Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Highlight reel

When you’re at the top of your game and in a class of your own, there are more than enough people waiting for you to fail. This theory transcends sports, where certain dynastic teams and even star players are so unabashedly loathed that a good deal of fans will even cheer at the first sight of cracks forming in their seemingly impenetrable shield of success. In fact, this is the very nature of sport, where the act of succeeding is only fun when you’re among those looking down from the top.

So the doom-and-gloom propagated by the media Tuesday came as little surprise after the New York Racing Association announced the lacking attendance figures at the Saratoga Race Course. Of course, most cognizant viewers and readers realize this abrupt downtrend in racing fans was a product of the bombshell laid on opening day last week, when Mother Nature threatened to turn the grandstand into a makeshift Noah’s Ark for the rich.

All this was followed with a weekend forecast that seemed to mimic the Weather Channel’s recent series on tropical storms. Those who booked their trips in advance plodded through the thundershowers, which all but ruined the city’s Hat’s Off celebration on Saturday. Regional track goers did what they always do when the weather looks dreary: They stayed home. With six weeks of track season, anyone within a 30-mile radius of Saratoga Springs can readily make plans to go another weekend.

“We came into the 2008 Saratoga meet knowing that the economy, gas prices and a particularly early start in July would result in business declines compared to a record 2007,” explained NYRA President Charles Hayward. “But ultimately, we’re more dependent on the weather than anything.”

Naturally, there were a few fear-mongers in the media that picked up these less-than-reassuring words and ran with them. Unfortunately, one of these fear mongers was ESPN Network columnist Paul Moran, who lambasted the slow start and offered it as evidence of Saratoga’s impending demise.

“Wet weather during the meeting's first week is partly to blame for the pronounced if not troubling slump in betting and attendance but nature is not the only force at work here,” he wrote in the column published Tuesday. “The public response to the $7.50 can of beer, $12 martini, $15 glass of wine, $45 steak, the $450-a-day six-seat box, $10 on-track parking and $500-a-night no-star hotel room may be the indicators that summer in Saratoga has reached critical mass.”

Saratoga has reached critical mass? Well then that explains the ceaseless procession of new restaurants and hotels that seem to be showing up in any corner where the city allows them. That must also explain the state’s recent multi-million dollar commitment to expand the City Center and the millions NYRA recently plunged into improvements at the track. Yes Paul, it sure does look like Saratoga Springs is about to enter a long depression. Maybe that explains why developers are willing to build $500,000 condominiums that overlook Congress Park.

True, the Spa City is not immune to the economic downtrend that is about to wreck havoc on the upstate economy. But Saratoga summers have been one of the state’s top draws, excluding the more internationally recognized icons of New York City and Niagra Falls. Saratoga lies on a major rail corridor, within a short distance of an international airport and within an easy commute of the state capital. So it’s tough to say “[t]he party, if not quite over, is muted” with a straight face, especially if you’ve driven through the Capital Region’s other failing cities.

Moran’s other point about price gouging is a bit more credible, but not by much. When downtown was struggling to reinvent itself in the 1960s and 1970s, the only real way to capitalize on the track’s success was to lure business with the attractive prices of upstate New York; cheap food, cheap beer, cheap property, cheap women, cheap everything. Back then, the New York City dollar was worth three times as much in the Spa City. And it remained that way well into the 1990s, when the rebirth was complete and Saratoga emerged triumphantly from its fiery ashes.

By the turn of the real estate boom, the city had become so vogue that it’s downtown buildings were being valued at more than 10 times what many owners had paid for them. Rents went up and they were soon followed by prices and expectations. No longer was the standard steak-and-burger place welcome on Broadway, or any other street for that matter. The nouveau riche born out of the mortgage business windfall started demanding the same type of standards they enjoyed in the cosmopolitan areas of the country; designer martinis, chic accommodations, artisan menus and so on.

But these same ingrates haven’t raised their price expectations. They still think the pursuit of this living downtown will run them the same as it did three decades ago. Here in lies Moran’s quandary.

The truth is Saratoga is every bit as affordable as it once was. The only difference is that the high society living is once again being confined to those plutocrats who can afford it. The rest of us plebeians must forgo the Godiva Chocolate martinis, the 14-ounce Black Angus filet mignon and a chauffeured ride from the luxury suites overlooking the city.

