Blogs > Millennial Traveler

New and traditional ways of exploring the globe, and your own backyard.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tips for Doing a Polar Plunge

After a few years' hiatus, I'm apparently doing the New Year's Day Lake George Polar Plunge again (for the eighth time) with my friend Marty who has never done it before.

So now, I'm wracking my brain trying to remember the things that I always told myself I should do/bring the next time I do it.

I figured other crazy folks that are also doing the polar swim might benefit from such a compilation.

The list goes as such:

Warm socks - I cannot emphasize enough how I really wondered the first time I did this swim if I'd ever be able to feel either of my feet again. After about an hour, I finally had sensation in my big toes and the rest of the foot eventually came around as well. Since that first year, I've brought warmer socks. Maybe it was the socks or maybe it was my body slowly becoming accustomed to my insane tradition of jumping in 40-degree (if I was lucky) water with friends - but the experience has gotten better.

Loose, warm clothes - Wear your swimsuit (or whatever you plan to wear) underneath your clothes. Some years I've just worn my fleece jammies which seems to work well.

Blankets/Towels - These help for a few reasons: they're good to stand on when you're waiting to go in with bare feet and they're good for drying off afterward. Bring a few so you have one to stand on, one to dry off with, and one to wrap around yourself while you're freezing.

(beautiful day for a swim - and by "swim" I mean run in and run out)

*Don't strip until you're just about to go in*- There's no point in just standing in 20-degree or colder temperatures in a bikini, two piece, thong, Santa outfit, or Spiderman suit for a longer period of time than is necessary. (Tomorrow's forecast, by the way, calls for a high of 21-degrees) The even organizers usually do a countdown. Maybe, start stripping then. I made this mistake of exposure for too long the one year I jumped off the pier. While that was fun, waiting was not.

Water shoes - Properly sized water shoes are a good idea. People always talk about people cutting themselves on the rocks with their bare feet, not because the rocks are sharp but because their skin is so frag-ee-le from the cold. And I say "properly sized" because I have worn slightly-too-big water shoes and those were just kinda annoying.

Silly attire - Half the fun of going to the Polar Plunge - even if it's just to observe - is looking at all the people in their creative costumes. Sometimes it's a New Year's Baby-theme, or a motorcycle helmet, or a couple Hawaiian leis. But it's fun seeing people get really into the event.

(this was from the year I jumped off the Pier - as you can see, sometimes the weather is less than ideal)

Warm thermos - This year - I don't think I've done it before - I want to bring a thermos with a nice, pipping hot beverage. What that beverage will be, I haven't yet decided. But it will be hot. Also, thinking of bringing a snow/water tube. Hmmm....

Friends - Sure you can make friends there but, seriously, the whole point of this is to be merry with people who you like, enjoy spending time with, and care about. That is honestly the only reason I'm doing it again this year. Well, that and I'm figuring I should do this once every decade and since I haven't done this yet while I've been in my 30s, I thought I'd get it out of the way until I reach my 40s.

If you go:
The Lake George Polar Plunge is at 1pm on New Year's Day at Shepard's Park
Parking can be a nuisance so be prepared to walk a bit unless you come early
Registration, including a T-shirt and certificate, can be done at a local pub, Duffy's, before the event or even the night before but the day of there is usually a big line. It's $10 and goes to local charities.
In the past, they've waited a bit for the line to decrease and/or have done two "waves" of people going into the water to accommodate.

Also, the Grafton Lakes State Park usually does a Polar Swim at their annual Winter Festival which is coming up Jan. 25 from 10-4pm. This one may give you a bit more time to mentally prepare. ;)

The Record's Top Five News Stories of 2013

I've said it before and I'll write it again....People love lists, especially at the end of the year while folks are wrapping up one year to prepare for another.

While I was reading AOA's recap of fellow journalists' most interesting stories of 2013 (for which I discussed my favorite subject - Sangamon Mills in Cohoes), I started to wonder what The Record's top stories were.

As it happens, our top news story was an article I wrote based on a tip from a Rensselaer County resident who sent us a photo of a Hoosic Valley yearbook caption which described students as "some tall guy", "Creepy smile kid", and "isolation kid", among others.

The superintendent at the time said that it was an honest mistake. The story went "viral" with rewrites on it by the Huffington Post and it even went across the pond.

Not much has been heard from the yearbook editors or advisers.

