Thursday, September 16, 2010

Wi-Fried In Albany

A Guide To The Hot Spots And The Not So Hots  by Michael Dennis Mooney

So many of the supposed WiFi Hot Spots here are Not So Hots. (Examples: Breugger's, Panera, Uncommon Grounds, Borders, and Muddy Cup all make my short list of the lukewarmest, the posers, the formerlies, the not reallys, the notsa hotsies, the seriously inadequate.)

I am a person who lives by the keyboard, it is always at hand when I'm getting coffee. So here is my WiFI guide for the perplexed. You new students in Albany, all you new law, med and pharm hands on N. Scotland, new social scientists of Western Ave., new engineers of Troy Hill and of Union Ave, new accountancy and computer freaks of Loudonville, new rosebuds of Madison Ave (and rosebuddies!),  future directors of nursing from Sage and new rock and roll musicians of SUNY Schenectady CC, listen up.  First let's clear the psuedo-hot from the field:

Uncommon Grounds on Western, hard by SUNY Albany: You're on your screen at around 1130 a.m., with coffee and a rich bagel sandwich, delish!, and you think you're getting work done. You go to transmit your work to a net site and the "idiot manager" (I have called him this to his face) has turned off the router. He is encouraging the WiFi users to leave before lunch starts in. This ain't hot. (Not cool neither.) Good deli, lousy WiFi.  Uncommon is a "formerly."  Once hot (got too hot for the manager) now not hot. They turn the router back on later. too late to matter. 

Uncommon Grounds on Broadway in Saratoga remains hot 365-24-7, even at the height of the August track season, even at lunch, an hour before post time. Exemplary hotness. Enlightened management. Go figure! Who knew? What were the odds?

Breugger's, the entire chain, is so far behind the curve, it is just plain utlra-pseudo. They have a marketing campaign, but no real WiFi.  You're working on your screen and almost starting to experience some WiFi contentment and your screen goes off. What's this? It's a commercial interruption, just like broadcast TV!, and it's a new screen full of corporate-speak about "Relax, and have another cup of coffee," etc. WTF! 

Meanwhile just try and find the edits you made to your work, edits you thought you posted to your net site. All your work has been lost. Very Breuggerly in a NOT RELAXING sort of way. Your work has been lost, because your net connection was cut-- WiFi interruptus!-- and the chain is now, in its very psuedo-service-oriented way, inviting you to log on again. With service of this kind, who needs fraud. Let's have the authentic article. WiFi.

Panera is the same. The little corporate-speak message comes on, and with it the slowly dawning horror that your work has been eaten by Panera's policy.  Great baked goods, pseudo WiFi.  Both Breugger's and Panera do this timed interruption of your work (actually a cancellation) at about the time they figure you should be clearing out, and to make it real sporting they do this without warning. So now you're warned. Don't trust the bastards.

Now for the inadequate. You walk past the sign saying Free WiFi and in the door at the Muddy Cup on Madison, and (unsuspecting fool!) you do not know their signal is so weak, well, it is too weak to defend itself. You end up realizing you'd do better just visiting someone you know across the street, which is also what the other customers are doing, they're logging on to whatever's nearby. Great open mike nights. WiFi that is too weak to live. Muddy management focus. The night atmosphere is way better than the daytime, especially when St. Rose  and SUNY Albany are in session. The day atmosphere there is as bleak as the jobs economy, in fact that is who's here, the marginally employed. Hey, why am I here?  Fortunately, the new owner there has just gotten a divorce-- WITH NO ALIMONY!--  from the Muddy Cup chain of franchise operations, and he has made it a priority to have the WiFi back-up and running. So at the new ... Ta-da! .... Drama Cup (that really is the new name) the spot is hot again this September. Log on to WAVES. (Get it, microwaves?) And the Cup that was Cold is now Steeemin! The new owner has also refurbished a bit with new couches, and he should have a great fall and winter season, with or without my vote of confidence, because his WiFi is now sparklin'. No longer muddy.

