Albany is a great city with a rich history and vibrant life. A recent trip there included one of the oldest museums in the United States, a folksy diner, an art-strewn government plaza that always leaves me feeling both impressed and unsettled, and a converted pump house that now hosts an inviting microbrewery.
The Albany Institute of History and Art (AIHA) is conveniently located in downtown Albany along a major thoroughfare. Founded in New York City in 1791, this is one of the oldest museums in the United States. The museum’s website gives a brief overview of its history, stating that the AIHA’s founding organization, The Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, Arts, and Manufactures, was created “to improve the state’s economy through advances in agricultural methods and manufacturing technologies.” Supported in part by the New York State Legislature, the Society was required to meet wherever the state legislature convened, and moved to Albany in 1797 when that city became New York’s capital.
Among other things, the AIHA prides itself on its collection of works by Hudson River School painters, which was my main interest in going. I found an impressive exhibit of works by Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School, along with an excellent cross-section of works by other painters. The artists and works are all nicely described by accompanying placards, which also give information about the events surrounding the creation of many of the paintings. From the AIHA website I gather that the exhibition space for these paintings was reduced to make way for another exhibit, but that the space will again be expanded and open for viewing in early July.
Aside from selling a lot of pies, Grandma’s offers a very pleasant, inexpensive, diner-type restaurant with tasty food and friendly staff. I’m not one to take pictures of my food, but I was very pleased with my go-to acid test lunch choice, wherever I find it, of a corned beef reuben. They didn’t have any dill pickles, only sweet, but that was the only thing not perfect about this delightful oasis.
I will add, however, that as I walked around the city and poked my head into a few places, I found a lot of great places for lunch, including the line of food trucks parked next to the state capitol.
After lunch I paid a visit to the Empire State Plaza, that brainchild of Nelson Rockefeller, who was governor of New York from 1959 to 1973. I never know quite what to make of the plaza. It’s an impressive place, but its mildly Stalinist layout and hyper-modern building design clash with the surrounding architecture and make for a jumbled and confusing viewshed.
There is an observation deck on the 42nd floor of one of the plaza towers that is open to the public and offers a 360º view of the city.
Nelson Rockefeller loved modern art. The Empire State Plaza serves as a sort of open-air art gallery, with pieces spread throughout the complex, in buildings, on the plaza, and on the “Concourse”, the space underneath the plaza that provides access to underground parking and the Capitol building, and houses shops, a cafeteria, and a visitors’ center.
The last stop of the day was at the C.H. Evans Brewing Company at the Albany Pump Station. They offer a nice selection of beers brewed on the premises, a full menu, and a pleasant ambiance in a beautiful setting. The lunch stop on the next trip to Albany is already set.
Summing up, this day in Albany just grazed the surface of what the city has to offer, and it’s a nice feeling to have a capital city that offers so much to be proud of.