A few years ago my wife and I had spent a little time in Albany during the Rational Urbanism Summer Stalking Tour; we went to a movie in Bellows Falls (KMO), drove through Jim Kunstler’s home town, and spent a few nights at a B&B in Troy (Duncan Crary). I was unimpressed. Like Hartford it appeared that the capital city had received too much attention from the state in the era of urban renewal and retained little apart, from some residential neighborhoods, of high quality given my aesthetic.
Last week my wife and I had planned a getaway in Montreal. Our plan was to drop Luna at her summer camp in the Berkshires and then drive up to Canada. Rather than make the trip in the early evening as Lu’s drop off time would require we decided to stay the night in the Albany area; we had no touristic plans for that Sunday evening. The hotel, which was comfortable and offered a great complimentary breakfast (perfect for an early morning departure) was located in about as ugly a spot as imaginable more or less underneath a highway viaduct.
All we wanted was a bite to eat. As is the case with Springfield, Sunday night is clearly not Albany’s “time to shine” in terms of urban excitement; many of the downtown’s eateries were closed. We looked through Yelp and found a few promising places, but most of them were out in “Stroadville” so we decided on Mamoun’s Falafel. The reviews of the food were alright, but some comments spoke about how sketchy the neighborhood was so we just had to check it out; our assumption being that it was much like the comments we hear all the time about places in Springfield.
It turned out to be in a little gem of a district which was, yes, a bit run down, but which even on a Sunday night had some hustle and bustle. Some of the architecture was fabulous, but the urbanism was phenomenal. There was trash everywhere, but the street people were picturesque by Springfield standards. No one asked us for money. Hell, no one paid any attention to us!
The place was busy enough to entertain but not so much as to make it uncomfortable. Overall the food was good and the baklava, made in a Syrian style, was by far the best we’ve ever had. The proprietor was very nice and didn’t mind answering a few of our questions. It’s a place that’s been there for more than 3 decades, but it feels like it’s been there for centuries.
Places like Albany, and Springfield for that matter, don’t often get more than one chance to cement an image in the mind of potential visitors. Sumner Avenue, Boston Road, Main Street in the North End, Main Street downtown, Parker Street: these are all entrances into the city that can give startlingly different impressions of Springfield. I’m sure the same is true of Albany, and Syracuse, and all the rest.
What a nice little place, Mamoun’s. I’m glad we happened on to it.