Tom Schreck’s Albany

I’m a Bouchercon regular and my books take place in and around a fictional Albany, New York. I thought it might be helpful to give the Crimespree family an insider’s look at this year’s host city.

First of all, a disclaimer: I’m not on any committee, nor am I responsible for bringing Bouchercon to my hometown. Frankly, it feels a little weird because Bouchercon is something I go away to, not something I walk to.

And we’ll all be doing a fair amount of walking because the panels aren’t in any of the hotels. They are at the Empire State Plaza, which is next to the State Capitol in a really cool structure that dominates the Albany skyline. The plaza is on the top of State Street, which is a very steep hill. If you’re staying at The Hampton or the Holiday Inn Express and you’re walking, uh, you won’t have to worry about getting your cardiovascular work for those five days.

But let’s get to the important stuff. Yes, Albany has plenty of bars and restaurants right in the middle of the hotels. If you’re spending someone else’s money there’s fine dining, hoity-toity pretentious places like 677 Prime, where a steak will cost a mortgage payment, Taste, with it’s uber cool singular word name and Yono’s, which is right in The Hampton and serves exquisite Indonesian. On lower State Street is Albany’s oldest place, Jack’s Oyster House, which has an old school Manhattan vibe and William Kennedy likes Café Capriccio and Lombardo’s for great Italian.

For beers and pub food you got McGeary’s, Franklin’s Tower, the City Beer Hall and The Victory and they are all are solid, can’t miss for burgers and maybe a little more. A little further down Broadway are Stout, Wolf’s Beirgarten and The Rodeo Saloon. These places are hipper beer drinking joints with lots of micro brews and a younger crowd but, and it’s a big but, there’s about a four or five block walk that takes you through the ‘hood to get there. I wouldn’t walk it and we all know what a badass I am.

There’s a micro brew place called the Pump Station nestled in the area across from the Palace theatre and that’s pretty cool. There’s also The Waterfront that us townies call “The Barge” which sits in the Hudson and has a view of the train bridge and the lovely brown stagnant river.

Now, I didn’t mention the places on Pearl. I don’t go down there and to be honest with you, I probably won’t. They’re loungy or loud and filled with college kids. They might be fine if you’re just in town for Bouchercon but otherwise I don’t have any desire to go there. I’m not saying they aren’t worthwhile, I’m just saying I don’t know much about them.

If you want to go for a Greenwich Village feel, head up to Lark Street, which is just a few long blocks from the Plaza. My favorite Mexican place, El Loco is up there as are cool joints like Bombers Burrito Bar, The Lion Heart and the Hollywood Café. The gay bar, Oh Bar, is on Lark and that’s a real cool place. The Waterworks on Central is Albany’s oldest gay bar and it’s not too far away on Central Ave. It’s legendary for its dancing.

I think the best restaurant in town is the New World Bistro on Delaware Avenue. The chef was on one of the TV shows for top chefs and it is the coolest, most imaginative place around. Down the street is Mingle with funky Korean and traditional stuff and that is excellent as well. The Orchard Tavern is where I hang out and where a few of my book’s characters were inspired. It’s far away on North Manning Boulevard behind Bleecker Stadium in a dangerous neighborhood. If you want to meet TC, Jerry Number One and Two and a few Roccos, let me know.

Speaking of danger, there are some things you should be aware of. The area around the hotels downtown is mostly safe though the area around the bus stations and the Holiday Inn Express can get a little funky. The neighborhood just a block over and up from The Hampton is known for street crime and I wouldn’t recommend wandering too much around there.

If you’re staying in the hotels on Holland Ave or New Scotland Ave, those neighborhoods are okay until you start heading down Morton Avenue. I wouldn’t walk across Lincoln Park at night and during the day I’d have my wits about me. If you like to run, the Plaza, Washington Park and the Hudson bike path are safe during the day but at night I’d be cautious.

We don’t have a casino, major league sports teams or an aquarium. Our state museum has a few stuffed bears and New York City stuff but don’t feel like you’re missing anything if you skip it. The Capital Rep theater is great, the Helderberg Mountains will be showing some foliage and you can always tour the Capital. New York is too far away to visit, Saratoga is cool but probably not worth the trip and the University of Albany isn’t really a good-looking campus.

The takeaway? Wear comfortable shoes, be a little careful, enjoy the camaraderie and have a ball. It’s Bouchercon!

Oh, by the way, Duffy’s dog, Al, won’t be there but my hounds, Wilbur, Roxie and Riley will make a visit to the convention. If you want to get slobbered on there will be a small charge.

Tom
Tom Schreck is the author of The Vegas Knockout, a recent number one hard boiled mystery on Amazon. His most recent release, Getting Dunn reached number seven. Visit www.tomschreck.com