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The Five Floors of Saratoga City Tavern, Explained
A by-floor vibe check of Saratoga's tallest bar in honor of its rooftop opening for the summer, plus: a "Beach, Please" discount code, overheard at Morrissey's, and news from NYRA.
The good thing about Caroline Street (yes, there are still many great things, despite what your Facebook feed may claim) is that if you’re not feeling one bar, you can walk literally 10 steps and be in a different bar with a different crowd and a different vibe. (After all, Saratoga is the US city with the most bars per capita.) The good thing about Saratoga City Tavern, the four-story (plus a rooftop) across-the-street neighbor of the much-in-the-news Gaffney’s, is that if you’re not having a good time on one floor, you can go up or down a flight of stairs (or several) to a whole new world—no going outside to the cold of winter or lines of track season required.
Indeed, the Tavern is a microcosm of Saratoga’s larger bar scene, full of intricacies, insider secrets, 73 draughts and one hell of a karaoke night, which passers-by may not pick up on as they hurry down Caroline to their dinner reservation at the very-NYC Hamlet and Ghost, or round the corner headed for the much-more-Instagrammable Whitman Brewing. Now I’m definitely a fan of both those establishments, and mean them no disrespect. But it’s a special type of bar that can cater to advanced-in-age locals, college kids and track tourists alike, all under one roof—or, in this case, a rooftop bar. Not sure which part of the Tavern is for you? Let’s take it from the top.
5th Floor: The Roof
Open 7 days a week through the summer
Earlier this week, the Tavern’s rooftop soft-opened for the season with a different M.O. than in previous years. “COVID taught us that people’s space is very important and is worth something,” says Jay Fitch, who co-owns both City Tavern and Kings Tavern with his two brothers. “This year the roof is going to be table service only. We’re going to try to keep it to a light roar, not the usual shoulder-to-shoulder.” (Whether that switch will encourage more mature adults to make the trek up the stairs to the roof remains to be seen; there is an elevator, but, c’mon, the climb is all part of the experience.) The roof will also be getting a revamp with new furniture, including tables and lounge seating. This past Thursday, when I was the only customer on the too-cold-for-comfort, open-air rooftop (the security guard at the top of the stairs had warned me it was cold), GM Annie Hurley told me that she’s anxiously awaiting the day when everything is set up, and that I shouldn’t judge the space yet, since it wasn’t quite finished. Shortly after getting my beer, I decided I’d had enough of the breezy dusk weather. “I told you so,” the security guard said as I began my descent.
Fourth Floor: The Boom Boom Room
Open Fridays and Saturdays
On any given weekend night after, say, 10pm, even the aforementioned passers-by should be able to discern which floor of the Tavern is affectionately (or, to some, disapprovingly) known as the Boom Boom Room—it’s the one spewing strobe lighting from its windows, whether people are actually dancing yet or not. “A lot of people come because we’re one of the only places with a big dance floor,” first-floor bartender Morgan explained on a recent Friday night. “The crowd is on the younger side.”
“Boom Boom is the best,” added Tate, a young buck I ran into as he headed up the stairs. “I’m also a college kid, so…” That’s not to say Saratoga’s slightly older bar-goers don’t enjoy a good, old-fashioned trip to the fourth floor, though. When I asked my Instagram followers their favorite floor, Saratoga Dog Walker Tim Pink responded: “Not me saying the Boom Boom Room. 😂” On that Friday night though, the Boom Boom Room had yet to get jiggy with it. “Immediately no,” one of my friends said upon peering into the empty room around 11:30pm. “Honestly, you’ve got to wait ‘til 1 in the morning,” a younger customer we ran into in the stairwell told us. Plus, she added, Saturdays are typically the busier of the two weekend nights. “Last Saturday we were like sardines in a can.”
Third Floor: The Living Room
Open Fridays and Saturdays…Allegedly
I’m a little bit of a fraud for even trying to evaluate the vibe of the third floor, since I have never actually set foot there. “The third floor is a conspiracy,” someone on the first floor once told me, before the surrounding crowd launched into several conspiracy theories about what actually goes on there, including: insider trading, illegal horse betting and Fight Club. According to one patron, Bruno of Encanto’s “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” may be hiding out there. “We don’t talk about the third floor,” he said. Rumors probably swirl about the third floor because it’s frequently closed, especially through the winter. In reality, “It’s like the chillest floor,” according to one bartender, who pointed out that it has couches and a pool table, and is where private parties are held.
