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Monday, April 5, 2010

What is going on Uptown?

Uptown Utica. Two words, when put in the proper order, can inspire thoughts of heady conversation, good food, good music, strong coffee and gourmet beer on tap. Those are all good things; but until now, those thoughts were reserved for the well informed minority of Uticans who regularly hang there. As spring and summer quickly advance the numbers of well informed regulars continues to grow.
Only an expert demographer could accurately gauge the group most inclined to visit or regularly hang out in Uptown. But to the casual observer, and member of a fringe group of struggling artists that hang out anywhere, I can attest to the wide range of Uticans that are prone pull up a chair at the cafe or get a table at one of the two restaurants that call Uptown home.
"We all work together" shared Lauren Helmer General Manager of The Hadley-Balkan (2006-2008 Genesee St.). She was referring to the many creative promotional specials like 'Dinner and a Movie' that they run with their neighbor, The Uptown Theatre. The spirit of cooperation between the different businesses extend beyond the Uptown Theatre; it is truly a business community.
Mini-Coopers, Saabs, BMW's - hip-cars - compete for the limited parking with Ford Tempos old Hondas and bicycles.
The drivers? They work, buy art, eat out, drink gourmet beer and like movies. They tend to support the efforts of local farmers and try to do their part to combat climate change by attending lectures, riding bikes and driving the occasional hybrid.
Because of it's unique atmosphere, Uptown Utica, a small cluster of businesses that intersect at Emerson and Genesee St. is establishing itself as one the hippest places to hangout in The Mohawk Valley.
But you need to ask yourself: Am I cool enough?
If you are into NASCAR, prefer lots o' Ketchup with your steak and have no appreciation for art or conversations about changing the world; Uptown probably is not for you.
It is a place where display menus are hand painted and servers have pierced eyebrows. A place where college students drink (coffee) and do their homework on laptops.
Uptown is a place where you can attend shamanic drum circles twice a month (The Other Side), listen to local poets plan a show, students debate a lecture or just do the crossword (Cafe Domenico).
Uptown is a place where you can hear an Irish Band, Mandolin players and Utica's own Rusty Doves all in one week.
Uptown is the place that recently played host to international Jazz star Jane Monheit who performed for an intimate crowd (75) at The Other Side (2011 Genesee St.), a non-profit cultural universe of it's own that adds a considerable sum of integrity to Uptown's growing popularity and cultural importance.
Uptown has been historically anchored by popular shops like Uptown Automotive- a thirty year success story owned byJim Amado-that revolves around Model Cars and rare Hotwheels. And The Historic Uptown Theatre.
Uptown has always been pedestrian friendly and, on good weather days, it reaches it's potential as a sundrenched center of all kinds of activity. It could be described as a less crowded, quiet alternative to the Spring Break atmosphere of beer soaked Varick St.
No, there are no tatoo shops, no pizza joints ( although there used to be) and no Police on stand by for beer brawls. It is a mature, ecclectic atmosphere. The perfect place to bring visiting friends when you want to make a good impression.
Simply put, it is a model Renaissance District. Previously driven by a now defunt dry cleaner, a number of unsuccessful pizza joints and The newly rescuscitated Uptown Theatre. It used to be a part of town most of us just drove through on our way to doing whatever it is we do. Now we slow down, take a look. And some of us even park, get out and go see what's going on Uptown.

Uptown Plaza (2007 Genesee St.)
Listed first because it lies right at the edge of the action in Uptown. Uptown Plaza lies on the Northeast side of Emerson Ave and Genesee St. it is home to about seven suites each housing a different business. Uptown's prosperity has never been in these businesses hands. There are specialty shops that include the Old Training Gym for MMA fighter Matt Hamill (that appears empty), a CPA and a couple of empty suites begging for a creative entreprenuer to take advantage of the spike in foot traffic. The most successful businesses in the Plaza, Uptown Automotive,("A Hobby Shop For car Nuts") and Mohawk Valley Music Supply have been operating before the current spike in interest.

Cafe Domenico (2009 Genesee St.)
The first business to provide a solid social foundation to the area is Cafe Domenico. Entering it's eighth year (7/22), Domenico's has been growing in popularity since it's opening in 2002. It's importance is not overlooked.
"Domenico's is an area of critical mass where a lot of different people can share ideas" said Adam Spiridilozzi a local artist, student, and a regular member of the Domenico's community.
Domenicos is also one of the businesses that everyone has been to. It is moderately to low priced and there is a good chance you won't overstay your welcome by nursing a twenty minute coffee waiting for late friends.

The Other Side (2011 Genesee St)
The only non-profit on the block has been extremely active in it's first year. Still in it's infancy (non-profit years) this collection of intellectuals, artists and local activists has helped transform more than the culture of Uptown.
They provide a LGBT teen meeting space (rare by any standard), shamanic drum circles (twice a month), a series on climate change, Talkin Bout Jazz musical series (debuted with Jane Monheit) and of course The very successful Imagining America series of free lectures sponsored in part,by Hamilton College.
The Imagining America Lecture series alone is worth the price of admission, the fact that it is free will elicit feelings of guilt for anyone in attendance that doesn't give a donation. Where else in Utica can you go and learn about foreign service (espionage) from an expert? Where to get farm fresh local eggs or homemade rootbeer? Why our economy was in danger of collapse?
They also host poetry readings, live Improv and are open to just about anything that can help elevate the community conversation. The Other Side is aptly named.

The Balkan-Hadley Restaurant Bar (2006-2008 Genesee St.)

The Balkan-Hadley Restaurant Bar 315-507-4264

The Balkan-Hadley Restaurant Bar is really two restaraunts in one.
The Balkan, which is open year round for lunch and dinner, is the lower priced more accessible option for the Uptown diner. it has its own menu and all lunches come with soup salads and a basket of bread. They have multiple sandwich options as well; feel free to order anything from grilled to deli style. There are ten dinner options that all come with rice or potato and vegetables. To Gotham City News, a low budget operation, the best thing about the Balkan is price, everything, including Steak Au Poivre is well under twenty bucks.
The Hadley could be described as the upscale version of The Balkan. Compared with the other businesses in the area they are priced above the market. It has not hurt them, they have a lower priced option right next door under the same roof. Lobster, Rack of Lamb, Grilled Veal Chop and , of course Delmonico Steak compete for popularity amongst the high rollers.
Remember to ask about dinner and a movie.

Uptown Theatre (2012 Genesee St.)
The Uptown-315-797-0020
The Theatre has been given a new lease on life. It is home to video game tournaments live action performances and, of course, movies. Remember to ask them about dinner and a movie.

The Green Onion (2014 Genesee St)
The Green Onion-202-276-1049
The newest addition to The Uptown scene is The Green Onion. On October 22nd they will celebrate their first year. The intimate little Barspace next door to Uptown theate is a departure from the usual Utica drinking experience all the way down to it's real Cork dartboard, well heeled bartenders and really good microbrews.

See you Uptown.

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