But here are our top five stories for 2013, written by yours truly, our former reporter Ian, and current city reporter Andrew:

1- Yearbook Caption Mistake 

2 - State Budget   

3 -  Children's Museum of Science and Technology becomes part of CNSE

4 - Colorectal Cancer Drug Developed by Regeneron Approved for Sale in Europe   

5 - Building in North Central, once slated for Demo, Being Renovated 

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Procrastinator's Guide to Enjoying the Last Holiday Weekend in the Capital District

Sure, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Boxing Day are over but there's still some holiday magic left in the season with Kwanzaa ongoing and New Year's Eve/Day around the corner. Plus, if Walmart has the right to start putting up Christmas items in July, I think we can still be in a Christmas state of mind - at least through this weekend.

There are a few regional traditions and fun activities that you can still do including the Polar Express leaving Saratoga Springs, the North Pole near Lake Placid, the Capital Lights in the Park in Albany, Ice Skating at the Empire State Plaza, and First Night events in Saratoga Springs. Not to mention, as far as I'm concerned, there's still time for a Peppermint Pig or two.

Polar Express

This activity started in the area a few years ago in which children - and young at heart adults - can don pajamas, drink hot cocoa and meet Santa on a train bound for North Creek. The round-trip excursion is going on tonight, Saturday, and Sunday with 5:30pm and 7:30pm departures from Saratoga Springs. Tickets: $20 to $35.

North Pole

Santa's Workshop in Wilmington, NY is open year-round but the reindeer, giant pole of ice, and Santa's elves are particularly magical this time of year. The 2013 Winter Village of Lights is open from 4:30pm to 8pm this weekend and Monday. Tickets: $10.75, Children under 2 are free.

Capital Lights in the Park

This is the 17th year that Washington Park in Albany has been lit up with festive holiday lights ranging from cute, themed, and entertaining to lovely sponsor ads. Proceeds go to the juvenile prevention programs for the Albany Police Athletic League. Carriage rides are available. Hours are Sun.-Thurs.: 6pm to 9pm, and Fri/Sat: 6pm to 10pm. Admission for cars: $15.

Empire State Plaza

Winter-cooperating and weather-permitting, the ice rink is open to the public with free skating throughout the season and free skate rentals on Fridays. Today (Fri. Dec. 27) Olympian Paul Wylie will be doing a workshop from 4pm to 6pm.

Saratoga Springs' First Night

If bars or house parties for ringing in the New Year are not your thing, this may be a good option in which you pay a flat fee and get to enjoy a myriad of activities, events, and music in downtown Saratoga, with CDTA transport. And, if you missed the Last Run in Albany (or the Santa Speedo Sprint), you can do the First Night 5K. First Night Tickets: $15, Children 12 and under are free with a GE voucher.

Peppermint Pig

An old Victorian tradition that was revived by the Saratoga Sweets shoppe which brings good luck in the New Year by hammering a pretty pink pig. And don't forget the pig puddle.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

New Year's Day Hikes at NY State Parks

Statewide, 24 State Parks will be doing guided hikes on New Year's Day. Locally, that includes Moreau, Saratoga Spa, and Glimmerglass.

Here's the complete press release:

Third annual event effort encourages families to spend the holiday enjoying the outdoors

