Everyone has opinions. Perhaps no populace has more pointed opinions than Ithacans, and not all of them diverge. So it’s always nice when we can all find some form of consensus. That’s what the Best of Ithaca is all about.
Year after year the Ithaca Times turns to the populace to tell us by the power of majority write-in voting who, what, and where the very best can be found inside Tompkins County.
As always, there are favorites that come back year after year. And there are surprises. It helps that we change the categories to make that happen, often with reader input there as well. Just what are the traditional picks and the new shocking choices? Read on to find out.
Best Neighborhood to Buy a House
Where do most of the townies of Ithaca wish they could live? Fall Creek easily got the votes as the best place to buy a house. That’s despite being so popular it’s outside of the price range of many.
Even Deb Mohlenhoff, the alderperson for Ithaca’s 5th Ward (home of Fall Creek) told us, “the market is skewed if you want to buy--since it’s desirable to live there, I think the house prices are also significantly higher. There’s also less housing stock readily available, so when something opens up, its snatched up fast.”
What makes people want to live there so bad? Deb says Fall Creek is a “phenomenally walkable neighborhood,” in reach of schools, a waterfall, parks, a science museum, the Commons, and easy to get a bus. “It’s got a more ‘neighborly’ feel.” And the popularity to prove it.
Best Neighborhood to Rent an Apartment
Our fair city has its Southside. It has its Northside and a West End. It has neighborhoods with names like Collegetown and South Hill. And all of them, apparently, aren’t as cool as Fall Creek, even if you’re looking to rent.
Deb Mohlenhoff says Fall Creek isn’t as dominated by the college rentals as other areas of town: “We don’t feel the impact of the constant town-gown struggle of college student housing versus resident housing so much.”
Not living next to college students is probably worth higher rent for many who aren’t looking to buy, but still want all the great things that make a home purchase in Fall Creek so coveted.
Best Community Hub
Not long ago it might have felt like the Commons were in the doldrums, but your votes indicate that it’s returned to its glory as the place to gather the troops before heading to the shopping, entertainment or restaurants that surround it. Gary Ferguson, executive director of the DIA, calls the Commons “everybody’s community living room.”
It won’t be the same for long, and that’s probably a good thing. Gary says that in 2013 re-building of the Commons will commence after years of anticipation. It will coincide with building of new apartments, condos, offices, and retail space, all to the tune of around $100 million in renovations. “We will make sure that the Commons and downtown maintains that streetscape charm and pedestrian scale that folks now like so very much,” says Ferguson. “A great big thank you goes out to all of you who cherish and love the Commons. (Downtown Ithaca Alliance, 607-277-8679, www.downtownithaca.com)
Robert H. Treman State Park
There’s a lot to do when you make a visit to Treman, just southwest of Ithaca along State Route 327, officially in Enfield/Newfield. There’s a 4.5 mile round-trip hiking path, gorgeous waterfalls like 115-foot high Lucifer Falls, a natural swimming pool, and more. This year, Treman gets the vote for being the Best Campground spot in the county.
The campsites include spots for big RVs and small areas for tents nestled deep in the woods. And there are rustic cabins for rent, all dating back to the 1930s when things were built to last. All the cabins are close to the swimming, and there’s limited vehicle access so you can sleep in.
If you want to make a reservation to camp there, even up to nine months in advance, you can do so at ReserveAmerica.com. Cabins have a 2-day minimum during off-peak season and a 7- to 14-days during peak season, Saturday to Saturday only. (607-273-3440, nysparks.com/parks/135/details.aspx)
Best College Hangout
Collegetown Bagels on College Avenue
There are several Collegetown Bagels (CTB) locations in Ithaca, but only one, on College Avenue at the entryway to Cornell University, could possibly qualify at the Best College Hangout.
