In Greek mythology, Troy was the site of the bloody Trojan War — waged by Paris and Menelaus over the love of the ravishing Helen.
In New York State, Troy is equally mythical, but for much less blood-lusty reasons. In the 19th century, Troy was a manufacturing hub, busily churning out shirt collars that tout le monde wore, until, well, they didn’t. In the intervening years, Collar City fell on hard times.
But in the early 2000’s, as rents and home prices climbed around the state, members of the creative class from Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Boston discovered cheap charm on the streets of Troy, moved in and launched a DIY cultural renaissance.
Today, this city of almost 50,000 has an affordable cost of living (16% lower than the New York Average overall, and its housing is 16% lower than the national average, according to livability calculator Area Vibes), yet Troy also offers residents and visitors the type of aesthetic pleasures usually exclusive to teeming metropolises with sky-high rents.
River Street in Troy. Photograph from Instagram provided by @necotroy
More than half of the businesses in downtown Troy have fewer than five employees and just 17% of employees work for the government or a nonprofit, according to a report released by the Downtown Troy Business Improvement District, and considered by economists to be proof that a strong, entrepreneurial community is thriving in Troy.
Ground zero for the aesthetic and gustatory revolution is located in the Central Troy Historic District, 96 acres of beautifully intact 19th and 20th century architecture. On the National Register of Historic Places, it is worth a stroll for the facades alone, including the Gothic Revival St. Paul’s Episcopal Church built in 1827, the Congregation Berith Sholom Synogogue built in 1870 on Third Street (one of the oldest synagogues in America), the Renaissance Revival Troy Savings Bank Music Hall built in 1875, plus Greek Revival townhouses and Italianette commercial buildings. In all, nine structures are on the National Register of Historic Places and two are National Historic Landmarks. Martin Scorsese fans will recognize the streets from The Age of Innocence, selected for their resemblance to 1870s Manhattan.
Inside Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. Photograph from Instagram provided by @saratogaliving
On those streets, artists and foodies have created a heterogeneous array of delights.
Wandering around Troy’s streets, visitors will find enchantment around every corner. But happy-go-lucky hunters desirous of dependable prey should add these newer classics to their target list:
Anything From Vic Christopher and Heather LaVine (a.k.a. Clark House Hospitality):
This Troy power couple started out by doing the unthinkable, and founding a rigorously haute yet still chill wine bar in Troy in 2012 at 12 Second Street. In addition to wine by the glass (like Maitre de Chai Kierkegaard Chardonnay) Lucas Confectionery also features phenomenal snacks (Sicilian olives, toasted faro salad). Due to great success, it has expanded next door to Twenty-Two Second St. Wine Co. in 2015 at (duh) 22 Second Street featuring a curated selection of outstanding wines, with an emphasis on the biodynamic and organic. Their piece de resistance is the fine dining seasonal juggernaut Peck’s Arcade (soprese with cauliflower, capers, chiles, pistachio satisfies cravings you didn’t know you had) at 217 Broadway, which was opened to rave reviews in 2014. Most recently, it was named one of the 100 Hottest Restaurants in America by OpenTable. Little Pecks joined the family as an all-day café (house bread with soft butter, confit garlic, braised mustard seeds is the perfect balance of enriched carbs, deep funk and acidity) at 211 Broadway in 2016. Donna’s Italian at 1 14th street, offering seasonally minded Italian grandma style dishes (just try to resist the steak pizzaiola) opened in 2016 and is as addictive and cozy as it sounds.
Short Rib Chili Dog and Soft Pretzel with Smoked Salt and Mustard at Little Pecks. Photo Credit: Lucas Confectionery
This wee five-barrel brewery opened by Kevin Mullen at 90 Congress Street punches way above its welter weight class with powerful brews that utilize fresh and – if available – local ingredients. The drafts rotate and often feature offbeat experiments, but their mainstays like Karass Porter and Sabbatical Session are always on tap. Look out for fun brews like South Troy Alley Hop, an amber ale brewed with wild wet hops grown in South Troy. The brewery doesn’t have a kitchen, but plates of local charcuterie and cheese are available and pop-ups with innovative chefs do appear with regularity.
Rare Form brew in their Beer Odyssey glass. Photo Credit: Rare Form Brew Co.
The year-round farmers market is truly a feast for the senses with 80+ food growers, bakers, chefs and artisans gathering every Saturday to offer the best and freshest of the Capital Region. From hot sauce to freshly roasted coffee to heirloom kale to free-range bacon, if you can put it in your mouth, it’s there. And it’s delicious.
Troy Farmer’s Market finds. Photo Credit: Troy Market
So much potential for snobbery, gloriously unfulfilled here. When the worlds of artisanal coffee and lifestyle design collide, the result is generally a smooth-skinned, shiny-haired, skinny-jean wearing, perpetually Instagramming nightmare that reminds you of why you hated middle school so much. But at Superior Merchandise Co. you’ll find nothing but easy-going, smiling baristas who are refreshingly chill and friendly about guiding shamefaced drip-coffee slurpers to the light. Dig into their carefully curated selection of specialty coffees sourced from various small-batch roasters around the country (think: the Mexico Francisco Javier Montiel from Four Letter Word Coffee with hints of caramel and a creamy body) and grab that stunning (reasonably priced!) handmade ceramic vase that would look fabulous on your bathroom window ledge. NB: they serve beer, wine, snacks and sometimes have live music. Coffee, beer, art, knick-knacks and free wi-fi? It’s like being at home, except chicer.
Always something new on the menu. Photo Credit: Superior Merchandise
DeFazio’s is a Troy institution, serving authentic Italian wood-fired pizza at 266 4th Avenue since 1991. Visitors from around the country – including every visiting politico, judging from the pictures on the walls – come to gorge themselves on not just the epically delicious classic pies, but the Stromboli, calzones, focaccia and gigantic salads also on offer.
Portobello Bolognese Sauce with homemade pasta. Photo Credit: DeFazio’s Pizzeria
This is truly just an amuse bouche for the feast that awaits in Troy. Also on the menu: The 11,000 square-foot Antiques Warehouse at 78 4th St, vintage treasure chest Bluebird Décor at 11 3rd St, the small-batch gloriously handmade baked goodies at The Placid Baker at 250 Broadway, the cultural powerhouse Sanctuary for Independent Media at 3361 6th Ave. and the art space, gallery and performance venue Collar Works at 621 River Street.
So much to do, so little time.