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation will sponsor 24 guided hikes in state parks and historic sites on New Year’s Day as part of the third annual First Day Hikes program taking place across the nation.  First Day Hikes give individuals and families an opportunity to begin the New Year rejuvenating and connecting with the outdoors by taking a healthy hike on January 1, 2014 at a state park or site close to home.   “Begin a new tradition with your family and join us for with an invigorating walk or hike in one of our beautiful state parks or sites this New Year’s Day,” said New York State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey.  “From guided woodland walks and gorge hikes to snowshoe treks and historic walking tours, First Day Hikes are a great way for people to de-stress during the holidays and kick off 2014 by spending time surrounded by winter’s outdoor splendor.” 
Held New Year’s Day, First Day Hikes offer a great way to connect with the outdoors, exercise, enjoy nature and welcome the New Year with friends and family.   Participants can expect to be surrounded by the quiet beauty of the season and spectacular vistas, and benefit from the company of a knowledgeable guide. State park staff and volunteers will lead these family-friendly walks and hikes, which average one to three miles or longer depending on the location. Many hikes will be offering refreshments.
“These family-friendly First Day Hikes provide a great chance to get outside and experience the beauty of our parks, stay fit and build lasting traditions with loved ones,” said Priscilla Geigis, president of the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD). 
America’s State Parks and American Hiking Society are teaming up to promote First Day Hikes as a healthy and memorable way to start the New Year.  
“Winter hiking is a fun and wonderful experience, but does require all hikers to be properly prepared,” noted Gregory Miller, president of American Hiking Society. “We are encouraging Americans young and old to ring in the New Year by putting on their hiking boots and joining First Day Hikes in support of state parks and trails in 2014.”  
Twenty-four hikes are being offered at 23 New York state parks and historic sites. This year’s programs include a seal walk, winter woodlands, an historic walking tour, a snowshoe waterfall hike, pet-friendly treks, crossing one of the world’s longest pedestrian bridges, and more. If weather conditions permit, some First Day Hikes may include snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.  Details about hike locations, difficulty and length, terrain, registration requirements and additional information are listed at   
In New York, hikes will be offered at the following locations: 
Niagara Falls State Park, Niagara Falls; 1-3pm716.285.0516
DeVeaux Woods-Whirlpool State Park, Niagara Falls; 1-3:30pm716.285.0516
Fort Niagara State Park, Youngstown; 1-3pm716.285.0516
Wilson Tuscarora State Park, Wilson; 2-4pm716.285.0516
Allegany State Park- Red House, 10am-2pm716.354.9101 x.236
Letchworth State Park, Castile; two hikes (young children/older children) at 1pm.; 585.493.3600
Taughannock Falls State Park, Trumansburg; 1pm607.387.7041x.113
Chenango Valley State Park, Chenango Forks; 1pm607.648.5251
Clark Reservation State Park, Jamesville; 1pm315.492.1590
Glimmerglass State Park, Cooperstown; 1pm607.547.8662
Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site, Sackets Harbor; 12pm315.489.3642/315.646.2321
Robert Wehle State Park, Henderson; 10am315.938.5083
Moreau Lake State Park, Gansevoort; 10am-12pm518.793.0511
Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs; 10am518.584.2000
Mine Kill State Park, North Blenheim; 11am518.827.6111
Taconic State Park - Copake Falls, Copake Falls; 1pm518.329.3993
Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Kerhonkson; 1-4:30pm845.255.0752
Walkway over the Hudson State Historic Park; Poughkeepsie; 2pm845.454.1190
Clay Pit Ponds, Staten Island; 11am718.605.3970 x201
Jones Beach State Park, Wantaugh; 1:30-3pm516.785.3614 or 516.780.3295
Camp Hero State Park, Montauk; 1pm631.668.5000
Caumsett State Park, Huntington; 1:30pm; 631.581.1072
Connetquot River State Park Preserve, Bohemia; 10am; 631.581.1072  

Extremely Low Delta Fares Mistakenly Offered Day After Christmas

As ABC News put it: it was a day after Christmas miracle today with amazing Delta fares - that were mistakes - offered on various travel sites including Expedia, Priceline, and the Delta site.

And, according to ABC, the airline will honor the tickets which includes fares as low as $47 for a light from NYC to LA.

I only wish I had heard about this earlier today.

Dang it.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

'Twas the Week Before Christmas - a rhyming retelling of the Troy mock trial

Every year for as long as I can remember my father has read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas: A Visit From St. Nicholas to my siblings and I on Christmas Eve. Yes, even now that I'm over 30.

I think the story sparks a magic about the season and ignites creativity and a sense of wonder for everyone - and can be appreciated by all ages. While the author of the poem was not proved last night at a mock trial, I think that magic touched everyone in the 400-plus crowd...including yours truly.

After seeing ghosts of Moore and Livingston, the two disputed authors of the tale - along with the ghost of Legs Diamond - I was inspired to write something that was a bit different than the usual article recapping an event.

I'm no Moore or Livingston, but I did my best...

 ‘Twas the week before Christmas and many things were stirring. For it seemed the authorship of a favorite holiday poem was a bit blurry.
The attorneys in the “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” case were most zealous in their stance, with plaintiff Jack Casey and his daughter declaring gentleman farmer Henry Livingston the author. But defendant E. Stewart Jones for widely-accepted penman Clement C. Moore said, “Not a chance.”
While the first publication of the poem being in Troy was not at question, the person behind the classic words - with that, there is some tension.
There were children and seniors and everyone in between. About 400 people came from around the county and country to the festive mock trial scene.
The Rensselaer County Court room, named for Casey’s kin, was filled beyond capacity. In other words, it was filled to the brim.
The first witness was called from the Historical Society of Rensselaer County. Kathryn Sheehan discussed the Dutch influence in the 1823 poem. Her testimony was quite a bounty.
There was “Dunder” versus “Donner” and “Blixem” versus “Blitzen”. Casey brought up the language influence, he was certainly on a mission.
When a green mist arose behind retired Judge Bernard Malone’s seat, a lively and funny and very dead ghost of Henry Livingston the courtroom did meet.