That’s alright though. Procuring a dozen cold bottles of John K. Labatt’s finest blue label beer at the corner A-Plus costs a whopping $9.99, just $2 more than it did during racing season 15 years ago. There’s no need to fork over a Hamilton for parking, when the city is teaming with side streets where the parking is free and the walk to the track is pleasant. Instead of squandering $45 on a char-grilled steak downtown, the money could easily be invested in small hibachi, a side of cow and all the other accoutrements for a good ol’ fashion barbeque.

This is simple living cut from the opulence of Whitney galas and Ferraris, but it’s every bit as enjoyable. In fact, the editorial staff here at iSaratoga has found this sort of living more fulfilling than any drag through the highfalutin times of the rich. Perhaps it’s something Moran should take into account before his next column cheering for the demise of Saratoga.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Horatio, you are absolutely right.
There are many ways for the up and coming to maintain a Saratoga lifestlye....

Today's Post Star
SARATOGA SPRINGS — With weapons drawn, city police descended on a dark-colored BMW on Tuesday night at the corner of Broadway and Lake Avenue and apprehended a couple suspected of committing a bank robbery in the town of Colonie.

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


In the words of BUTCH (our eternally geood friend Mr. Newman)- "I got vision and the rest of the world's wearing bifocals."

My enigmatic friend, you nailed it spot on.

Our Fair City will thrive in the troubled times ahead. This is not the first forum I've used to state my case. Call me a visionary...or Ishael. BUT--

OUR TOWN will not merely survive, but we will thrive.

OUR JUNE was "down" due to the public shock of the gas madness. They/We were simply stunned into inaction.

OUR FUTURE will be the damnably-named "Stay*Cation."

THE TRACK will survive the characters known as NYRA.

OUR BROADWAY will flourish thanks to spectacular merchants and City Center Expansion.

OUR TAX REVENUEs will reflect on the wisdom of those who "opted out" of the County formula. I was not here for that debate and I could not foresee today's troubles. But our vibrant and thriving town will EARN our tax dollars and we will BENEFIT from our hard-earned wisdom.

Meanwhile, back in Albany...

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saratoga looks more like a cheap imitation of Lake George Village each day. If that'd 'progress' -- you can have it.

2:24 AM  
Blogger Huck Finn said...

Rock on Horatio. Sonny B. and Tommy R. are building way too many over priced condos, and for the love of Pete, I don't know where these people are coming from. Perhaps all these folks will need a downtown ghetto Chopper after all.

6:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post Ho. Moran's take was mostly over the top. He was right, though, about the no-star hotels. There is no hotel of any real distinction and class in our town. Saratoga Arms is an above average B and B essentially, but the rest are for the dogs.

Fish Creek Lunker

8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe we should have an actual residency requirement. Live in that high priced condo you bought in 12866 for say 4 months out of the year, or it gets seized by eminent domain.

The only potential downside is that you might end up living under Kyle - drip, drip, drip. : )

Oh, with thatI hearby throw my hat in the ring to run for commissioner of common sense. My complete platform will be revealed soon, like T. Boone i think i'll just say it is coming.

However, these appointments are announced immediately:

1- K York - asst. comm. 4 cultivated senility and water terrorism,
2- S.I.T. Dark- asst. comm. 4 public relations and property seizure
3- H Alger- Department historian and "key to City" dispenser.
4- H. Finn - no appointment but you do get to take Becky Thatcher to the Malta Drive-in.

We will accept a draft and will accept election by acclimation. I cannot tell a lie.

9:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All you have to do is look at Saratoga's own history to see that booms don't last forever. Those of us of a certain age can remember when you could have almost any mansion on North Broadway for $10K, and crumbling piles of old hotels were everywhere, until they burnt mysteriously. Saratoga will have its ups and downs. Traffic is definitely down this year--ask real estate agents about rentals--a lot of people didn't book that used to.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saratoga has a lot to offer. But it is unfortunate that people will drive out of town to Malta or Ballston Spa to have a good, affordable meal and/or drinks that won't break the bank. (A person can eat only so many hotdogs and italian ices... love the hotdog vendor on Broadway.) Price gouging also chases away the locals from their favorite spots.

Yes, the weather has been against the racing season so far. But we are just entering August. Hope springs eternal!

8:39 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...


Frankly, it has always amazed me that folks flock to the downtown restaurants with such vigor. In actually, the food has gotten MARKEDLY better, but that's not saying much. August is a bad time --perhaps the worst time --to eat out in Saratoga. Most of the restaurants here aren't staffed or even constructed to accommodate the masticating hordes.

