Skip to content

One Thing to Improve Downtown Albany

April 16, 2018

This week I’m going to talk a lot about Downtown Albany. Why? There’s a lot going on.

Right now, as we speak, it is Downtown Albany’s Restaurant Week. And there are actually a few really good menus out there. Wellington’s looks especially appealing, but I always get a hankering for the traditional red-sauce Italian-American spreads V&R offers during this promotion.

Tomorrow, I’m heading out to the Warehouse District for an Official Yelp Event at Albany Distilling Company’s new bottle shop and bar. Ama Cocina is going to get in on the action. Unfortunately, if you aren’t already on the guest list, the event is all filled up. However, I’m looking forward to trying some of the distillery’s signature cocktails and maybe discovering a new favorite.

But I also have tales, and a few pictures, from the brand new Historic Downtown Albany Food Tour which will be booking public tours soon. Plus theREP is putting on what seems like a delightful show, and I’ve got something fun lined up to go with that too.

That said, I think we have to back up just a second, and ask a fundamental question. Does Albany even have a downtown? And if so, where is it?

Technically, the lower part of a city is its downtown. And since Albany descends towards the river, we’ve got one. But as far as a main business district goes… it’s a bit of an open question.

I would suspect that the city’s critics might suggest Albany lacks a concentrated business district as enterprises have left the urban core and scattered around the region.

There are definitely pockets of economic activity scattered around the city of Albany itself. When I hear people talk about local hubs of restaurants and nightlife, they generally are wistful about Lark Street’s past, scornful of Pearl Street’s rowdy present, and optimistic about the Warehouse District’s ascent.

Here’s my argument. All of that? That’s all Downtown Albany.

Now, sure. Technically it’s not. The Downtown BID certainly doesn’t consider this to be the case. Lark Street has its own BID. And the Warehouse District feels a bit too far afield for some. But hear me out.

I contend that downtowns are defined by their walkability. I’ve walked all around Manhattan and San Francisco. They are great walking cities. And in each, even with good reliable public transportation, I would regularly walk thirty minutes to get where I needed to go.

In California, I would take the train into the city, and walk up to whatever ad agency I was working in at the time. All except the one across the street from Pier 39 I’d consider to be downtown, even if some might have been on the periphery.

And in New York City, I hoof it from Penn Station to Central Park South. That’s a thirty minute walk.

It feels good. There’s no waiting for an Uber or Lyft. There’s none of the claustrophobia that comes from being jammed in a train or on a bus. It’s a great way to get exercise. And you get to experience the sights and smells of a city. Even here in Albany, there is remarkable architecture to appreciate, small parks that are easily missed, historical sites which are overlooked, public art many have never seen, all because people don’t walk.

Seriously. I sometimes think I’m the only one.

Last month I hoofed it from the shadow of the New York State Capitol—after a quick stop at The City Beer Hall—to Nine Pin Ciderworks all the way out in the Warehouse District. Do you know how long that took?

24 minutes. And it was lovely.

Granted, my motivation came from the fact that I had overeaten and felt the need to move before consuming anything further. Plus, I had to get my biweekly cider fix for my 26er card.

Yes. There is one small stretch that’s less than lovely, where you have to pass under the railroad bridge. But that’s going to change. Hopefully. And we’ll talk more about that later this week.

Let’s take the Warehouse District out of the picture for a moment. My extended view of Albany’s downtown creates a 4.3 mile perimeter. When I thought about my walking routes in and around Manhattan and San Francisco, I happened to draw areas with perimeters of identical length.

Clearly, the Manhattan map isn’t of the borough’s downtown. The maps are meant to be illustrative of what I consider to be “walking distance”. Steven Wright famously said, “Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” And there’s some truth to that.

But I don’t think that people avoid walking around Albany because they are pressed for time.

There are lots of reasons. Some are more valid than others. But people are social creatures. We like to do things when we see other people doing them. And right now, it’s mighty hard to see people walking around Albany at night. Or, for that matter, during the day.

If there is one thing that you could do to help make Downtown Albany a better place, it’s get out there and enjoy it on foot. At least give it a try. Should you get tired, there’s always Uber or Lyft to take you to your destination, and plenty of places to pop into for a bite or a sip of something invigorating along the way.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2018 10:48 am

    You walk down 8th Ave instead of 9th Ave in Manhattan? Why, since the food places are mostly on 9th Ave? Similarly, why Howard instead of Mission in SF?

    Also, there is a nice walking tour map of downtown Albany available at the visitor center by the river. You’ll pass a number of historic buildings, then climb the hill to the Capitol. Then stop in to Ama Cocina for tacos or DP for oysters, depending on how you roll.

  2. April 16, 2018 11:14 am

    Have you tried electric longboarding around “downtown?” I did that the other day and it was exhilarating. On another note, if you didn’t take advantage of Umana during restaurant week, you missed out. On YET another note, Albany really needs art. I suggest art warehouse raves, but that’s a long ways away. Art, please! Art galleries, museums, street art. Cities are boring without an art scene.