The poem was written for his children he did attest. And soon after the testimony, the Caseys declared that their case did rest.
But Jones had his own surprise for the court to see. He jingled a bell a few times, and the ghost of Moore appeared, much to everyone’s glee.
Moore countered that “Dunder and Blixem” was said often by his Dutch wife. He swore this to the court, and on his now deceased life.
Relatives of the two authors came to represent their clan. Both were adamant that their kin was the man.
Clement’s descendent brought a writing antique from his day, while Livingston’s mentioned that the rhythm of the poem matched up more to what Henry had to say.
A six-person jury was chosen from the large audience and tasked, with coming to a conclusion to once and for all decide if it was Moore or Livingston who would be the true author, unmasked.
In the intermission while a decision was made, a Saxophone Santa provided a lovely serenade.
Once the Santa entertained and was down to his last lung, the jury came out with their verdict: they were hung.
With four in favor of Livingston and two for Moore, the attorneys asked for another shot next year - at least once more.
A fete was held afterward at the nearby Historical Society, where attorneys and jurors and even the ghosts could all come together to party.
Everyone, including the mayor, agreed that the publicity for the city was great, and the entertainment from the actors was a real treat.
As organizer Duncan Crary wished all a Happy Christmas and Good Night, I think in the back of everyone’s mind there were three words for next year: “Round Two: Fight!”

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sledding in the Albany Area

You've shoveled it, you've slipped in it, you've driven in it and your socks have gotten wet in it. It's now time to enjoy some time in the snow.

There are a lot of options for some RnR in the white stuff. There's downhill skiing, XC skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing or - one of my favorites - sledding. You really don't have to be a little kid to enjoy sledding. All it takes is about $20 for a good sled or snow tube (I prefer the latter) and some child-like, adventurous gumption to slide your 20/30/40/50/60/70/80-something self over that big, slightly scary, sometimes bumpy hill.

There are a lot of options for sledding locations. Have a peek:


Lincoln Park, near the public pool: the three-level hill is on the Metroland to-do list so ya gotta do it

Capitol Hills Golf Course, off New Scotland Ave: I'm told there is a nearby restaurant too to warm up

Westland Hills Park, off of Central Ave

Clifton Park

Van Patten Golf Course, on Main Street

Jewett Park, off Longkill Rd: Take Exit 10 to Ushers Rd, take Left (if northbound) onto Ushers Rd. Follow to end and turn right onto Longkill Rd. The hill is about 3/4 of a mile on the right hand side. Described as a large hill into a bowl.


Sand Creek Middle School, off Sand Creek Road


Fire Tower driveway, off Fire Tower Rd: Take Babcock Lake Rd., turn onto Fire Tower Rd and the driveway for the tower is on the left before the end of the road. Walk up the hill to go to the fire tower then sled down.


Tawasentha Park, off Rt 146: The Winter Recreational Area (just one parking lot down from the park) requires a town permit - which I believe is $10 - but there is access to a hill and some trails.

Lake Luzerne

Tubby Tubes: one of several area recreational hills/mountains that offer snow tubing


Frear Park, take Oakwood and drive up hill to parking lot near tennis courts: with a nearby pub/restaurant for warming, multiple sledding hill levels, nearby XC ski trails, and street lights for night sledding

Spring Little League hill, off Spring Ave: right across from the Spring Little League field there is a hill. It's right near the road so sled at your own risk.

Oakwood Cemetery: I'm reading that people - at least used to - sled down the hill from Oakwood to Lansingburgh

ALSO also listed these. Visit Lake George listed these. This is a list of Schenectady sledding spots. And there is actually a NYS list of sledding hills which could use a few more recommendations. Also, feel free to share your favorite spots on here or on my Facebook page.

It is cold.

It was one-degree this morning. One degree. Now it's a balmy 4-degrees.

I actually like winter and snow (well, besides driving in it). Every year, I look forward to sledding and XC skiing and falling on my butt while trying to ice skate.

I XC skied to work once last year. I would have done it more (I live less than a mile from work and it's all flat) but weather conditions never really cooperated.

This year weather conditions are definitely cooperating but it's frickin' freezing. I walked home last night in my extremely warm L.L. Bean winter coat and even in that I was cold.

But, I must remind myself, it could always be worse. The world's coldest recorded temperature on record was -135.8 degrees in Antarctica in 2010.