It doesn’t hurt that the menu of sandwiches, soups, pastry and all manner of foodstuffs is enormous and that there’s plenty of outdoor seating and that you can even order online for pickup. Perhaps what really helps is that CTB knows the student crowd need a place to stay up late, so getting a Streamin’ Treman (hot veggie burger with homemade salsa and Pepper Jack cheese on a roll) is an option right up until 2am every single day of the week, and the early morning crowd can wander in a mere 4.5 hours later at 6:30 a.m. (Collegetown Bagels, 607-273-0982, www.collegetownbagels.com)
Best Finger Lakes Day Trip
Cayuga Lake Wine Trail
What does one do when friends and family from out of town visit you in Ithaca? If your natural inclination is go to a bar, you’re not being adventurous enough. The Cayuga Lake Wine Trail is open year round, with 16 stops for you to try out wine (and cider at Bellwether Hard Cider) on both sides of Cayuga (and don’t forget Six Mile Creek Vineyard right in Ithaca on Rt. 79 East).
I’d suggest just getting on Route 89 and driving to get started. If you need more direction in where to go, the Cayuga Wine Trail Association has all the info at your finger tips. Executive director Cathy Millspaugh says “It’s a real honor to know that the readers of the Ithaca Times feel so strongly about the Cayuga Lake Wineries. (Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, 607-869-4281, cayugawinetrail.com)
It’s not too surprising that Taughannock Falls is considered the best. 410,000 people have already visited the park this year—that’s already 25,000 more than last year—doing everything from camping to hiking to taking in the summer concert series.
But the 215-foot falls are, year round, an amazing view. Park manager Jon VanValen has a hard time pinning down a perfect time of year to take in the view. “Fall is one of the most picturesque, but summer has swimming, concerts, picnics, pavilions for rent with weddings happening there constantly, the huge playground,” says Jon. “We have everything you want to do. There are beautiful vistas all the way around.” Even the winter with the frozen rock walls as a backdrop are beautiful. It makes it obvious that Taughannock Falls is certainly the best of the 100+ waterfalls within ten miles of Ithaca. (Park officer, 607-387-6739, www.taughannock.com)
Best Bus Driver
Charles Hearndon, Rodney Lewis, Mike Smith and Randy Adams (tie)
It’s nice to know there are so many well thought of bus drivers in Ithaca, as this was a tightly contested category — so tight that there was a four-way tie between Charles Hearndon, Rodney Lewis and TCAT’s Mike Smith and Randy Adams.
Buying or selling a house in any market is hard, and Ithaca’s popularity as a place to live might make it even harder—sometimes the rents are higher than the cost of a mortgage, after all. Jill Rosentel at Carol Bushberg Real Estate says that even after the recent recession, “the market in Ithaca has remained stable. The year-to-date stats show more houses are selling, for more money, and in a shorter amount of time. Those are all signs of a healthy market.”
Jill got the nod as the best realtor in town probably because she tries to make the process of buying or selling as stress free as possible. She’s thankful for your support and says, “It’s reassuring to know I am leaving a good impression and helping people ‘move in the right direction.’” (607-273-3400, www.carolbushberg.com/about-jill-rosentel.html)
Best City Alderperson
J.R. Clairborne, Joseph “Seph” Murtagh (tie)
The 2nd Ward of Ithaca has two alderpersons (alderpeople?) and apparently they’re both so well regarded by constituents they tied for the title of Best City Alderperson.
Since 2005, J.R. Clairborne’s been representing the second ward after stints working for the Ithaca Journal and Ithaca College. During those jobs he also branched out into community service and sits on the board of directors for organizations like GIAC, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the United Way of Tompkins County. J.R. says, “There are occasional times when the work of Common Council feels taxing and not appreciated but then I’m uplifted by the voice that pops up out of the blue and says, ‘Thank you for what you do.’ This vote is a BIG uplift.”
Seph Murtagh is a Tompkins County native who spent time in Ireland and Rochester before resettling back here. He’s now a lecturer in the Department of Writing at IC. It was, oddly enough, his time writing for the Ithaca Times that (rather than making him run screaming) gave him a taste for municipal politics. Seph says he’s very flattered to be picked, but doesn’t feel he’s doing anything over and above the rest of his colleagues on the common council. “We all take this job extremely seriously,” he says. He no doubt got the votes because he’s a big fan of his district and the people in it, calling it “truly the heart of Ithaca.”
Patterson’s Service Station
The service at Patterson’s doesn’t come with a secret formula for great customer service. When I asked David Patterson what he feels his service station is doing to make it the best, he told me with a chuckle, “I have absolutely no idea. We’re just being ourselves, trying to do a good job every day.”