Muddy Cup in Schenectady has a fine WiFi system, it's in the Proctor's box office atrium on State. Log on to Proctors Visitors Rob Alley(code: showhouse.) And you're doing work, and in a comfy chair! Plug-in receptacles everywhere in the electric city atmosphere.  It's more electric in the evenings when theater crowds are on hand. In the day it's bleaker, more of a welfare state atmosphere. Street people getting a cup of consolation. Bomber's Burrito Bar, other side of State, has a great huge space, wonderful food, good beers, great sports on TV, a way overworked staff, and it has WiFi that has a headache and doesn't feel like it. Fuhgeddaboudit! 

Bomber's in Albany on Lark, no problem, just log on the municipal WiFi, AlbanyFreeNet and you're getting work done while crunching those deep fried tacos. Pass the guacamole.


Now that we've cleared the major posers from the field, here are the really good places: fewer details are needed, as the WiFi works in these places. Let's start with a corporate one: Starbuck's, I think, is doing quite well, especially when hosted by a Hilton, such as here on N. Scotland, or by a big book barn behemoth like Barnes & Noble, both at Colonie Center and Mohawk Mall. At the Hilton Starbuck's you log on to Hilton Honors (any one who is sitting there is a guest.) And you'll never have to cringingly await the interruptus. Here you can relax, 'cause the WiFi works, and you won't get, um, cut off.  Also in the Hilton's bar and grill, the Recovery Room, same deal. You can really feel yourself getting better, as you sip a beer, munch a snack, and rock the net. In the books department, I find Border's at Crossgates, where I practically live, can't get its act together, intermittent WiFi just ain't doing it for me. When it goes down, and it always does, you call an 800 number and speak to an outsourcing Fillipino who is just not grasping your nuances.  Really inspires a lack of confidence.


 Envelope please, Best local WiFi places:  

The best coffee house in Albany is one of the very newest. Midtown Tap And Tea. A coffee house from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Then it turns into a restaurant. Original art on the walls, including a Warhol. $1 coffee, free refills. Right next to Stewart's and The Fountain on N. Scotland. A roof-covered patio with outdoor plug-ins for your laptop, an Indian Summer idyll. Their staff, Melissa The Barista and 'em, are the most gracious crew, so far in front of the curve they've destroyed the curve, blown it to bits.  And the Tap and Tea is also the finest space for a coffee house in Albany, roomy, beautifully and stylishly appointed, tremendously ambitious new construction. Miss Meliss is also a savvy gourmandizer who wants to make you a great breakfast or lunch in her newly built kitchen, egg dishes, bagel sandwiches, salads, cheese plates. For WiFi, log on to Coffee House Guest (code: Coffee.) 

Also truly great: Ultraviolet Cafe (which has a well-organized cost-free book exchange!) next to Spectrum Theaters on Delaware; Also Java Jazz (I write this while jazzed on about 40 ounces of their Italian Dark Roast.) And Perfect Blend.  Both are on Delaware in Delmar. The Blend is now run by very good bakers and their coffee is now better than the old Perfect BLAND (what I used to term it) and the Blend is one of the real centers of community activity in the village.

Easiest place to get a coffee with WiFi, oddly, is the Dunkin Donuts, Lark and Madison, because of the municipal free Wifi, AlbanyFreeNet, which lights up most of the places along Lark. Best WiFi along Lark, besides Daily Grind, (log on to lynksys in their upstairs room), is almost anywhere!, the Wok, the Tandoori, Elda's, your friend's stoop, your car, if your just sorta pit-stopping in front of the Dunkin. Daily Grind in Troy is the beating heart of that city's  cafe district, and it's pulse rate is permanently high, it's a way roomier room than the Albany store, more comfy, and good Wifi. Also try Spill the Beans.