Since the temperatures are expected to increase to the 40s this weekend, I'm hoping to XC ski at least once this work week. I'm assuming road/alley conditions will cooperate since Troy still hasn't declared a snow emergency.
(See my #DeSnowTroy social media campaign to convince Troy to do a snow emergency for various reasons - it may not be ideal for XC skiing but it'd be nice to be able to park near my house and not worry about getting stuck in a snowbank or hit by a car.)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Brunch and Beer: At the Man of Kent

It's almost the weekend and we all know what that means...Brunch! (I love brunch. Brunchy, brunch, brunch.)

My bf and I have been finding ourselves in some delicious spots lately. Most recently, at the Man of Kent - a quaint English-style pub, founded by a man named John from England (Guess where he's from in England. I'll give you one guess.) and now run by another man named John from the U.S.

The tavern was a place *my* Jon and I had wanted to go to for years. We were always driving to Vermont for breweries, road trips, friends, etc but never seemed to have time to stop at this establishment which literally is in the middle of the woods along Route 7 in Hoosick Falls.

One recent Saturday, we finally made the time and I'm glad we did.

We were a tad overwhelmed when we first stepped through their bright red door. There was a line of people and it was kinda in between lunch and dinner so I was a bit surprised - maybe others had the same brunch idea? I think the main reason for this, however, was that it really is a quaint (read: small) place. I don't think I counted much more than ten tables surrounding the small wooden bar - which I was told used to be the bar at the Trojan Hotel in downtown Troy.

But the tavern was prepared for a possible wait. A wooden bench eventually opened up where I waited with my Strongbow cider - my UK go-to since I was in London when I first had it. Jon had Old Speckled Hen, which was a special of the day for $5.25 for 20oz.

Their beer selection, including 16 draft and 130 imported, was about three pages long with a funny section on the back dedicated to beers labeled as "Also" - this mainly included the Amstels, Buds, Coors,etc. for about $4.25.

While waiting, I was able to admire the extensive collection of sports flags and scarves that covered the walls and ceiling of the wooden framed structure perched nearby a creek. There is also an outdoor patio that is open in warmer months.

After about 20 minutes, the waitress led us to a table that was actually within arms length of the bench where I had been sitting. I was a bit disappointed since I had heard the view from the back windows was nice but decided to drown my dismay in comfort food. Creamy mac and cheese with tomatoes to be exact, with a piece of fresh bread to sop up the extra cheese.

Jon had a burger. It medium-rare though nothing else about the burger could really be described as "medium". It was a large, juicy piece of meat. The prices for everything were more than reasonable.

We did not have dessert but there were some good options. (I'm a sucker for a good bread pudding)

While we did not meet the owner (or past owner), we were told both are extremely amusing men and worth the drive to visit - it's about 20 minutes from Troy.

The Man of Kent (MOK) is located at 4452 Route 7 in Hoosick Falls. Hours: Opens at 11 a.m. Mon. through Sat. and Noon on Sunday.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Indoor Surfing, Skydiving, and a Waterslide in New Hampshire - Oh my!

For those in the Albany area who have always wanted to learn to surf (myself included), we may finally have our opportunity.

I usually don't associate surfing with the east coast. I know it's entirely possible - there are beaches and waves - but the sport is usually hard to do with the cold weather (at least non-beach weather) which makes up most of the year in the Northeast.

But this is a problem no longer.

Just three hours away from Albany, NY there is a facility with indoor surfing, indoor skydiving and an "endless water slide." It's called SkyVenture. (And here I was hoping it was called Skynet.)

The indoor surfing section - called Surfs Up - is opening at the site in Nashua, New Hampshire on Dec. 21, according to their website. Once open, it is touted as being the "largest indoor surfing facility in North America." There are other indoor surfing facilities but they appear to be in Orlando, California, and Hawaii - ya know, where they are actually able to go outdoor surfing too.

Not that I know anything about surfing, but the site says there is a 32 foot surf stream.

The site's indoor skydiving is made possible by a large vertical wind tunnel and their endless water slide kinda reminds me of the H2OGO ball at Howe Caverns.

Some of the rules: for watersliding, must be 4-year-old and cannot weight over 275 pounds; and for skydiving, cannot weigh more than 250 pounds, must be 3-years-old, and must sign a waiver. I'm guessing since they give the weight requirements in "stone" as well that this might be a British-run venture. There do not seem to be any requirements for surfing - I'm sure there will be eventually.

Prices are:
Water Slide - $20 (with a ride lasting 90 seconds and can be enjoyed by three people at once)
Wind Tunnel - $55/$95-$900 for times ranging from 2 minutes to 1 hour
Surfing - $45 for 30 minutes or $75 for 60 minutes

And, as it happens, there is a groupon right now where you can save $15 for the new Surfing option.

