They aren’t playing hockey in Philadelphia anytime soon, or so it seems. But it’s business as usual for the Adirondack Phantoms, and the lockout is a perfect excuse to visit beautiful upstate New York, a place I fell in love with during my six years there.
If you make the 4 1/2-hour trek north to get your hockey fix this winter, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised. There are no big cities to be found, but there are plenty of gems to discover, if you know where to look.
There are two main options to anchor your stay: Glens Falls, where the Phantoms play, and the city of Saratoga Springs, about 25 minutes to the south. They offer different things depending on the kind of experience you want.
Saratoga is a world class resort city you can do on the cheap — or at least cheaper — in the winter. The dining and shopping options are unmatched between Albany and Montreal — maybe between New York City and Montreal — and its Broadway is one of the best main streets in the country.
It’s also a college town, and the nightlife, which features 12 bars on small stretch of Caroline Street, is the best in the area. But thanks to its world famous race course, it’s a horse town, not a hockey town, and it can feel awfully removed from the Phantoms.
Glens Falls is smaller and gritter, but has an emerging downtown that offers more than enough dining and entertainment options to last a weekend. You can’t beat being able to walk everywhere.
Saratoga was made for vacations, but if you’re on a hockey road trip, Glens Falls is the authentic experience. It’s the place where a surprising number of former NHL players and front office personnel call home. It’s the place where you’ll see all the Phantoms signs and gear. It feels like a real AHL town, which it was long before the Phantoms were conceived. I lived in Saratoga, but I was home in Glens Falls.
My suggestion: spend a night in each place. There are great times to be had in both, especially if you heed some of the advice here.
I divided my guide into sections on both cities — mostly where to eat and drink, since that’s what I know best — with ticket and arena information and directions coming first. Print it out, keep it handy and add your favorites in the comments section.
HOW TO GET THERE
If there’s one thing you should trust me on, it’s this. I have plenty of practice and experimented with every route Google Maps and my GPS can conceive. I’ve made it in a personal record of 4 hours, 6 minutes from Saratoga to my house near the Wells Fargo Center. Accounting for traffic and a short stop, the trip averages about 4:30 to Saratoga and 5 hours to Glens Falls.
From South Philly, southern suburbs and South and Central Jersey: Take the New Jersey Turnpike past the Meadowlands to I-80 West. Follow that to Route 17 North, which takes you to I-87 North. Follow it all the way through Albany, where it becomes the Adirondack Northway. Saratoga is off exits 13-15. Glens Falls is accessible from exits 18-19.
From North Philly and I-95 corridor: Take I-95 N to US 206 N to I-287 N. Follow that all the way north, through Albany, where it becomes the Adirondack Northway. Saratoga is off exits 13-15. Glens Falls is accessible from exits 18-19.
TICKET AND ARENA INFORMATION
Where to sit: For all its faults as an aging facility, the Glens Falls Civic Center has the best sightlines in the league. The most upper seat would still be in the lower bowl of any NHL arena. There is no second level. I’d hesitate to pay for premium tickets because even the cheapest seats provide good quality. The top rows of the corner sections in the end where the Phantoms shoot twice –Q, P, U and V — are a particularly good value at $14.
Availability: Generally tickets are available on a walkup basis the day of the game, but if you’re making such a long trip, I’d call ahead to the Phantoms at 518-480-3355 or the Civic Center box office at 1-855-432-2849 to reserve a seat. Quite a large number of standing-room-only tickets are available if the seats sell out, so it’s nearly impossible to be shutout completely. But the more people you have to sit together, the earlier you’ll want to act, especially if you’re targeting the game after Thanksgiving, traditionally one of the largest crowds of the season, or anytime the Albany Devils are in town.
Price: Advance tickets range from $14 to $29. Game day tickets are $13 to $30. All kids tickets are $12 in advance and $13 on game day.
WHAT TO DO IN GLENS FALLS
Where to stay: The Queensbury Hotel, 88 Ridge St. Skip the chain hotels by the interstate and stay at this Victorian gem that offers true small-town charm. From here, you can walk to everything, including the arena. Ask for their special, which includes a two-game tickets and a continental breakfast for $99. Fenimore’s Lounge, located downstairs, is a cozy spot for a drink or meal. Visiting teams usually stay here.
Where to eat (breakfast): Poopie’s, 54 Lawrence St. Poopie will be behind the counter, working the grill. There’s a large menu, but sometimes Poopie just scrambles you up something better. If it’s a Saturday, good chance former coach Joe Paterson is holding down a table down somewhere.
Where to eat (lunch): Raul’s Mexican Grill, 162 Glen St. Excellent, authentic Mexican food just steps from the Civic Center. A favorite of the players.