Patterson’s reputation may sometimes be toward high prices, and he knows that and says, “Prices are high, but we like charging fair prices.” What he won’t charge extra for is being forthright with the truth about your car and what it takes to keep it running.
“We enjoy our work, we like being in business, we keep things fun and light, and telling the truth,” says David. “Thanks to everyone who voted for us, we appreciate it.” (607-273-0322, pattersonsservice.com)
Best Family Doctor
Family Medicine Associates
Located at 209 W. MLK/State St. and also up at 8 Brentwood Drive, you’ve got two locations to go and feel better when you’re a patient of Family Medicine Associates. Keith Emery, the director of operations at FMA says there are about 15,000 people in the area that work with their doctors and nurse practitioners. He says that size of the practice is the key to making satisfied patients: “Even though we are a large practice, our friends and neighbors don’t feel lost in some monstrous, impersonal network of health care.”
Compassion coupled with a high level of healthcare expertise is the goal, and it seems the patients of FMA agree and showed it with their votes. On behalf of the staff, Emery extends his sincere thanks to those who voted, saying, “You are the reason we are here...you have made us what we are.” (607-277-4341, www.fma-ithaca.com)
Best Ithacan Most Deserving Of A Mural
Most locals know the mayor of Ithaca on sight. Many of you apparently think it would be good to see him several stories high and in two-dimensions.
We asked hizzoner exactly what he thought would be the most appropriate depiction of him in spray-paint: “Sitting in a committee! Given how I spend most of my time it would only be appropriate.” Svante says he would rather share the space in a group mural with firefighters, police officers, youth workers, street crews and support staff to better reflect the city.
On what wall in Ithaca should this future masterpiece reside? Svante wasn’t sure, but he hopes if it happens that the image of his face is high up off the ground, saying, “I’m already not the handsomest guy – I don’t think I’d be greatly improved by a graffiti handlebar moustache.” (www.svantemyrick.com)
Best Self Promoter
As an optimist, mayor Svante Myrick says he’s going to take the award as Best Self Promoter as a compliment and assume it regards to how he promotes the city, not just himself. (No one pointed out his modeling gig on recent issues of the Ithaca Times.)
What makes him good at it? “I’ve found it’s all about being able to tell the City’s story in a way that’s compelling and coherent and then finding the channel to get the message out,” says Svante. “I only wish that I had more chances to promote Ithaca. The demands on the Mayor’s time...mean there aren’t too many hours left in the week to communicate about the City.” He says that bringing in $20 million in support from the state and feds for projects like dredging, infrastructure upgrades, and transit improvements are all because of attention brought to Ithaca.
Best Local Attorney
The law office of Holmberg, Galbraith, Van Houten & Miller (HGV&M) calls itself “Ithaca’s Trial Lawyers.” But most people who have problems that involve lawyers really, really do not want to go to a trial. Scott Miller, Esq., a two-time Cornell grad, Cornell Law School lecturer, and partner in the firm says their philosophy at HGV&M is that “Rational people do not want to spend their time in law offices. They want to play with their children, walk their dogs, go to the movies, learn to play drums, they want to be free of the system. We pride ourselves on actually trying to get the client to stop paying us. We ask, ‘How can we end the client’s litigation nightmare, without dragging out the case and the costs?’”
However, if the deal isn’t good enough for clients, he and his partners will happily go to trial without hesitation.
That’s the kind of pragmatism and fighting spirit that gets a man voted the Best Local Attorney. Scott is honored that he made a difference in his clients lives, but adds, “I’m honored to have made a difference in their lives. I honestly hope they never have to hire me again. Go learn guitar- enjoy the good in life.” (www.hgvmlaw.com)
FOOD & DRINK
Pizza Aroma, The Nines (tie)
When it comes to the most important food in the world, Ithacans have two favorites this year. Downtown there’s no question that the fantastic smells from the corner of Green and Cayuga Street are from Pizza Aroma. It’s much more than just pizza however, with salads, sandwiches, calzones, and wings. If you don’t want to venture out, you can order takeout by phone or online through Allmenus.com.
