It’s January, and downtown Albany is once again flooded with lawmakers, advocates and other politicos for the 2018 legislative session. Insiders and traveling legislators and staffers occasionally complain about Albany – though the grousing may be more about being dragged to the capital for work instead of anything about the city itself.
Indeed, there are many attractions in Albany, even if some are still under the radar. From top-notch restaurants and hotels to newer bar scenes, many lawmakers and lobbyists have their favorite spots in Albany where they cut deals and talk politics. And for those who want to see historical and cultural sites (admittedly a lot have to do with New York state political history), there’s more than the state Capitol and Empire State Plaza.
With that in mind, we decided to give visitors a hand with this handy guide to the state capital. Just like any other profession, the more time spent “outside the office,” the better! Local businesses are well aware of the legislative session and are anxious and willing to provide entertainment or services for those visiting the city.
We also feature convenient options for basic services, such as the dry cleaners located in the concourse under the Empire State Plaza that has saved more than one lawmaker during crunch time.
And don’t worry – many of the featured destinations are close to the state Capitol, so no one will have to brave the Albany cold for very long to get there. Plus, the city finally has ride-hailing services.
Albany politicos highly recommend Iron Gate Cafe, known for its tasty brunches, Cafe Madison and the Gateway Diner.
Cafe Madison, 1108 Madison Ave., 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m., Mon.-Thurs.; 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m., Fri.-Sun.
Gateway Diner, 899 Central Ave., 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun.-Thurs.; 7 a.m.-1 a.m., Fri.-Sat.
Iron Gate Cafe on Washington Avenue was one of the most recommended spots for lunch. The cafe offers both indoor and outdoor seating for the warmer days and has a well-decorated patio. A rustic iron gate separates it from the sidewalk and gives the cafe its name. Iron Gate offers the usual soups, salads and sandwiches while also offering hot dishes from the grill as well, such as the Cajun shrimp wrap. The restaurant also offers a few vegan options. Given the craziness of the legislative session, many politicos visit the food trucks just outside the state Capitol. Also mentioned besides Fresh Greens on the Park was the Albany Pump Station. However, if there’s a slow day, one assemblyman recommended Sandwiches To Go.
Iron Gate Cafe, 182 Washington Ave., 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
Albany Pump Station, 19 Quackenbush Square, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Mon.-Thurs.; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat.; 12 p.m.-8 p.m., Sun.
Sandwiches To Go, 37 Maiden Lane, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Mon.-Fri.
“My favorite choice for lunch is Sandwiches To Go on Maiden Lane. They have been serving Albany lunch since 1980 and provide outstanding food and service.” – Assemblyman Steve Otis
Unlike for breakfast and lunch, no one restaurant stood out as the best spot for dinner. Albany politicos recommended New World Bistro Bar, Milano Restaurant, Black & Blue, Bongiorno’s Italian Restaurant and Amo La Bella New York. Both Bongiorno’s and Amo La Bella offer an old-world feel to their Italian dining. For those looking for drinks along with dinner, the New World Bistro Bar offers regional beers – partly due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push to loosen the state’s antiquated liquor laws to promote breweries, cideries and wineries.
New World Bistro Bar, 300 Delaware Ave., 4 p.m.-9:30 p.m., Mon.-Thurs.; 4-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat.; 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Sun.
Black & Blue, 1470 Western Ave., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Mon.-Thurs.; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri.; 4 p.m.-11 p.m., Sat.; 4 p.m.-9 p.m., Sun.
Bongiorno’s Italian Restaurant, 23 Dove St., 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5 p.m.-9 p.m., Mon.-Thurs.; 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-10 p.m., Fri.; 5 p.m.-10 p.m., Sat.
Amo La Bella New York, 89 Beaver St., 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Mon.-Thurs.; 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5 p.m.-9 p.m., Fri.; 5 p.m.-9 p.m., Sat.
Milano Restaurant, 594 New Loudon Road, Latham, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-10 p.m., Mon.-Thurs.; 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m., Fri.; 12 p.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m., Sat.; 4:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m., Sun.
Lawmakers recommended the Renaissance Albany Hotel to stay in Albany. The hotel only opened in 2015 and was part of Albany’s downtown revitalization proposal – an effort spearheaded by the Cuomo administration. Originally, the building was the historic DeWitt Clinton Hotel before it underwent its $48.5 million renovation.
Other nearby options include Hampton Inn & Suites Albany-Downtown and the Hilton Albany, although a labor dispute involving Hilton Albany workers has spurred some state lawmakers to join a boycott and find lodging elsewhere.
Renaissance Albany Hotel, 144 State St.
Hilton Albany, 40 Lodge St.
Hampton Inn & Suites Albany-Downtown, 25 Chapel St.
Since its opening inside the Renaissance Albany Hotel, the Wellington’s bar scene routinely features lawmakers, lobbyists, reporters and other politicos. It is conveniently located across the street from the state Capitol. Many respondents named the Renaissance as their favorite hotel to stay at and its bar is equally convenient for visitors. Wellington’s also offers dinner made from locally grown ingredients. Some other hot spots include Savoy Taproom and Speakeasy 518.
The Speakeasy is a unique Albany experience, featuring live music and one rule that Albany politicos may love or hate – no cellphones allowed! The Speakeasy is located below The City Beer Hall, another favorite where anyone looking to walk upstairs can challenge state Sen. Phil Boyle during City Beer Hall’s trivia night!
Wellington’s, 144 State St., 6:30 a.m.-12 a.m., Mon.-Sat.; 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun.
Savoy Taproom, 301 Lark St., 2 p.m.-2 a.m., Mon.-Thurs.; 2 p.m.-3 a.m., Fri.-Sat.; 10 a.m.-2 a.m., Sun.
Speakeasy 518, 42 Howard St., 7 p.m.-12 a.m., Mon.-Wed.; 7 p.m.-1 a.m., Thurs.; 7 p.m.-2 a.m., Fri.-Sat.
The City Beer Hall, 42 Howard St., 11 a.m.-12 a.m., Mon.-Wed.; 11 a.m.-1 a.m., Thurs.; 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Fri.-Sat.; 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun.
Those involved in Albany politics frequently talk about the “bubble” for those who work within the Albany political world and pay close attention to the goings-on in the state – maybe to an obsessive degree. Instead of recommending a break, many Albany political nerds named the state Capitol and New York State Museum as the best cultural attractions in Albany. The New York State Museum is located on the opposite end of the Empire State Plaza from the Capitol, and during the winter months prospective visitors could stop on the way and go ice skating on the plaza. A lawmakers versus LCA reporters hockey match, anyone?
Those looking for an attraction that doesn’t have to do with New York state can catch the newest blockbuster or art house film at the Spectrum 8 Theatres.
New York State Museum, 222 Madison Ave., 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Tues.-Sun.
Spectrum 8 Theatres, 290 Delaware Ave.
“The Spectrum Theatre is the best place to see foreign and independent films.” – state Sen. Phil Boyle
While few respondents recommended a dry cleaners, Save-Mor Dry Cleaners & Launderers opened in 2014 in the concourse under Empire State Plaza. Besides being extremely convenient for state Capitol visitors and workers, it also can be a lifesaver.
Save-Mor Dry Cleaners & Launderers, Empire State Plaza, Concourse Level, 7 a.m.-5 p.m., Mon.-Fri.
“The same-day cleaners on the concourse saved me during last year’s budget!” – Assemblyman Ed Ra
Correction: This post originally suggested Fresh Greens at the Park for breakfast. Unfortunately, the popular eatery has closed "for the foreseeable future."
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