Guilderland's Snow-capped Landscape

It's times like these that I realize...

You don't have to travel across the world to see something truly beautiful/cool.

I took this today in the land of Guilder (Guilderland) en route to Altamont on Rt 146.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Albany International Airport Survey on Cell Phones and Texting While Flying

Leisure and business travelers had slightly different opinions on the usage of cell phones while flying - at least when it came to texting, according to a survey of 428 travelers at Albany International released this week.

On cell phones - Leisure travelers: 83 percent against, 8 percent in favor, and 9 percent indifferent.
                        Business travelers: 60 percent against, 27 percent in favor, and 13 percent indifferent.

Texting - Leisure travelers: 55 percent opposed, 35 percent in favor, and 10 percent indifferent.
              Business travelers: 64 percent in favor.

(photo from Vermontel)

I asked some friends what their thoughts on the survey were: Some thought it was great that the airport was getting local opinions on the matter, while others felt it was biased. Most agreed that no one wants to hear people talking on their cell phones on a plane, but texting was OK. One was especially specific and felt that calls should be limited to 15 minutes prior to arrival for domestic flights and 30 minutes for international flights, otherwise it should just be texting.

Personally, I enjoy doing other things while flying - like reading, watching in-flight movies, sleeping, or writing in my journal about a hopefully awesome trip that I just had.

If the FCC adopts new rules, it will be up to the individual airlines to decide on cell phone usage while airborne.

What do you think? 

And, speaking of ALB airport, I highly recommend checking out their art gallery. It's free to the public, you get parking validated, and it's actually usually a pretty cool rotating art exhibit.

Martha's Vineyard - Gay Head Cliffs photo

Wish I was there right now, again.....

I took my first trip to Martha's Vineyard - which was actually a camping trip - this past summer for July 4th weekend. I had my doubts, but it was a very beautiful, eclectic place. And actually pretty affordable despite it's hoity-toity reputation. On my trip, I was able to spend about $50 per day and had a great time exploring the island, looking for celebrities, reenacting scenes from Jaws, hiking, and eating seafood.

The above photo was taken at the Gay Head clay cliffs. The day before, that whole area was enveloped in fog which apparently happens a lot in that region of the island.

The Lucas Confectionery's Troyster Tweet about wishing they were in Martha's Vineyard today made me think of it.

Next stop? I'm thinking either the Outer Banks or Nantucket (which actually used to be part of NYS, according to an old charter I read in an Albany County exhibit).

Monday, December 9, 2013

Albany Birthday Freebies Survival Guide

Now that you know a lot of your options for your birthday, I thought you might want to know what to expect at some of the bars and restaurants. And, as it happens, I've have some recent experience in this topic.

Consider this your Albany Birthday Freebie Survival Guide.

First and foremost, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! This is your day. Enjoy it!

Have a DD! Some of these drinks, I admit, have no alcohol to speak of in them but there are several that will knock you on your ass. A couple that come to mind - the fish bowl Long Island ice tea at Pinto & Hobbs and Das Boot at the Biergarten, which is the equivalent of about five beers.

Speaking of the boot: the presentation of these drinks is everything. You have the 32 ounce tea cup with dry ice to make it look steaming at Olde English, and the BDAY chalice at Finnbar's, and the beautiful stein at Powers Inn.


But, with great beauty comes great responsibility. You break it you bought it. The Powers Inn bday deal used to be a glass yard til someone broke it. There's a reason the boot and tea cup have a $40 deposit.

Then, you have the opposite end of the spectrum with classiness. The City Beer Hall, for example, has embraced a simpler/redneckier tradition with their 40 ounce bottle of Olde English malt alcohol served in a paper bag.

Don't forget to eat. There are actually a decent amount of food freebies along with the Fucillo-sized drinks. There's wings at Rusty Nail and Trick Shot, a free breakfast at Denny's, and you get any item up to $10 at Daily Grind.

Don't forget to drink water! And, no, the ice in the drinks don't count. I'll get to that in a minute...

And don't forget to bring friends! They make an experience what it is.

Make new friends! You'll be able to tell who the fellow birthdayers are pretty easily. And a huge, glowing margarita is a pretty good conversational piece.

Free is not always free. Several businesses require that your party spend between $15 and $20 in order to qualify for the huge beverage. Plan accordingly.