Second Floor: Saratoga’s Favorite Dive Bar
For a while there around the turn of my 21st birthday, the Tavern’s second floor, which a sign in the stairwell refers to as “Saratoga’s Favorite Dive Bar,” seemed to be a beacon to every steel-toed-boot-wearing 20-something from my high school. These days, while I recognize fewer faces there, the bar seems to draw the same type of crowd; I recently ran into a group of men from Brunswick, most of whom had mullets. “Why do you like the second floor?” I asked. “We don’t,” one said, probably more to spite the girl writing in a notebook at a bar on a Friday night than because he actually doesn’t like it. But whether or not that Brunswicker liked the second floor, he was there, as was a decent-sized crowd gathered around the bar, which is brand new following recent building-wide renovations. (In addition to the new second floor bar, the Tavern is sporting new bathrooms, paint and fourth floor VIP booths, as well as new AC and heating systems.)
At least one customer isn’t 100 percent pleased with the facelift: “They got rid of the tall boy beer cans,” said Sam Blake, who noted the change came immediately following the renovations. “That was the only reason you came to the second floor. They’re kind of classin’ up the place too much.” Greg Corcione, on the other hand, approves of the second floor’s new windows. “It’s a slight bay window,” he noted. “It’s kind of nice.”
First Floor: No Description Necessary
Open 7 Days a Week
While it may not boast the views of the rooftop, the dance club vibe of the fourth floor, the mystique of the third floor, or the once infamous tall boys of the second floor, the first floor actually has the most to offer. For one, it’s the home base for “muggers,” the 2,572 (and counting) members of the mug club. Not only does the Tavern keep track of the number of muggers—it also keeps a tally of how many 23.5-ounce mugs those muggers have drank over the course of their mugging career in a binder kept behind the bar. Earlier this month I met Jake, mug club member #1599, who had up until that point imbibed 1,883 mugs worth of beer. Jake also happened to be a member of the Century Club, an exclusive cohort of only the heaviest beer drinkers who have drunk 100 mugs in 100 days. To award his achievement, Jake got his nickname (“Spicy Meatstick”) as well as the number of days it took him to drink 100 mugs (38) engraved on a plaque on the wall. “The record is nine days,” Spicy Meatstick informed me, gesturing to a much larger plaque affixed right to the bar top that pays homage to the mugger who pulled off that definitely concerning bender of a feat: Stony Pimp, #93.
Aside from calculating just how many ounces of beer its most regular regulars drink, the first floor also regularly hosts live music, DJs and on Thursdays, karaoke. “It gets pretty crazy,” DJ WaiLin told me just before opening up the floor to amateur singers this past Thursday. “It might be weird at the beginning. We might get some old men singing to themselves, but honestly that’s my favorite part of the night.” On the contrary, just after 9pm a crew of about a dozen pain management professionals rolled in, ready to sing following what was surely a very boozy business dinner. “We don’t get out much,” admitted one member of the group, still dressed in his business casual clothes. Marty got the ball rolling with Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” but didn’t quite find his groove until taking the stage a second time to sing Uncle Kracker’s “Follow Me.” “He’s an absolute stud, folks,” WaiLin said following Marty’s performance. “That man is cooler than the other side of the pillow.”
But perhaps the best description of the first floor is this: “The first floor is a bar,” someone at the first floor bar told me. “What you see is what you get.”
Quote of the Week
“It’s really pretty simple.”
—A Morrissey’s server explaining Clothesline Bacon to a customer on Tuesday
Tour de Prance
This week, NYRA, CDTA and Old Tavern Farm announced a new Saratoga Race Course experience that will give fans the opportunity to have breakfast at the track, take a trolley ride to Old Tavern’s scenic Saratoga Lake breeding farm for a 90-minute walking tour, and return to the track for the afternoon. “It’s a whole day’s worth of entertainment for fans of Saratoga who may view the sport through a different prism after taking advantage of this terrific package,” NYRA spokesperson Pat McKenna said at a press conference at Old Tavern on Tuesday. “This is going to be a very interactive type of experience,” added Walt Borisenok, the farm’s owner. “What we’d like to do is show people where the racehorse athletes that you see on the track started their lives.” The Breakfast and Breeding Farm Tour is $55 for adults and $25 for children 12 and under, and will take place each Friday throughout the Saratoga meet. Tickets are on sale now at nyra.com.
Save the Date
It may be 200 miles to the nearest beach, but Saratoga Living is heating things up aloha style to kick off the summer. Join us June 9 from 6-9pm at Putnam Place as we toast the season with a beach party, complete with tiki drinks, Sip of Sunshine IPAs, surf music by The Jagaloons, food by Hatties, aerialist performances by Good Karma Studio and—wait for it—beer pong. Use code EARLYBIRD20 to get half off your ticket when you purchase on or before Memorial Day.
This week in Saratoga Living After Hours
On Monday, we tested Saratoga foodies’ knowledge with a fill-in-the-blank restaurant news quiz.
Then, on Tuesday, we recapped the “holiday weekend before the holiday weekend,” during which Natalie Moore partook in not one, but two sort-of-official holidays: Dual Day and Summit Beer Day.