Left of the Dial – an Xperience Column

Written by on November 9, 2023

Left of the Dial – Giving Thanks – a Column by Mike Stampalia.

November is a thankful month: Veterans Day and, of course, Thanksgiving. I’ve lived in the Capital District nearly my entire life, and I am an unapologetic booster. But why? What’s so great about our neck of the woods? Aren’t we supposed to snicker, and be embarrassed, about “Smallbany?”

In no particular order, here are some things that make me grateful that I live here. And I wouldn’t trade it for anywhere else:

Perecca’s Bread: I’ll spare you the overused anecdotes about Jack Nicholson. But, man, this is indeed simplicity at its finest. I’d absolutely kill a man for a “small long,” and if you’re honest with yourself, so would you.

No Fun: No Fun has quietly become the essential venue of the region. We have a wealth of venues that put on high-quality destination shows. But No Fun has entered that rarified air of venues where you don’t have to ask “Who’s playing?” Just show up: you know it’s affordable, you know it’s the hippest thing happening that night, and you know it’s going to be good. The heart of anti-establishment in the area? I think so.

Tess Collins: With all apologies to Kathy Sheehan, Tess is the real mayor of Albany. The McGeary’s owner has history and breadth that transcends any pigeonholing you might consider. Her roots go back to the halcyon days of the area, and she has the stories to back it up. She runs a bar that is the heart of Albany, one that is simultaneously an Irish bar, a cop bar, a live music incubator, a counterculture center, and a thousand other things that defy easy categorization. And because that isn’t enough, she opened up the Rock Pit, a (rock) music school catered to young people left wanting after the unfortunate closure of the progenitor, Loudonville-based, School of Rock. Long may you run, Tess.

Stewart’s: Another (perhaps) obvious one, but I get a palpable feeling of comfort when I walk into one of their many, many brown outposts, which I do almost daily. Outstanding fairly-priced ice cream, the region’s best milk, the lunch destination of every contractor in the area. They simply are everything to everybody, and somehow get it right. I’m a hiker, and I’ve literally stopped in at 4:45 a.m. in the middle of nowhere to stock up for my hikes, last-minute. And never been disappointed. Never change, Stewart’s.

Caffe Lena: This one hits close to home. Lena is – quite literally – one of the most renowned venues in the world.  In the class of the Ryman and (God rest its soul) CBGBs. Several times a week, a world-class artist or band plays there, in what can only be described as the most pleasant venue in the world. You are up close and intimate, and there are delicious cookies to boot. Yet somehow, it still flies below the radar. This is our big leagues, our world stage. If you don’t realize that, you’re not paying attention. Oh yeah – and Dylan. (Look it up.)

Tragedy (William Yager): “Trag.” An Albany icon, to say the least. As legit as it gets, hearkens back to the 80s with unending street cred, mastermind of the “Tragic Empire,” a collection of businesses that somehow thrive (or at least survive?)  in spite of them being anti-everything. Trag’s current claim to fame is as the owner of the Fuze Box: spiritual heir to the legendary QE2, and the dirtiest, grungiest, (most real) punk bar in the region. Trag could give a f*** whether you come to his bar. And that’s why you absolutely have to.

Local Radio: I offer, in no particular order: RadioRadioX. WAMC’s Live at the Linda. WEXT. WRPI. WEQX. WSPN. WEQX. WCDB. C’mon – I’ve been to markets 10x our size that don’t have half our radio quality. If you’re not listening, you’re not paying attention.

Monday Night Jazz/Jam at 518 Craft: I don’t even know how to give this justice in words. The area’s best jazz musicians. Joe Barna. Absolutely hopping scene, effortlessly cool clientele, on a MONDAY NIGHT. Real, FREE, homecooked food. As hip a scene as you’ll encounter anywhere, in any city. And all they ask is a bucket to throw in “what you think it’s worth.” Otherworldly good.

Super Dark Collective: They made Mondays a destination night (at Desperate Annie’s) in Saratoga. Where have you been?

Indian Ladder: Not the apple picking, not the cider donuts, not the animal-petting. The brewery, the firepits, the DJs, FARMING MAN! What a vibe…

The Hangar: Next-level booking. The coolest room around. Bar none. You can get in and out of there for under $40.

I’ve had plenty of opportunities to leave this area, but I’ve never seriously considered it. What makes you stay?


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