There is also a reason these drinks are free. This, generally, is not top quality stuff. Actually - as much as I love Bootlegger's - their 100 ounce grape-flavored drink served in a huge vessel was downright horrible (I told them about it later and they said something must have been made wrong, so I'd be interested in hearing others' experiences with this on Facebook). Many of the businesses use a lot - A LOT - of sour mix, including the margarita and the purple drink of doom at Bootlegger's. But you're not drinking this stuff for the taste, you're drinking it because....uh?.... because 'merica!

On the other hand, some of the drinks were also very tasty. I enjoyed the Katie O'Byrne's fish bowl of rum punch. It was fruity and colorful when served, though eventually got a bit of a sour mix taste. And, if you like beer, there is much beer to be had at Brown's and the Van Dyck. You can choose your own beer for those samplers. At Finnbar's, you get your choice of any draft beer and at Rusty Nail you buy a blue Hawaiin or beer of your choice then you get one free.

Ice. As Sanka said in Cool Runnings - "You mean winter, as in igloos and Eskimos and penguins and ICE?" There will be ice if you're not drinking beer. Keep this in mind if you have sensitive teeth.

You will likely end up yelling at your inanimate tub of alcohol asking it multiple times why the liquid has not receded. If you do multiple drinks, at some point in the night, this will happen. FYI.

Dress appropriately. You don't have to worry too much about "dress codes" but wear something comfortable - and preferably with a stretchy waist since your stomach will get bigger.

Just bring the essentials - ID, money, house keys. You don't want to bring your favorite accessory only to get really drunk and then forget it somewhere.

Boot and rally. Google it. If you want to go the distance, you may have to do it. Probably after the boot.

You drank 120 ounces of alcohol and all you got was a lousy T-shirt. Actually, yes. And I'm damn proud of that T-shirt. You can learn more about that incentive -- also including a free slice of pizza at Sciortino's -- here.

Your birthday might not start at midnight, according to some of these businesses. I hear this all the time for Bomber's, Wolff's, and Olde English. There are some unhappy people, new to the area, who try to celebrate when their birthday officially starts but they are denied because of the rules. With these three places though, the owner has said you can email them ahead of time to request to celebrate on a day other than your birthday. Many of the other businesses are much more flexible about the midnight rule.

There are non-edible/drinkable freebies too. You get a free item of their choosing at Sephora and $5 of free play at Dave & Buster's. Both require signing up on their websites.

Plan ahead. As much as we're young and want to live in the moment and see where the night takes us, if your birthday is on a weekend or during a popular event (mine was during the Victorian Stroll in Troy) you may not find room for your party of 10 friends. If it's an option, make reservations or at least gauge how busy they might be.

Stategery. Form a strategy. You know your stomach and your drinking habits. Do you follow the liquor before beer rule? Should you get the sour-y drinks out of the way? It's up to you.

And, to the friends of the birthday boy or girl, be patient. Your friend may act a little silly (ie - trying to remove every single piece of ice from a 32-ounce margarita with a fork). Your friend may be a little later than they expected getting to their next destination than they originally said on a Facebook event. Because when they were sober making the digital event, an hour really seemed like it'd be sufficient for drinking a fish bowl. And it would be - if your friend had not already drank a chalice, a shot, a boot, a tea cup, a vessel, and another fish bowl. Text, call or Facebook your friend.
And make sure they're still alive the next day.

Birthday Freebies in the Albany Area

So, you say it's your birthday? You are in the right place. New York's Capital District has a *ton* of local businesses and national chains that try to make your birthday extra special with some free incentives and birthday promotions.

I wanted to know the options for my own 31st birthday. By my count, there are at least 36 birthday deals in the area. Here's what I came up with:

Pinto & Hobbs Tavern (142 Washington Ave.) - a fish bowl of Long Island ice tea
Bombers Burrito Bar (258 Lark St. Albany, 447 State St. Schenectady, 2 King St. Troy) - huge margarita, must spend at least $20
Wolff's Biergarten (895 Broadway) - das boot, a huge glass boot of beer, must give $40 deposit and spend $20
The Olde English Pub ( 683 Broadway) - the tea cup, huge tea cup of beer or cider, must give $40 deposit and spend $20
Graney's Stout (904 Broadway)- growler of beer

Graney's Bar & Grill (275 New Scotland Ave.) - a yard of beer

City Beer Hall ( 42 Howard St.) - a 40oz bottle of Olde English and I hear they actually serve it to you with a paper bag

Sciortino's (893 Broadway) - pizza slice, and if you go here and Wolff's, Olde English and Bomber's you get a T-shirt
Lark Street Ben & Jerry's (250 Lark St. Albany, and at RPI in Troy) - kiddie cone

