What to Eat and Drink at the Travers Stakes
The Travers Stakes is the biggest day of the year at the Saratoga Racetrack; the 1 1/4-mile race, dubbed “Midsummer Derby,” is the oldest major thoroughbred race in America, dating back to 1864. The race always draws major crowds, but this year will be monumental: Triple Crown-winner American Pharoah will be racing in the sold-out Aug. 29 event, and 50,000 fancy-hat-wearing revelers will turn out to watch.
Plan to spend the whole day at the track taking in the races, people-watching and beer-drinking in the sun. But you’ll need sustenance, of course; full-service dining options are available at the track, but it’s much more fun to pack your own drinks and snacks, and coolers are allowed in the backyard, trackside apron and Top of the Stretch areas. Wine and alcoholic beverages are allowed, but glass is not, so pack accordingly. Load up on homemade picnic fare, or stop at Putnam Market for super-fresh salads and sandwiches like the Glacier, a tuna sandwich made with fresh-not-canned tuna. The market also stocks a wide selection of cheeses, dips, spreads, condiments and baked goods, plus beer and wine.
If you didn’t pack a cooler, there are plenty of casual options on the grounds, including Shake Shack, El Verano Taqueria and Hattie’s Chicken Shack, known for its famous Throwdown-winning fried chicken.
Head to Siro’s Hunt and Fish Club, steps away from the track, for cocktails and live music. A full menu is available inside, but the liveliest scene is outdoors, best enjoyed with sliders, pizza and oysters.
When you’ve had your fill (of oysters or the perpetually packed-in oyster-loving crowd), move on to The Horseshoe, a few blocks away, for more live music and a more casual, slightly more rowdy scene.
A few blocks from the track (and The Horseshoe), Leon’s Mexican Restaurant is a tucked-away family-owned gem known for homestyle Tex-Mex classics (try the spinach enchiladas) and frosty margaritas, which are perfect after a day in the sun.
Further from the track, Downtown Saratoga has plenty of great dining options and crowds of racing fans, on Broadway and surrounding streets. Druthers Brewing Company has an extensive list of beers on tap and a menu that plays with bar classics — burgers, short ribs, and five kinds of macaroni and cheese — as well as vegetarian-friendly options, like Buffalo-fried cauliflower and a falafel burger. If you didn’t get to Hattie’s pop-up at the track, head for the original Phila Street location, a Saratoga staple since 1938, for Southern favorites like fried chicken, jambalaya, fried green tomatoes and hushpuppies. (If the crowds are too daunting at the downtown location, Hattie’s Chicken Shack in nearby Wilton Plaza is an option, though you’ll miss out on the classic ambiance of the downtown spot.)
In the span of two blocks, Caroline Street has every food-and-drink option you could need: Sperry’s for a steak dinner at a former speakeasy, One Caroline Street Bistro for in-season comfort food, Gaffney’s for live music and drinks in the courtyard, beer at the Tin & Lint (where Don McLean might have written part of “American Pie”) or the The Saratoga City Tavern, where you’ll find a mix of locals and summer visitors. Don’t leave Caroline Street without stopping at Esperanto for a late-night doughboy — they sell their chicken-and-cheese-stuffed fried dough till 3:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, which is great if you’re out celebrating into the wee hours.