddst at 6:33 AM on August 3, 2007

What's it like there in terms of food, music, culture, weather, etc?

There's a very wide selection of food in Albany, ranging from standard fare diners to various ethic cuisine.

There are a lot of concerts going on in several different concert venues, though Albany does not attract a lot of the big name pop stars. You can see some of the more popular acts during the summer concert series at Saratoga though.

Culture? Ok, I'll admit, culture is a bit of a weak point here. We've got a few gems like the aforementioned museum, and the plays in the area are alright, but it's certainly not a cultural mecca.

It's a standard fare temperate zone as far as weather is concerned. Summers are hot, winters are cold. Snowfall is a crapshoot year-by-year.

What can one do in Albany? Can one take a train to New York City, Boston, Montreal, anywhere else that's cool? How much would that cost?

Trains and busses run from Albany to NYC, Boston, and Montreal. They generally cost ~60 and take 3-4 hours. Perfect for daytrips. You're also a 4 hour drive from Philadelphia if big cities are your thing, and 1-2 hours away from most of Vermont if you'd prefer small towns.

Is it scenic? Are there lots of parks? Camping? Mountains? Rivers? Lakes?

Albany itself is not scenic. I mean, it's a city with a lot of old buildings with cool architecture and whatnot, and theres a smattering of parks--the largest of which, Washington Park, IS quite nice--and it's right on the Hudson river, but that is far from scenic. However, the capital region (albany, schenectady, troy, and saratoga) is not very large, so you're only an hour drive to the country where you can take in all the nature you want.

What's the traffic like? Is there a lot of crime?

Traffic is a breeze. "Rush hour" means that your commute will take an extra 5 minutes. Statistics show an "average" amount of crime in the area given the size of the city, but I've lived here for 7 years and haven't experienced anything beyond a hit-and-run on my parked car.

Any information, no matter how random or miniscule, would be appreciated. I am trying to get excited about my move, but I know nothing about this place.

You'll probably encounter a lot of people who hate Albany and the Capital Region. There's definitely a lot of perceptive negativity, but I'd stronlgy recommend you keep your head clear of that and figure out for yourself whether or not you like the area. Everyone I've met who hates the area hates it for not being something that it never claimed to be.

Also, you don't state in your initial question whether you'll be in the area for a long time or just for a project. We have a lot of the conveniences of a city without a lot of the overpopulated crap that goes along with it, which is great for living, but it also means we don't have tourist attractions, we have a weaker artistic scene, and less money to fund public events. I'll be the first to say this: Albany IS a cool place to live, but Albany IS NOT a cool place to visit.
posted by coryinabox at 6:52 AM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

The train to NYC is a great ride- it's down along the river the whole way. Looks like it's $59 each way.

The public library there is part of UHLS, which is more than 30 libraries, and if you join one, you can use them all, and some of them are really good.
posted by MtDewd at 6:58 AM on August 3, 2007

I'm yet another person who grew up in the Albany area but no longer lives there. As far as culture goes, the one thing that people are missing is the WAMC (local public radio station) Performing Arts Center, now called the Linda Norris Auditorium. They get pretty good acts there, I saw Rasputina when I was in town, Richard Buckner played a couple weeks ago.


Also, as far as Vietnamese food goes, I think that Van's on Central Ave is excellent. If you're there in the summer, Kurver Kreme further out Central is a fantastic ice cream stand.
posted by chacal at 7:20 AM on August 3, 2007

Albany was very good to me in my college years.

If you are familiar with NYS cities other than Albany you can appreciate how nice Albany is. For such a tiny city I think it can hold its own against Rochester and has way more soul than Syracuse. Which is to say nothing of the dismal little cities like Rome and Utica which will make you question the existence of god.

So far some very nice things have been said about Albany. Let me add a few things outside of Albany that I loved doing.

The Berkshires are absolutely gorgeous in autumn and winter. If you are the outdoorsy sort please camp and hiker here.

I love the Adirondacks in the summer. Even driving through them on the county roads is a wonderful bit of site seaing. Lake George is a bit touristy, but very nice off season. Saranac Lake is a super cute town with a brewery.

North Adams, MA is not too far a drive away and they have an amazing museum. They had a Thomas Cole and JMW Turner exhibit that made me cry it was so good, and it is snuggled in a tiny college town about an hour and a half away.

Finally, if Freemasons creep you out, there are several dozen graveyards in the city and surrounds that are jam packed with headstones with Freemason symbols etched on them. You will wet yourself in terror if you are anything like me.

Albany isn't some up and coming city where hipsters will flock to anytime soon. But it is a nice enough place to live with Montreal and NYC a few hours drive away.
posted by munchingzombie at 7:47 AM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I emailed an Albany friend and he suggested I add this:

Dirty Dan's Diner on Washington. Washington Tavern (WT's) deserves a mention because of their wonderful Guinness. Certainly the Orchard for it's pizza.

The Orchard Pizza is really out of this world. You get your own little 9x11 personal pizza and the crust...oh the crust....

