The Unwritten Rules of the Victoria Pool
PLUS: Saratoga High's dancing English teacher, a very-Saratoga beauty line and our annual 'Best Of' survey.
For those who didn’t grow up going there, the Victoria Pool can be somewhat of a mystery. For one, the historic public swimming pool is run by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, whose website gives little to no information on how or when it operates. (My sister read somewhere online that it was open earlier this summer, only to arrive to find it still closed.) Then there’s the fact that the Victoria isn’t the only pool in the park—there’s also the Peerless, which is located in the area you have to pay to access but is free to get in to, while Victoria is free to drive to but $8 to get in. Plus, if you didn’t know where in the park Victoria was, you couldn’t drive around to find it, since it’s tucked out of site in a courtyard. Add in a sorta-secret unwritten code to which regular pool-goers adhere, and those of us who grew up cooling off in lakes are completely lost.
Two years ago, some of my questions were answered when Saratoga Living ran a story on all the famous people who have visited the Victoria over the years, from Sheryl Crow, Dave Matthews and Steven Tyler to the dancers from New York City Ballet. It was then that I met Louise Goldstein, co-founder of the Save the Victoria Pool Society, which revitalized the aging National Historic Landmark in the early 2000s. Louise is known around the pool as the Queen of the Victoria Pool, and has been going there regularly since the 1940s—since the pool was lined with blue tiles and had several diving boards. “There’s something magic about that pool,” she told me recently. “People just love it. They make friends for life there from all over the country and the world, and they look forward to seeing each other next summer. I don’t know what it is. It’s beautiful and unique, but it’s even more than that. It’s like magic.”
Thanks to some help from Louise and a couple trips to the acclaimed Victoria, which officially opened for the season last Saturday, I’ve been able to get a much better grip on the unwritten rules of the pool. Here’s a guide, for those of you who haven’t spent the last eight decades lounging in the sunlight of Saratoga’s hidden gem.
The Victoria Pool opens the fourth Saturday in June
I haven’t actually seen this fact written anywhere, but it has been true of most recent years. Exceptions: 2020, when COVID delayed the opening until July 3, and 2013, when then-Governor Andrew Cuomo announced it would open three weeks early. If you forget this fact next summer, your best bet is to follow Saratoga Spa State Park (they posted that both the Victoria and Peerless were open on the 25th, though not before then) or Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce on Facebook. Alternatively, you could do what Louise’s group of Victoria regulars does: Actually go there to check. “From January on we call each other about when the pool’s going to open,” one woman tells me. “Louise drives over there a lot.” Another regular named Kelly, who enjoys the arcade surrounding the pool even in the off season, jumps in: “I’m here all year. I come in December and I take a chair and I sit in the archways.”
The line starts as early as you can get there
“There’s something called the early-morning line that’s not organized,” Louise tells me, not mentioning the fact that she herself is a frequenter of said early-morning line. “People get there at ridiculous hours. It opens at 10 and there are people that go at 6 in the morning and wait on the steps.” I, obviously, needed to investigate, so dropped by to see the state of the line just after 9:30am on Friday, a day predicted to be in the 90s. There were 50 or so people already there, some standing next to their bags and others sitting on benches or mingling while their bag held their place in line. I approached a group gathered on a bench that happened to be members of Louise’s pool crew who had been told by the Queen herself that I was writing a story. Doug, who lives in Downtown Albany, had arrived at 8:30, and Kelly was there at 7:45.
Why do they get there so early? “There are approximately 100 lounge chairs and there are 21 umbrellas,” Kelly tells me. “So you run in and fight. I bring my own umbrella so I don’t have to fight.” People who aren’t willing to wait in the morning line know to bring their own chair, as it’s not a given there will be one available.
Regulars have enhanced early-morning line rights
By arriving at 7:45 on Friday, Kelly, whose great-grandmother was around when the Victoria opened in 1935 and whose father worked as a lifeguard there, secured the number six spot in line. She placed her pool bag behind the other pool bags, and went to have breakfast at 58 Roosevelt Bar & Grill, the onsite restaurant that took over Catherine’s this season. This is where the rules of the line start to get muddled. “The official rule is that when you get in line you need to stay in line,” someone from outside Louise’s group clarified. “But the people who get here earliest are the people that have been coming here for 100 years, so it’s OK that they leave and come back. If suddenly a family of 10 that’s never been here before is like ‘let’s get there at 6 in the morning and then leave’—that would cause a fight.”
“Regular” means extremely regular
In Friday’s line, the term “regular” was being thrown around a lot, so I wanted to clarify. “How regular is regular?” I asked. “Like three times a week?”
Clearly, I was naive. “No,” Doug said. “Every day.”
“We take attendance,” Kelly added.
“If it’s going to rain, he does his dance,” Susan, another regular said, gesturing to Mark, yet another diehard pool-goer.
“I do the sun dance to the goddess of the sun,” Mark said. “Approved by Louise.”
There’s a capacity limit
This one’s technically a written rule, but you wouldn’t know it until you saw the maximum capacity sign posted by the check-in counter. No more than 344 people are allowed in the pool—more than three times the number of chairs there are, mind you—and park rangers will cut people off after that number. “If we’re at capacity, as two come out, two come in,” Kelly explains. “It’s worse during August.”