Denny's (120 Troy Rd. East Greenbush, 114 Wolf Rd. Colonie, 697 Troy-Schenectady Rd. Latham) - a grand slam breakfast. As far as I can tell, you don't have to sign up and no purchase necessary.
Dave & Buster's (Crossgates Mall) - free $5 of play, if you sign up online at least a week prior to your birthday
Sephora (Colonie Center) - a free item of the store's choosing, if you sign up for their Beauty Insider program
The Barrel Saloon Rock & Roll Country Bar (942 Broadway) - a fish bowl with beer/lemonade
Madison Station (851 Madison Ave.)- a fish bowl
Professor M. Barley's (198 Quail St.) - a special beaker (they wouldn't tell me what's in it)
The Washington Tavern (250 Western Ave.) - half a yard of beer, and champagne on your 21st
Center Square Pub (32 Dove St.) - a grenade (find out what this is exactly and report back)
Lark Tavern (453 Madison Ave.)- a big mug of beer

Thatcher Street Pub (16 Thatcher St.) - a mug of beer

Hill Street Cafe (180 Madison Ave.) - a liter of beer

Clifton Park
The Rusty Nail (1781 Rt. 9) - one free wing for each year (ie - for me, 31) and a free birthday drink refill with purchase of first drink
Trick Shot (1602 Rt. 9) - same as above, coincidentally
Power's Inn &Pub (130 Meyer Rd.) - a stein of beer

Panera (601 Troy Schenectady Rd) - free baked good, if you sign up online

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers ( 880 New Loudon Rd.)- free burger, if you sign up online

J.J. Rafferty's (847 New Loudon Rd.) - free drink up to $10 and free entree up to $10 either the day before, on, or after your bday with no purchase necessary

Starbucks (549 Troy Schenectady Rd., 675 Troy Schenectady Rd inside Target) - any drink, any size for free with option of ordering food as well. Just register your gift/rewards card online. One guy used his bday drink to get a $47 coffee.

Katie O'Byrne's Restaurant & Bar (121 Wall St.) - a fish bowl of rum punch, if a certain amount is spent
Van Dyck Lounge (237 Union St.) - six 10 oz glass beer samples
Johnny's (433 State St.) - a free cocktail
Daurizios FatBoy Style Pizza & Catering (2315 Curry Rd.) - a free 8-cut pizza, if you sign up online



Brown's Brewing Company (417 River St.) - paddle of shot-glass-size beer samples
The Daily Grind (46 3rd St. Troy and 204 Lark St. Albany) - a free item on their menu up to $10
Moe’s Southwest Grill (1527 15th St.) - free burrito, if you sign up online

Finnbar's Pub (452 Broadway) - a chalice of beer and cute paper crown

Bootleggers On Broadway (200 Broadway) - a large "vessel" for the middle of the table with a homemade cocktail, if a certain amount is spent

Villa Valenti (369 W. Sand Lake Rd., Wynantskill) - a birthday card with restaurant promotion, if you sign up online

The Confectionery (12 Second St. Troy), Daisy Baker's (33 Second St. Troy), and the Brown Bag (156 4th St. Troy) all said they try to make birthdays special for their customers as well in various ways.


While some of these are outright "free", several businesses require that between $15 and $20 is spent by your group so it helps to bring a few people. Some places are more strict about these rules than others. For my birthday, there were places that didn't even check my ID, but then there were other places that asked that we pay the difference of what our bill came to and what the minimum spent requirement was. It all depends on what day you go out, how busy it is, and how cool your waiter/waitress/bartender is.

Each place is also different regarding when they'll allow you to get your free item. Bombers, for example, will only honor the promotion on your birthday and not the midnight before but if you email them ahead of time they may be able to accommodate your party for another day. Then the national chains usually give you a couple weeks to do the offer.

Along with these, there are multiple birthday promotions including a buy one get one entree at Casey's (77 Washington Ave.) in Rensselaer and a similar deal at the Barnsider (480 Sand Creek Rd.) in Albany. There are also a lot of places that do free desserts with a purchased meal.

I did want to give a moment of silence for past birthday deals that are no longer with us including the yummy free birthday Bomber's burrito and the free champagne at Junior's.

Some area restaurants/bars blame - I mean, credit - Bomber's/Wolff's/Olde English/Sciortino's owner Matt Baumgartner with starting the Albany bday freebie trend. He said he actually got the idea from the Washington Tavern, where he went for his 21st birthday. His favorite local birthday promotion, by the way, is the Barnsider.

Now that you know the basics, check out my Albany Freebies Survival Guide to get a better idea of what to expect from your bday experience.