Frankly, if I eat out in August it's to get something REAL simple. Maybe some wings at Peabody's on a Monday or Tuesday night. Flocking to BSpa and Malta are wise moves for food connoisseurs and the pennywise, but they miss out on the Spa City atmosphere, which is 10 times as valuable as any dead plant or animal one might consume. That, in essence, is another reason people pay out the ying yang for a bite of something they probably could have fabricated at home with a few brain cells and a cookbook.


I was really aspiring to be 'dictator supreme' if that position isn't taken.

Fish Creek,

I can't argue. In my many years here, the only hotel rooms I've seen are the Downtowner and the Holiday Inn. But in my experiences abroad, I've got to say, you can have the nicest hotel on the planet and it won't make your experience any better if it's located 10 miles away from the action. Some of my best overnight stays have been at dives that clearly weren't worth what I paid, but located right in the heart of things.

Take for instance, the Royal Sonesta in New Orleans. While nice in the lobby, the place was a fucking dump. I found a bloody tampon wrapper lying on the floor when I checked in with a few cronies. But the joint was within spiting distance of Bourbon Street and worth every penny after a few hurricanes(no pun intended), the better half of a bourbon bottle and a few other substances I can't readily recall.


I often wrestle with the 'old' Saratoga and its current incarnation. I have friend who return to the city after being away five years and they don't even recognize it. I vividly remember the times when I could saddle up to E. O'Dwyers for $5 pitcher or six; going out with three friends and coming home with nine with the sun rising over the city. Or rolling into Aiko's on a snowy winter night with a 25-cent 32-ounce soda cup from the A-Plus in hand; they'd fill it for a dollar and I'd sit by the fire with friends getting shellacked. I can recall going to the 'Corsales' building back in the day, when you could wander from the upstairs apartments over the rooftops on Caroline Street and duck through the glass-free windows to sip 40s with the derelicts. Or the urban exploration at the old Van Raalte mill in all its ruined glory. I remember ice skating and hockey games in the Excelsior rink, where if you got too close to the boards, you risked getting caught up in the chain-link fencing they had instead of glass. I fondly recall making out with a gorgeous strawberry blond I picked up from Lillian's one summer night in a dirt parking lot across from dirty Putnam Street garage and an abandoned building, where now the library, Ice House and Doc's Steakhouse now stand; the cacophony of music and the crowd at the Golden Grill rollicking on nearby. Or the 'bluelight' parties that used to stir up the Ghetto on the west side.

I cherish these memories and was once bitter about the gentrification of Saratoga; the transformation of the city from what was once my urban playground into the polished, restricted-access funroom of the uber-wealthy. But as I've grown older, I still find the same pleasures I once did. They're a little bit more difficult to find, and you have to weed your way through a fair amount of assholes, but they're still there for our enjoyment. You just have to look a bit harder these days.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still look at photos of Marcia White and ask my self "WTF qualifies her to run SPAC?"

She personifies the corruption of Joe Bruno.

9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The good ol days were when the Golden Grill was still on Congress Street and the neighborhood bars were still located throughout the city.

11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Add to that list of fond memories kicking back at the ice house, with blaring music and a cheap bucket Rocks.

How about La La's on Broadway, with awesome wings and strangely good middle-aged cover bands.

And then Pope's Pizza, when it was right downtown.

Fond memories...

10:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about a new post! This is all crap that you post!

6:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look at SPAC's finances, they have turned around since she arrived. I guess you would rather see some ballet slippered artsy doing the job, I'll take someone with connections and a work ethic anytime

4:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No--I just want to see a competent manager.

We'll see about her 'work ethic' and 'connections' and (most importantly) her competence now that the initial "ooops, we must save SPAC" effort is done and behind us.

Now the reality hits. The numbers are down for the season, costs continue to skyrocket, and the company that manages the special events is in trouble.

And of course, Ms W's boyfriend is no longer there to bail her out with member line items.

But we're stuck with a former political hack's press officer as the CEO of SPAC. Ain't life grand?

Where do I puke?

12:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The photo of MaryLou Whitney and Marcia White is worth 1,000 yuks. Two face-lift addicts in white suits trying to look like they know how to get things done when their only real talents were to find a rich guy, grab his wallet and hang on for dear life!

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But they arrest streetwalkers for the same crime!

8:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gives me the creeps--these people hopping on older ones just to get at their money. Yuk.

There's 3 textbook examples of this right up there in that photo.

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today’s Times Union….

ALBANY - About 2,700 property owners along the Hudson River from Fort Edward to Troy are being warned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that toxic PCBs could be on land prone to river flooding.”

And just think, Saratoga County elected officials are going to start piping this same shit into all of our homes.

Lucky us.

9:46 PM  

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