Come for lunch an hour before you’re hungry
This one’s straight from the mouth of Louise, who, after a Friday morning appointment kept her from waiting in the early-morning line, joined her crew at the pool. By the sounds of it, they were waiting for their food when I called. (58 Roosevelt’s lunch menu includes appetizers, salads, burgers, sandwiches and wraps.) “You should be able to order tomorrow’s lunch, but they don’t allow it,” she said. “It’s so slow some days.”
You can’t* bring in outside alcohol
When I went to the Victoria on Tuesday, there was a temporary lapse in the restaurant’s liquor license, so the poolside bar was only serving up soft drinks, much to the dismay of many pool-goers.
“Oh my god, that’s tragic,” one woman said upon hearing the news from the two women in the chairs next to her.
“If you DoorDash from CVS you can get alcohol,” one of other women said.
“Now you’re thinking, sister.”
The one flaw in that plan? You’re not allowed to bring in outside alcohol, not that that stopped one boozy Saratogian, who snuck in a homemade cocktail in a Corksicle last weekend. That’s not necessary now, though, as 58 Roosevelt’s liquor license got approved Wednesday, and beer, wine and cocktails are now for sale.
Children are discouraged
In the world of Saratoga sunbathers, this one’s a biggie. While kids are allowed at both the Victoria and the Peerless, they’re not necessarily welcome at both. “Make sure you say that the Peerless is for kids and this pool is for adults only,” Doug told me, only partly joking. “We would pay $20 not to have kids,” Kelly admitted. (The entrance fee is $8 currently.) “Oh, we definitely frown upon children,” Louise said.
Regardless, kids do come to the Victoria, even though the Peerless boasts a water slide, kiddie pool with a fountain, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream stand. On Tuesday there were a pair of grade school girls making TikTok videos, and a baby that only cried once that I can remember. “Mom, I have to go to the bathroom,” one of the older girls whined. “Well I literally just asked you eight seconds ago,” responded her mom, not even lifting her head from the lounge chair.
Just like the Plastics rule the school in Mean Girls, which is playing now at Proctors, Louise’s group rules the pool. “It’s very clique-ish,” she tells me. “So certain groups don’t approach or speak unless they’re spoken to. And we’re the worst.” That, though, I find incredibly hard to believe, as both she and her friends couldn’t have been more welcoming when I asked them to fill me in on the secrets of the Victoria Pool.
Quote of the Week
“The girls sitting next to us just alerted us that they don’t have their liquor license. You should’ve seen our faces. My heart is broken. We look like we both got punched in the stomach. They don’t even tell you when you come in. Anyway, we’ll move on.”
—One particularly distressed Tuesday afternoon pool-goer who called her friend to fill him or her in on her misfortune (58 Roosevelt has since acquired its liquor license)
Just in time for summer, Saratoga Springs High School English teacher Josh Johnson, who’s known for breaking it down in the classroom, heated things up on Shakira’s new show, Dancing With Myself. Each episode, 12 home-grown dancers from around the world compete in different dance challenges for the ultimate $25,000 prize. “I love to dance, so I’m just glad I got to dance at this party,” Josh said, before being saved by the judges in round one. He went on to compete in rounds two, three and four before being knocked out in the partner round. Watch the entire episode here.
On Wednesday, Complexions Spa for Beauty & Wellness owner Denise Dubois officially unveiled her long-awaited Dubois Beauty line at a launch party with brand ambassador Heather Thomson of The Real Housewives of New York. Guests sipped Champagne while testing out products including Dubois’ cleansing milk, antioxidant serum, buffing cream and restorative night cream.
Save the Date
Saratoga Living is proud to sponsor Nipperfest, a free music festival coming to Schenectady’s Central Park on July 23. Headlining the local-bands-only shindig? Saratoga royalty The Figgs.
Cast Your Votes
Voting is now open for our 5th annual Best of Everything A2Z Survey! Vote here for your favorites in categories including Happy Hour, Stewart’s Shop, New Business and Northway Exit! Vote once a day through the month of July here.
This Week in Saratoga Living After Hours
On Monday, we asked readers how well they know their Saratoga ice cream with a super-sweet edition of Game Time. Take a stab at it in honor of Ice Cream Month, which kicked off yesterday, then go grab a scoop or two at whichever shop’s photo has you drooling the most.
Then on Tuesday, we waded into the world of pop culture with the Stranger Things–caused Kate Bush Revival. Local radio station WEQX weighs in here.
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This post about the Victoria Pool justified my subscription to SLAH all by itself.... Fantastic job!
The issues with the Victoria Pool are much deeper than simply cliques and “no kids.” The amount of verbal abusive both lifeguards and cashiers get is appalling. It’s a lovely place and no one can ever take that away but if you really want to know the “unwritten rules,” the workers would tell you everything and not sugar coat it. If you want a high school on a pool deck, the Victoria pool is the place to go. The drama, the gossip, and the entitlement is beyond compare when is comes to this pool. It’s unfortunate that a gorgeous place like this can turn into a lions den so quick.