Where to eat (a nice dinner): Bistro Tallulah, 26 Ridge St. An eclectic, Spanish and French inspired restaurant that would fit right in on Passyunk Avenue next to Cantina or somewhere on Manayunk’s Main St.
Where to eat and drink (pregame): Davidson Brothers Brewing Company, 184 Glen St. Can’t decide which homemade beer to order? Try the sampler. The food could be better, but you won’t notice after your second Scotch Ale (9.10 ABV).
Where to eat (postgame): Dango’s, 156 Maple St. They have a few similarly named locations in the area, but this is the one you want. The iconic Glens Falls sports bar offers their area-best wings at a nickel apiece after games. In 1989, Lou Crawford celebrated the Adirondack Red Wings’ third Calder Cup by waddling there still in his uniform.
Where to drink (postgame): Bullpen Tavern, 216 Glen St. I’ve seen everyone here from the Phantoms owners, to players, to reporters. You’ve never been here, but you’ve been here a million times.
Where to drink (just to say you did): Sandy’s Clam Bar, 41 South St. A real local’s joint, where it’s always 1989 inside. The place you’re most likely to hear an AC/DC cover band.
Best places to run into a player: Raul’s at lunchtime, the Bullpen late night (if the team is off Sunday) and at the Applebee’s in neighboring Queensbury for a postgame dinner.
Worth a ride: Venture about 15 minutes north on the Northway to Exit 21 or 22 to see Lake George. As a reader said Thursday, you can’t go see a team named Adirondack play and not catch a glimpse of the Adirondacks. The village is kind of quiet this time of year and can have a kitschy, boardwalk feel to it, but the lakefront is breathtaking. Take a walk by the steamships. For a more scenic trip, take a 10-mile jaunt up Route 9N from the village to Bolton Landing for a whole new perspective on the lake and some spectacular real estate.
WHAT TO DO IN SARATOGA SPRINGS
Where to stay: There are more hotel rooms than people in Saratoga, it seems like sometimes. Cheaper deals abound on some of the motels, but I’d stick to the brand names during the off-season. A personal favorite is the downtown Hampton Inn & Suites, which is built into a brand new condominium building.
Where to eat (breakfast): Compton’s Restaurant, 457 Broadway. There are plenty of good brunch spots in town, but only one Compton’s, a no-frills greasy spoon where instead of leaving your name, you wait in line for a table. It goes fast. Opens at 3 a.m. on weekends to catch the after-bar crowd.
Where to eat (Iunch): You’re going to need to save room for dinner. Try one of the city’s two great bakeries: Mrs. London’s (464 Broadway) or The Bread Basket (65 Spring St.). If it’s a nice day, go to the latter and eat in the adjacent Congress Park, a surprisingly large Central Park-esque green space, complete with a carousel and a turn-of-the-century casino.
Where to eat a (nice dinner): Saratoga has more restaurants per capita than any place in the country, or so they say, so you can satisfy any kind of fine-dining wish. But go to Hattie’s. Really, just go to Hattie’s (45 Phila St.), the city’s world famous fried chicken and soul food mecca.
Where to eat (late night): Esperanto’s, 6 Caroline St. You haven’t lived until you’ve waited in line at 4 a.m. for a Doughboy. No one really knows what’s inside that fried dough, but cream cheese and chicken seem to be the likely suspects.
Where to drink (if you’re younger than 35): Saratoga City Tavern, 21 Caroline St. The five-story bar on the city’s busiest nightlife corner has something for everyone. The first floor has one of the area’s best-stocked tap lines, the second floor is a college bar, the third floor is a lounge with pool tables, the fourth floor is a dance club and the fifth is a rooftop bar (seasonal) that overlooks the city. When someone says the words “fourth floor” in Saratoga, it generally means the night has reached a point where no one will remember what happens next anyway.
Where to drink (if you’re older than 35): 9 Maple Ave., which is, not surprisingly, located on 9 Maple Ave. The place where Don Draper would drink if he came to Saratoga. Former Thrashers G.M. Rick Dudley loved the jazz here.
Where to drink (to say you did): Tin ‘n’ Lint, 2 Caroline St. Don McLean didn’t really write American Pie here, but you can take your picture in front of the plaque that says he did.
Best places to run into a player: If there’s no game the next day, the City Tavern and The Paddock Lounge, a nightclub at 6 Caroline Street.
Worth a ride: Head up North Broadway toward Skidmore College (815 N. Broadway) to get a look at the city’s grand old mansions and one new-money monstrosity.
Don’t miss: Saratoga Race Course, 267 Union Avenue. It’s closed this time of year, but you can’t go to Saratoga without at least driving by the country’s grandest horse track.
If anyone is planning a trip and has a question (or to invite me along), feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Safe travels!