Best multitasking play in the Lark neighboorhood: log on to the laundromat WiFi at MadLark, put your wash in, and after transferring it to the dryer (the atmosphere is already way warmer than Bruegger's) saunter across to the Lionheart's Indian Summer patio setting. Your WiFi connection still works, you're getting work done, you're having a Spaten Optimator, you're optimating the possibilities and feeling the spateneity! Now that's relaxing! I told the beeeeertender there, about the Spaten, THIS STUFF IS REALLY GOOOOOD! He quietly explained it was about three times as strong as the Miller Lite twaddle I am used to. I am completing my education here: three for the price of one is a no-brainer, a triple play, and my wash is getting done, so that's a home run or something. Boy am I going to need a good nap later, plus some aspirin.

A distant second, but great, is the patio(s), front and back, of Cafe Hollywood on Lark. Log on to Hollywood Hotspot. Just another day in Hollywood. Don't hate the glamor! Put on your shades and WiFi away in the front sidewalk cafe with a $3 Schmithwicks's at happy hour, 3-7 p.m. You're sitting there in your shades at 3 p.m. and every schlub that drives by is envying you. What? Is that Mooney guy retired now? Yes, he is. A gentleman of leisure on the stroll.

Best breakfast in a bar with WiFi: Quintessence on N. Scotland, where the early bird special is less than $4.50 and includes scrambled eggs, potatoes, toast, juice, coffee, with the lovely Alicia refilling the cup (a pharm student and future millionaire.) Log on to Quint.  Also log on there during Blues Night, Moday at 830pm, German Night (sauerbraten!) on Wednesday, all the other nights, Mexican, Italian, et alia.

Ice cream hot spot: Emiack and Bolio's on Delaware. When I was there, I bought an ice cream cake for my kid's birthday, cosmic purple buttercream frosting over an ice-cream cake compounded of  "Serious Chocolate Addiction" and "Almond Joy." My son is a teenaged guitarist, so they wrote YOU ROCK! on his cake top. Totally worked. Their cafe, set back behind their ice cream store is the sweetest little hobbit habitation, cozy, comfy and pleasing as eating ice cream and drinking cappuccino should be. And their WiFi is perkin'.

A great tea place: Lil Buddha Tea on Lark. I'm not very adventurous-- you should have the chai! you should just chai it!-- so I had the plain black tea in a pot with lemon and honey. I again wasn't brave enough to go for the spinach and sweet potato frittata, so many densely nurtitious dark greens and oranges!, so I had the fruits and cheeses. AlbanyFreeNet works great there, though I piggybacked on Cafe Hollywood, 'cross the street. I completely re-edited this entire text there, while all teed-up, so to say. (And Hollywood Hotspot never faltered.)

Italian eatery hot spot: Mercato's on Delaware in Delmar. I like to bring a chess set and embarass my son with my doing chess problems on their checkerboard tablecloths. I like to go at lunch time, it's not busy then and the prices are less at that hour, and the lunch waiter is a terrific kid, a good server, and actually from Italy.

Diner hot spot: Latham 76 Diner on Rte 9. Not many places to plug in, though. Ask the busboy where the vacuum cleaner gets plugged in

Noirish pizza hot spot: Side Door on Western-- Don't go in the front door, neither! You'll rune the atmosphere, ya gavoone!-- where WiFi, pizza, cute indifferent bartendresses, beer, even karaoke, can be quite a play on the possibilities. It's great when a plan comes together.

Phew! I am exhausted. This research is too much fun. Who needs public libraries, not I,  when there are Hot Spots with Spaten!

Ooh, almost forgot, best alternative to Uncommon Grounds: Mobil Mart, right next door, coffee,chairs and tables, WiFi, 365 days, 24 hours, no pretense.

P.S.:  McDonald's, the behemoth of behemoths, is starting to use free WiFi as sort of amenity. Believe me, though, there is no guarantee you'll have it your way. I was at the one on Western near Crossgates, and there is not a single plug-in receptacle available to customers in the entire store. Posers! This is just a dealbreaker for a WiFi fan. I may never have a double cheese again.  Well, maybe "to go."


Michael Dennis Mooney is the author of a book of light verse, "Midcentury Man, New Century," available from John Chapman's Broadcast Books, Michael Mooney, 55 So Lake Ave,  Albany 12203.  His website is:

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?