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One of my favorite memories of growing up near Saratoga is going to hear a jazz pianist and her acoustic-bass accompanist at a side-street bistro, back in the early 1980s. I’ve forgotten her name now, but she took requests and she was awesome. Around the same time, I also started hanging out at Caffè Lena, when its legendary owner, Lena Spencer, was still alive and introducing all the acts. I remember thinking how cool it was to hear such great music, so close to home, so far from big-city life.

Saratoga may be a hot spot for horse lovers and springwater aficionados, but it’s a legitimate music destination too. The performing arts center (SPAC) has been around since the 1960s, as has the Caffè. When Universal Preservation Hall—currently undergoing a transformation from rundown church to performing arts venue—and Skidmore’s soon-to-come Zankel Music Center (see page 18) are up and running, there will be that many more concert offerings to choose from.

But there are plenty of lower-key listening rooms too, where live music and epicurean fare team up for a memorable evening. Most nights you can be assured of catching a band someplace in town, either on or off the main drag. Try the Wine Bar (piano music on Fridays and Saturdays) or Circus Café (jazz on Wednesdays), both on Broadway, and Bailey’s Café (various bands on the weekends) at the corner of Phila and Putnam Streets.

In summertime many bars and restaurants open their patios, and the music wafts out into the streets. In fact, if your pockets are empty—or you prefer staying clear of crowds—you can just lean on a signpost or wander up and down the sidewalks and take in the (sometimes competing) sounds of various bands. On the other hand, you might contribute your own talents: Lena’s and the Circus Café each have an open mic every Thursday, and the Parting Glass has Celtic jam sessions twice a month.

Meanwhile, if you’re downtown and itching to hear some music, consider these locations: One Caroline Street Bistro (, set below street level where Caroline meets Broadway, showcases some of the area’s best jazz players five nights a week. Vocalist Sarah Pedinotti, accompanied by piano, bass, and drums, is a regular and well worth going to hear. The place is hip enough—with copper-top tables, sultry lighting, red walls with black-and-white portraits of musicians, a menu featuring local and organically grown ingredients—to make you think you’re in a bigger-city jazz club—in Montreal, perhaps.

A block east of Broadway is another jazz spot: 9 Maple Avenue ( The intimate forty-seat club, between Lake Avenue and Caroline Street, presents some fine combos on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s known also for its fermented offerings (150-plus
single-malt scotches, 200-plus martini styles, monthly whiskey tastings), and there’s a
Skidmore connection at the bar itself: a porcelain tap head thrown by ceramic artist Regis Brodie.

A short walk away is the Parting Glass ( at 40–42 Lake Avenue (Rt. 29), on the corner of Henry Street. A Saratoga mainstay for more than twenty-five years, it serves
up quintessential pub grub, including beer-battered fries, nachos, soups, and burgers. On the tunes front, it’s traditional Irish and American roots music most weekend nights. A perennial Glass favorite for fans of bluegrass-flavored Celtic pop are hometown headliners the McKrells.
Next time you’re in town, perk up your ears. —MTS