There are so many beautifully restored performance venues in CapNY. Steeped in history, they’ve hosted more than a century’s worth of stars.
We’ve got the best of 19th century architecture teamed with today’s pop culture — what could be better!
7 Amazing Performance Venues
Join me for this (written) tour of seven amazing historic performance venues. At this writing, all are planning their reopenings. So, after Covid restrictions are lifted, take a road trip to see each space. Make sure you hit all seven when their beautifully ornate doors reopen. I’ll see you at the shows!
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy
First on the list of historic performance venues is Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. The Troy Savings Bank renovated its office space into a grand performance venue in 1875, as a token of appreciation to its patrons.
This National Historic Landmark features a 19th-century organ. The instrument was originally installed in the New York mansion of millionaire William Belden. The original theatre design was never intended to accommodate the organ. Legend has it that this modification transformed the hall into the acoustic wonder that it is today.
The hall has hosted world-renowned artists for nearly 150 years. Legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Isaac Stern, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Vladimir Horowitz have graced the stage. Troy Music Hall hosts the best on today’s contemporary music scene. Joshua Bell, Andrew Bird, Steve Martin, Lyle Lovett, John Prine, and so many others have appeared here. I can’t wait to learn who’s coming when the lights are turned back on!
Its central location in downtown Troy means it’s only a few steps away from great places to eat. Bacchus Wood Fired pizza is across the street and the Lucas Confectionery is only a few steps down the street.
Proctors Theater, Schenectady
In 1926 F. F. Proctor, the “Dean of Vaudeville,” built Proctors to host famous vaudevillians of the day. The ornate, Italian Baroque style theater features Egyptian design flourishes, and seats over 2,500 attendees. The first public demonstration of television was made here in the 1930s. For this historic test, there was a live orchestra in the pit, and they were led by a conductor who was located in a GE lab across the city.
Proctors has hosted legendary musicians like Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington as well as comedians Bob Hope and Red Skelton. The theater became part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Lucky for us, the former vaudeville house continues to bring in top talent across all genres of performing arts and culture.
Before or after the show (and sometimes both), I always make time to stop at Villa Italia Bakery on Broadway. Need more than pastries? Marinos Pizza & Restaurant, Bombers and Blue Ribbon Restaurant are nearby.
Palace Theater, Albany
Like Proctors, the Palace Theater was originally designed for vaudeville acts. This theatre was designed by John Eberson, the world’s most respected theatre architect of the day. The building’s original décor is in the Austrian Baroque style, and some is still intact. There is an extraordinary brass chandelier in the main lobby. Walls features original murals painted by Hungarian artists Andrew Karoly and Louis Szanto. The plaster beams are painted to resemble carved wood.
After its life as a vaudeville venue, the Palace became Albany’s premier first-run movie house. However, though the theatre underwent a $40 million renovation, it closed in 1969. Almost two decades later, the Palace Performing Arts Center, Inc. became incorporated as a not-for-profit . The board launched extensive renovations that transformed one of Albany’s historic performance venues into the premier entertainment destination it is today.
Caffe Lena, Saratoga Springs
Caffe Lena is the longest continuously-operating folk music venue in the United States. Founded by Lena Spencer in 1960 in a former wood shop, the stage has helped launch the careers of countless folkies and songwriters, from Bob Dylan to Sawyer Fredericks. Lena’s offers a truly intimate musical experience. It’s one of the few places where you can sit close enough to see the artist’s fingers move on instrument frets, and feel their foot tapping rhythm on the stage.
Recently, the historic building was completely renovated, and has fantastic acoustics and great new seating. The caffe is renowned for its open mic nights, as well as world class acts. This local legend attracts fans (and performers) from all across the northeast.
Options for grabbing a drink or dinner, pre-or-post show, are endless. My personal favorite place is only a few blocks away. The Parting Glass is an Irish tavern with hearty meals and drafts. Try the Tin & Lint where they have a plaque designating the table where Don McLean wrote the lyrics to “American Pie.” (A claim McLean debunks.) It’s a great place to continue celebrating the area’s influence on musicians’ careers.
Hubbard Hall, Cambridge
Susan B. Anthony’s campaign speeches brought her to venues across New York State and the Capital Region. Her tour included the historic opera house known as Hubbard Hall. In 1894, she spoke to a crowded room from the hall’s turn-of-the-century stage.
The theater is ornate, with a Victorian gas chandelier, stenciled walls, and chestnut woodwork. During the 170+ years since its opening, the decor has remained nearly unchanged. Though the hall closed in the 1920s, it reopened as a not-for-profit arts and performance center in the 1970s. Today the Hubbard Hall Center brings theater, music, dance, and visual arts to rural Washington County through performances and educational opportunities. Hubbard Hall is revered as a venue for classically trained singers and instrumentalists across New England.
The resident theatre company has held productions of Shakespearian and other dramatic plays since its founding in 1999. Further, the historic performance venue is home to the Battenkill Chorale, a 100 person choral group.
A trip to Hubbard Hall is also a chance to visit the nearby Argyle Brewing Co. The brewery is a few steps away from Hubbard Hall in the historic train station. The 2,000-square-foot venue seats up to 67 people inside and 56 outside. Live performances and a food truck add to the appeal.
Learn more about Hubbard Hall through a discussion with Executive and Artistic Director, David Snider, here.
Universal Preservation Hall, Saratoga Springs
Built in 1871, the Universal Preservation Hall first served as a Methodist church. Eventually, the Universal Baptist Church bought the cavernous building (in 1976). Over time, costly repairs caused UPH to be condemned in 2000. Then, a group of concerned Saratoga Springs residents bought the space. UPH became part of the Proctors Collaborative, and together, they completed a massive restoration of the space. The historic performance venue reopened in February 2020 with only 10 days of operation before COVID forced its closure.
The majestic, vaulted ceilings and magnificent stained glass windows place this venue at the top of my list to visit when venues reopen. Depending on the day, some fried chicken or jambalaya at Hattie’s is a great option. My favorite Mexican fare is only a few steps away at Cantina. If I’m in the mood for shrimp tempura or sushi rolls, then it’s Sushi Thai.
Hudson Hall, Hudson
Similarly, a trip to the historic Hudson Hall tops on my bucket list. Built as City Hall for Hudson in 1855, the building included New York State’s oldest opera house. This theater hosted popular cultural, social, and political events of the day.
The theater, abandoned in 1962, sat vacant for 30 years. Local citizens made it their mission to save the building and create a new cultural center. In 2017, Hudson Hall completed a $9.5 million restoration, reopening its doors for community enjoyment. Looking for entertainment in Hudson? You can’t go wrong at Ca’Mea Ristorante, The Maker Lounge, and Swoon Kitchenbar. All are excellent!
Written by: Katie Navarra
Katie Navarra is a professional writer based in the Capital Region. She has written for Popular Science, The Motley Fool Blueprint, Western Horseman, Horse & Rider and others. She is also a life and executive career coach who helps clients find clarity and success in and out of the office. Learn more at katienavarra.com.