Eph Traveler: Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Located an hour-and-a-half drive northwest of Williamstown, Saratoga Springs is hardly an undiscovered outpost. The city is known worldwide for horse racing, and during the summertime you are bound to rub shoulders with everyone from movie stars to the Emir of Dubai at the betting windows of the 150-year-old race course or, later on in the evening, at swanky restaurants like the Gideon Putnam. And while the end of the racing season after Labor Day sends most of the wealthy vacationers packing, the return of students to Skidmore College around the same time portends the beginning of a more bohemian and affordable season – the perfect time to pay a visit for a weekend away Williamstown.

What to do

While the flat track and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), which nearly all big-name musicians include on their tours, are Saratoga’s main attractions during the summertime, there is still plenty left to do in fall and winter. Downtown is as vibrant as ever, and with Skidmore students’ Birkenstocks and dreadlocks crowding out stiletto heals and flamboyant summer hats, the sidewalks take on a less haughty and more down-to-earth vibe. Notable downtown to-dos include visits to the recently expanded Uncommon Grounds café and Borders bookstore as well as, of course, window shopping. Visitors would also do well to spend some time exploring Congress Park, whose beautiful sculptures and reflecting pools make the perfect setting for an afternoon stroll or nap on the grass. For more rigorous engagement with the landscape, set aside part of the day for a hike up nearby Hadley Mountain, whose fire tower gives sweeping views of the southeastern Adirondack foothills, or around Saratoga National Battlefield, the site of a decisive American victory during the Revolution. There’s even some solace for those who feel left out by the end of the track season. Harness racing and gambling run year-round at the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, but be warned: The venue has neither the energy nor glamour of the summer track and as for the gaming room, its crowd of slot-lever pulling zombies might give more fun-seeking amateurs second thoughts.

Where to eat/drink

If you’re looking for cheap, good food in Saratoga, then drive to Albany. That said, what’s here is worth the money. For an ideal night of ingesting and imbibing, start at One Caroline St. Bistro for dinner and then work your way down the off-Broadway side street’s crowded bar scene (for those of age). One Caroline’s brick and wood-paneled interior provides a dining atmosphere of relaxed elegance that is on many nights further warmed by the strains of live contemporary jazz and blues. Owners David and Diane Pedinotti often feature vocal performances by their daughter, Sarah, who can be heard regularly on local radio stations with her band, Railbird. The restaurant’s specialty is Creole and Southern fare, and first-time visitors would do well to start off with the jambalaya which, although steep at $28, is sure to keep you well satisfied through a night of responsible drinking. After quitting One Caroline, take a stroll across the street to Desperate Annie’s, whose back-corner dartboard does a good job standing in for the clandestine college Beirut table. If your aim gets poor after a few pints, head to the end of the block, where Saratoga City Tavern’s four bars – each on a different floor – offer everything from live rock to DJ’d hip-hop. A midnight snack up the street at Hot Dog Charlie’s or more drinking at Gaffney’s makes a good third stop – after that, let your tolerance be your guide.

Where to shop

In comparison with Spring Street’s paltry retail offerings, shopping in downtown Saratoga leaves few items to be picked up at the mall. Stores like Banana Republic, Gap and Eddie Bauer sit comfortably aside well-stocked local boutiques such as Saratoga Shoe Depot. More than clothing and apparel, however, Saratoga is notable for the range of specialty shops that dot Broadway and the surrounding streets: Soave Faire offers an interesting mix of odds and ends, such as cards and sculptures, and also includes a fully stocked section of professional art supplies. At Saratoga Guitar there is a wide selection of instruments for sale as well as a significant library of sheet music. Jewelry-makers might take an interest in Saratoga Beads, located on Henry Street, while comic-book and role-playing aficionados will surely be at home in Space City Comics. If for some reason you can only make one stop, be sure to check out Lyrical Ballad Bookstore on Phila Street. The shop, which is located in the maze-like basement of a building that used to house a bank, specializes in rare and antique books, with the most valuable items stored in the bank’s original walk-in vault.

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