    • Susan permalink
      April 16, 2018 2:59 pm

      Would love to have more murals! Recent saw a lot of them in walks around Richmond VA and Philadelphia, and they really livened up some gritty and industrial areas.

    • David Nardolillo permalink
      April 16, 2018 8:24 pm

      Albany has art! One might think it doesn’t have enough, and that’s a different conversation, but the art scene here is not insignificant. You could hit quite a few art spots within the walking map area Daniel has sketched out.

      • April 16, 2018 9:03 pm

        If an artist does not know about art, then claiming there is art is the problem. It should be obvious. My mom is a local professional muralist and she has never gone to Albany for anything art-related. We usually go to the Berkshires or further South in the Hudson Valley. There should be an art section. There should be color to strike through the gray, sadness that is Albany. I want street art, dammit!!! Maybe it’s so drab because it’s the epicenter of all things government. The George Rickey sculptures are great, but he’s from literally right down the street from me and we were family friends. I want to see eclectic hippie moms with sunflowers painted on formerly abandoned shop windows. I want art house raves. I want people to take Arbor Hill and transform it into an art mecca. We do not have enough. We simply do not have enough art. *drops mic and walks off the stage to cheers from the crowd*

      • David Nardolillo permalink
        April 16, 2018 11:14 pm

        As I said above, whether there is enough art is a different conversation, but just within Daniel’s short loop, there is plenty to see in plain view:

        You could start with the Albany Institute’s permanent Hudson River School collection, or if you started downtown along the bottom of Daniel’s route, you could check out all kinds of new murals that have freshened up things like ramps and parking garages (;;;

        You could walk through the underground concourse at the Empire State Plaza which is filled with about 90 pieces of modern art. Even if you didn’t want to go to the New York State Museum afterwards, you could hang a left on Madison, and on your way to the murals grab a cup of coffee at Bonobo and see all kinds of local artwork for sale. If you don’t like the coffee there, you could head up to Lark Street where I was at 3 different shops and restaurants yesterday alone that were participating in art rental/purchase programs from local artists. At least three other stores on Lark sell art as part of their businesses.

        I’d tell you to keep an eye out for all the miniature Nippers that local artists painted that are planted around the city, or look at the old signs and advertisements painted on buildings that have recently been restored by local artists.

        You could stop by and see Tony Iadicicco at the Albany Center Gallery (whose fingerprints are on several of the initiatives mentioned above), or maybe deviate just a few blocks off Daniel’s route to visit the artist lofts at the Albany Barn in, you guessed it, Arbor Hill.

        Don’t forget the art in the architecture here. Tour the Capitol or the State Education Building where the interiors are more remarkable than the exteriors. Read the critical praise for Albany native Marcus Reynolds’ magnificent D&H railroad building, Albany City Hall, Kiernan Plaza, and, yes, even the South Mall. Part of the problem?

        And, those are just the things off the top of my head within the map area Daniel sketches out above.

        Again, whether there is “enough” art here, or whether it meets whatever critical standards one might apply are separate matters for discussion. But your insinuation that there is no art here can only mean you haven’t looked. Thankfully for those of us that don’t have these skills, there are many people creating around us who are attempting to change that conversation, and who don’t believe they are “part of the problem”.

      • enough already! permalink
        April 18, 2018 6:02 pm

        Very well said replies, David

  3. Ewan permalink
    April 16, 2018 12:26 pm

    OK, so: we need the FussyWalkTour, no?

    • Stacey permalink
      April 16, 2018 5:17 pm

      ooh fun idea!

    • Debra permalink
      April 17, 2018 12:27 pm

      Wonderful idea! I would do it with a group of people, but mostly I’m on my own and not willing to walk certain areas. Would love to see what I haven’t seen before in this city.

  4. RogerK permalink
    April 16, 2018 12:59 pm

    Your Albany perimeter image visually gives me the idea that you could avoid the conflict with Albany’s Downtown BID by calling your geographic area The Albany Boot. And boots are made for walking.

  5. April 16, 2018 7:03 pm

    I am very into walking around Albany except for when it’s 5 degrees, like it was the last time I visited my folks. California’s made me far too soft for that shiz.

    • April 16, 2018 9:18 pm

      Softie. I know the feeling. Totally over it. Gotta get out. Freezing weather be damned.

  6. Sean permalink
    April 19, 2018 9:26 am

    Thank you for this great article. I completely agree! I Lived in NYC for awhile and got used to walking everywhere, but am from Albany and moved back a few years ago, now living by Buckingham pond. My wife and I regularly walk from our house downtown as far as pearl street. It’s an easy walk and there are so many great things to see and areas to explore on foot that you would miss zipping past in a car! And if you are too tired to walk home you can always uber!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: