Story and Photos by Art Petrosemolo
Thoroughbred racing fans from Monmouth County head to upstate New York in August to catch some of the racing and enjoy the ambiance that surrounds the 150- year-old track in Saratoga Springs.
But anyone who heads to the spa in the summer can tell you as nice as it is, hotels are booked solid at N.Y.C. prices, restaurants have long waiting lists and weekends at the track are like a rock concert.
However, if you think a little outside the box, a trip to Saratoga off-season can be a real surprise. It is still just under 200 miles away and an easy three hour-plus drive up the Garden State Parkway and New York State Thruway but when you arrive, the city is yours to enjoy.
Having spent many summers as a kid with relatives on the lake, I have a fondness for Saratoga and try to get back yes, for racing, but also at least once off-season.
Our last trip in April was a pleasant three-day visit with some new experiences and great dining.
Saratoga has accommodations that run the gamut from roadside motels to chains including Hilton, Holiday Inn and Marriott Courtyard. But, tucked away in the Saratoga State Park, is the historic Gideon Putnam Resort and Hotel. The site served as a boarding location since the 1800s when the curative waters of the mineral springs running under Saratoga turned the area into a destination before the word became popular. It was our choice for lodging on this trip.
Delaware North Corporation, which operates a number of historic resorts and hotels nationwide, including The Ahwahnee and Tenaya Lodge in Yosemite, now run the Gideon Putnam (GP). In its day during the early 20th century, the hotel catered to the rich and famous who came to Saratoga for weeks, and not days. Now the hotel is looking to rebrand itself for a new clientele.
The GP sits right in the middle of Saratoga State Park, surrounded by a championship golf course that was playable in April, a number of springs and parklands. The site also is perfect for winter cross-country skiing. The hotel is just steps away from the performing arts center, which keeps the hotel booked solid during the August high season.
We found the hotel a little dated but true to its national historic registry status. The rooms were clean and perked up and the service was fine. We ate one night in the restaurant and it was OK but did not compare to some of the offerings in Saratoga that now has become a “foodie” destination.
The cultural activities that make a Saratoga summer, including (SPAC) performing arts center and thoroughbred racing, aren’t part of an off-season trip but the restaurants that now dot Broadway and the side street in the city are not crowded and the service is more personal while the food doesn’t change. We tried a very small (22 seats) Italian restaurant, Mio Posto, on this visit and felt it was as good an Italian restaurant as any in which we have dined.
Our second night we ate at The Winslow, a famous roadhouse on Route 9 in Wilton, north of Saratoga. It dates back decades and is standing room only in the summer. Open just Wednesday through Sunday off -season, there is no waiting. And the fresh turkey (from a local farm) dinner served is the best and rivals your mom’s Thanksgiving fare.
The Saratoga Raceway harness track is open Wednesdays through Saturday off-season and the site also houses a large casino with every type of slot imaginable. It attracts far more guests than come to watch harness racing but the revenue sharing keeps the track open.
The Saratoga thoroughbred track opened in the mid-1800s and the Victorian era saw Saratoga grow to welcome American’s rich and famous in opulent resort hotels with elegant parties for the socially connected.
There is still a touch of the elegant in Saratoga during the summer racing season but today, this small update New York City, home to Skidmore College, with a population of nearly 30,000, is a year-round city with suburbs that support many professionals who work in Albany, the state capital, a short ride south down Interstate 87 (The Northway).
Three days is not enough time to tempt your taste buds in Saratoga but long enough for an off-season visit. I missed Hatti’s famous (Southern) fried chicken this trip and it will be my first stop when I come back in the summer.
One of the highlights of the trip was a spa morning. Just a few steps away from the Gideon Putnam is the Roosevelt Bath and Spa. New York State ran multiple mineral baths in Saratoga for years but the Roosevelt is the last one operating, now under Delaware North control.
Our morning started soaking in bubbly mineral water in a deep tube. You have to get use to the red/brown color of the water caused by the minerals but it isn’t a big deal. After 20 minutes of soaking, the massage professional arrives and works out all the kinks. My wife extended her spa visit with a facial and she was pleased. The mineral waters were thought to have healing powers by the Mohawk Indians who made the area their home and even today, the regulars agree.
On our last day, we took a side trip to the Lake George area, just 20 miles north to visit the outlet center and to scout out a place to spend a few days during August where I can bring my powerboat to explore the lake.
All in all, Saratoga without leaves on the trees and the August heat is a pleasant getaway and one you should put on your list.