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Nightlife is part of Saratoga's charm, but it also has its downsides

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The bars and nightclubs of Saratoga Springs are a popular summer destination. But nightlife can pose some problems.

Over 15 bars and clubs condensed into just a few blocks welcome thousands of visitors after hours in the city of Saratoga Springs during the summer months. Street musicians make their cash playing bar-hopping on Caroline Street, the heart of the city’s nightclub scene.

Club dance music mixes with the punk rock of historic dive bars down the street, and people in leather jackets and button-downs share cigarettes. Several city police officers stand guard from an adjacent intersection. The summer horse racing season is upon us, and we’re seeing crowds equal to three times his annual population in Saratoga.

Sam Anderson, who lives in Norwood, Massachusetts, spends his weekends playing with ponies at the Saratoga Racecourse and celebrating prizes downtown.

“I got hot on the track, I did a few races…then I found myself on Caroline Street! Sometimes one thing leads to another and I end up here two nights in a row.” said Anderson.

After more than two years of the pandemic, the streets of Saratoga are bustling again. But taxi driver Aziz Ahmad remembers a busier night years before COVID.

“Summer is a bit late this year. I don’t know what’s going on, but a lot of people aren’t coming out because the economy is a little rough. I used to be very busy from Sunday to Friday. But lately it’s been a little slower.”

While inflation and high gas prices may be keeping some visitors away, there are other reasons for regulars to go elsewhere, Ahmad said.

One club in particular has seen more violence in recent years than any other downtown venue: Gaffney’s Restaurant and Bar. We documented 65 relevant case reports.

Fights and altercations continued into the spring, and the stabbing incident in May was the final straw for authorities.

Isaac Appel, chef at nearby cocktail bar Hamlet and Ghost, doesn’t think it’s any less crowded than usual, but speculates that the hustle and bustle around Gaffnies may be making people uneasy.

“I think one of the reasons people think it’s probably less busy is because there weren’t any crazy things happening this summer,” Appel said. I feel like there was a problem every night.Gaffney’s is closed for most of the summer and I haven’t had any problems.I work across the street too so it’s much louder. Like it’s in our restaurant. It’s definitely bigger and Gaffney’s is crazy.

Gaffneys reopened in July after reaching an agreement with the New York State Liquor Department and the city of Saratoga Springs. The deal included a $70,000 fine and several orders to address safety issues.

“This includes restrictions on recorded music, bans on live music, bans on DJs,” said James Montanino, Public Safety Democratic Commissioner for Saratoga Springs. Patrons are about two: 30, I think I was out by 2:45. Also security is better trained and all patrons are lost at a single entrance. So in the past he’s put security on the front line where Gaffney’s has never been. So, so far it’s been a few weekends with success. And it looks like it’s going to be good. ”

Gaffney spokesperson Joe Bonilla said he wants the reopened bar to be a “summer destination”, adding:

Bonilla said, “Our service and security staff are happy to be back doing what they do best to create a fun and safe atmosphere. Songwriters are back in the heart of Caroline Street.” rice field.”

Despite the increased security, some remain skeptical.

Madison Fredette said it was closed “because there was a shooting or something like a stabbing outside,” said Madison Fredette, who said she and her friends avoided the place and preferred other locations. I added that. do you want to go there? I don’t have a DJ, I don’t own anything. are you nothing? “

“So are you going to the Night Owl, to The Tavern, to the Soundbar, or to pizza?” said Fredette.

While Gaffney’s is in the spotlight, other downtown bars are also tightening security.

Most bars and clubs along Caroline Street have introduced ID scanners to stop underage drinking, and larger clubs like Night Owl and City Tavern have hired additional security guards to check bags. doing.

Some bars continue to object, but are closing early. Last year, the Saratoga Springs City Council asked the State Liquor Department to change the closing time from 4am to 2am. In his first term in office, Montanino believes it could be the key to preventing further violence.

“Certainly the bar owners themselves would rather open late than close early, and Caroline Street itself has an interesting geography,” he said. “It’s a slope. Bars want to stay open late because it gets busy.”

In fact, there have been several attempts in the past to move up the closing time. More than a decade ago, a push was made after a brawl of 50 people resulted in arrests and dozens of injuries. The fight took more than 30 police officers to disperse.

Some people think that closing time doesn’t matter. Randall Deschamps, a well-known local activist and advocate for the city’s empty house population, blames most of Caroline Street’s problems on Gaffney.

“There is no doubt about it, but I think a lot has to change compared to what the old ownership has to do with it,” Deschamps said. “Because you know, there are certain things in a sane society that you don’t do. And the streets have gotten along for quite some time. Most of the club owners and employees are very strict.” There’s very little trash in the club, and when one entity handles most of the problem, it’s clear that it has to be squashed first.”

In addition to the track, visitors also flock to the heart of Spa City after concerts at SPAC, on their way to and from the Adirondack, and from nearby communities lacking a vibrant bar scene.

“You know, people always say about the Grateful Dead and Dead and Company, ‘Oh, they brought all the pot to town.’ I have to say come here,” Deschamps said. So if you want that kind of trouble, keep inviting that crowd. ”

Deschamps, who has been homeless himself, said those who have lost their homes are often the victims of crimes committed early in the morning by drunken bar patrons.

Some Caroline Street regulars believe that Gaffney’s dance floor is often the source of violence. This is due to the crowds that the club pushes.

This view was reflected in a controversial statement made by Commissioner Montanino earlier this year. He said the “unpleasant crowd” was attracted to the DJ playing “gangster rap” at Gaffneys. The commissioner apologized for those remarks, but the sentiment left an impression on some.

Lillian Triana-Strautmanis is a recent graduate of SUNY Plattsburgh and frequents Gaffney’s. She pushed back on the “wrong crowd” concept.

“Well, I’ve been following my favorite DJ on 518, DJTGIF, so I heard Gaffney’s is on the way. And unfortunately, he posted on Instagram, saying what happened at Gaffney, And he talked about the community blaming him for attracting a “black audience”. Saratoga is a conservative community, so I feel it’s just an attack on black people,” Triana Strutmanis said. It’s from.”

Not everyone is pessimistic about the city’s nightlife. Alex Straus grew up in Night Owl, a partner in Saratoga Springs, just off Caroline Street. He is satisfied with the voter turnout this summer.

“Probably a few less visitors on weekdays, but we are currently suffering from a recession and I think we are seeing numbers that have increased since 2019 when it comes to hotel and sales tax figures. As you know, those numbers are up from 2019, which means we’re making more sales, we’re doing more, and more people are coming.” Straus said. I think we are heading in a really good direction. It was a convivial, festive feeling here in our great entertainment district in Saratoga.

Locals and tourists alike seem ready to return to Caroline Street and mingle together in what is likely to be one of the busiest summers since the end of the pandemic.

WAMC News Intern Aaron Shereau-Lavigne is a senior at Skidmore College, studying American Studies and Black Studies.