There's Sovrano's, Lou-Bea's, Beff's, a million places to get Italian rolls and bread. There is an Italian place downtown that looks like it was put in a disco...great food, though. I focus on food, can you tell?

As someone said upthread, there are many Capital region haters out there. The Wiki entry even talks about the "Smallbany " mindset. Please make up your own mind. I have lived in Buffalo for 14 years so I know all about coming to a region that has a bad reputation but finding the beauty anyhow. I have realized that Albany is pretty good-- if you want the big-city experience, it is not far away. But you can leave it there and come back to a place that is still a city, but a bit less frenetic.

Like anyone here from the Capital region, I have a million contacts back there. Let me know if you need anything.
posted by oflinkey at 9:33 AM on August 3, 2007

Response by poster: Great stuff, people. Thanks a bunch for the help. I will be moving there in a few months and should be there for at least a few years (which should give me enough time to you guys up on all these suggestions!)

I do have a few more questions:

Do the local major network affiliates carry the New York Jets during football season? Growing up in Florida, I had to go to bars to watch Jets games every week.

Where can I find the best deal for cable and Internet? Do multiple companies compete, or is Time Warner the only game in town?
posted by scooterdman at 10:17 AM on August 3, 2007

oflinkey: "Mahar's is a beer-drinker's paradise. McGeary's, the Big House. These are "beer" bars."

Let me tell you, this is the only thing I miss about the Albany area. Mahar's is the fucking bomb.
posted by Plutor at 10:43 AM on August 3, 2007

I went to college there and the best part of Albany for me was all the places to go swimming in the summer. There are so many waterfalls and swimming holes within a 45 minute drive. Really some of the prettiest places I have ever seen. Poestenkill Falls, Rennselearville Falls...
Then you drive and hour or two into the Catskills and the Adirondacks and the choices are limitless.
Maybe the thought of that will help you get through the nasty dirty winters there.
posted by smithygreg at 11:16 AM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Answers to your two newest questions:

Yes, every Jets game will be available on television, on whichever network airs AFC games (CBS, right?).

Time Warner is your only option for cable. You might be able to get DSL but I don't know anyone that has it. Time Warner has combo packages for phone, internet and cable that are pretty reasonable. I pay $100/month for digital cable, DVR service, and internet. I'm pretty sure you can add phone service for another $20.
posted by christonabike at 11:23 AM on August 3, 2007

"Do the local major network affiliates carry the New York Jets during football season?"

Yes, but not always... It depends on who they're playing (you'll always see a Jets v. Dolphins, or Bills game), and how well they're doing (if they're 0-4, the affiliates may opt for some other game).

"Where can I find the best deal for cable and Internet? Do multiple companies compete, or is Time Warner the only game in town?"

Time Warner is the local monopoly for cable TV, sadly... You can always opt for satellite, but having no experience w. satellites, I can't recommend how well they work during winter.

As for Internet access, you have TW Cable (RoadRunner) or DSL. No fiber yet, as far as I know.

By the way, are you buying a home or renting?
posted by NYScott at 11:26 AM on August 3, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the new answers. I will be renting, at least for a few years until I can save enough for a down payment on a house. I am actually glad you asked, because that is a consideration I haven't yet thought of. (I'll be training on Long Island, and won't land in Albany until Nov-Dec)

I read somewhere else on MetaFilter that renting somewhere around Lark St., Washington Park and Center Square puts you in the midst of Albany's arsty scene. Is that true?

I am young (25), and would prefer to live around other young people if possible. Any suggestions?
posted by scooterdman at 12:38 PM on August 3, 2007

scooterdman: "I am young (25), and would prefer to live around other young people if possible. Any suggestions?"

Would "don't move to Albany" be inappropriately wisecracky?

posted by Plutor at 1:59 PM on August 3, 2007

Response by poster: No. In fact, it is not a requirement that I live in Albany. Any of the surrounding areas would be fine. Are there better places to live outside the Albany city limits?
posted by scooterdman at 2:23 PM on August 3, 2007

Scooterdman, yes, that is the area to live in, but make sure you have an Albany contact to tell you if the micro-neighborhood is ok--some blocks are better than others. There are other areas with younger people, but that is the hot spot.

Plutor, :P~
I like Albany. I think there is plenty there to offer (and all without the driving hell of Boston, or the Red Sox! And *that* is always a plus... ;) )
posted by oflinkey at 2:25 PM on August 3, 2007

Renting around Lark Street/Washington Park will put you in the middle of the (very small) artsy scene, but there are some trade-offs to consider, like the horrible parking situation (particularly when it snows & you can only park on odd/even sides of the street for a few days), and the foot-traffic noise (drunks stumbling out of the bars), and the sketchy neighboring streets, and the fact that you'll pay more & get less. But I'm biased, as if that weren't obvious... ;o)

A good resource for apartment complexes is Renters Guide, and for flats, craigslist is, of course, another resource.

If you have any other questions, feel free to send an email (My username here @ googlemail).
posted by NYScott at 4:41 PM on August 3, 2007

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