The Nines in Collegetown is a bar, college hangout, and music venue—but the distinctive deep dish pizza is its signature. In fact, co-owner Mark Kielmann told us about a service the Nines provides to those who miss those square pies so much they want it for a special occasion: The Nines will ship it anywhere in the U.S. He says, “There aren’t that many pizza places that have people from hundreds of miles away that ask you to ship a pizza.”
Such orders come in about once a month; it typically costs 75 to 80 bucks to ship. They’ve gone as far as California and Alaska. Keep that in mind when you move away, future grads. (Pizza Aroma, 607-273-6165, pizzaaromaithaca.com; The Nines, 607-272-1888, www.theninesithacany.com)
Best Finger Lakes Winery
If you had to pick one outstanding vineyard on the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, apparently it would be Sheldrake Point. It sits on 44 acres on the West side of Cayuga in Ovid, NY, complete with dock for boaters who want to try the tasting room. What makes Sheldrake stand out? Kristina Rose, the distribution and marketing manager for Sheldrake says now that Sheldrake no longer has a bistro, “We focus on wine and wine education. A lot of people like that. They learn something, and it’s not just us tooting our own horn.”
That said, she’d also add when sitting down to read the Ithaca Times, you try Sheldrake’s 2011 Dry Riesling, a current favorite there.
The staff at Sheldrake mostly live in Ithaca, so they are ecstatic about the support. “We love the praise from the community,” says Kristina. “We are so thankful.” (607-532-9401, www.sheldrakepoint.com)
Best Restaurant Service
Just A Taste
Just a Taste doesn’t take reservations (except at graduation), but still people clamor to get in, waiting by the door for as long as it takes. Sure it’s because the tapas-style food is outstanding, but it seems that the restaurant has always had another a trick up its sleeve: Great service!
Just a Taste owner Jen Irwin said, when asked what they do there that made people vote in this category, “A lot of people have been here a long time and they know their customers. They’re welcoming to new people. It’s a double-whammy of good.”
She’s proud of the work her staff has done and sends a resounding “thank you” to those who voted on their behalf. (607-277-9463, www.just-a-taste.com)
Best Collegetown Bar
Stella’s Restaurant & bar
This self-styled “home of casual swank” serves upscale American bistro fare and a full bar selection to go with its one-of-a-kind cocktails.
“We are total geeks when it comes to cocktails, spirits, beer, and wine,” says general manager Aaron Piccirilli. “We love learning about the history of cocktails, different techniques for crafting them, how long it takes fresh juices to oxidize, everything.” Talking to customers about what goes into each concoction is one of the staff’s great pleasures.
The Stella’s cocktail he’d suggest imbibing while reading the Times is the Occidental. “It’s a complex and dynamic drink based on an old classic called The Martinez Cocktail. It’s pretty unique, combining a refreshing gin with an herbal and aromatic whiskey to give you a cocktail that changes in some pretty cool ways as you make your way through it.”
Aaron sends his thanks to those who voted and hopes even more people will “come to Stellas now with a thirst for some conversation about great drinks.” (607-277-1490, www.stellabar.com)
Best Downtown Bar
Felicia’s Atomic Lounge
It’s time again for Felicia’s Atomic Lounge to update their Webpage, which features five years’ worth of Best of Ithaca wins. They’ve taken the award for everything from “Friendliest Business Owners” to “Best Cocktail” to “Best Bartenders.” This year, they are quite succinctly, the Best Downtown Bar and co-owner Amelia Sauter couldn’t be happier.
“At Felicia’s, it’s all about the love,” Amelia says. “We love to make good drinks, we love to drink good drinks, we love each other, we love our patrons. Our bartenders are dedicated to making the labor-intensive creative cocktails that make our menu unique. But the people who hang out at Felicia’s are what make Felicia’s great.”
What Felicia’s drink goes best with reading the Ithaca Times? For this time of year, one good choice is the Route 96: brandy infused with Trumansburg apples and topped with soda and lemon. Yum.
“We are the luckiest bar in the world,” says Amelia. “A big thanks to everyone who imbibes here!” (607-277-2219, www.atomicloungeithaca.com)
Best Place To Get A Sandwich
When Ithacan’s think “gotta get me a sammich!” they think primarily of one place: Shortstop Deli. It’s been open—constantly, without closing ever — since 1978. That’s 33 years, 11,969+ days, over 287,000 hours... and an untold number of delicious sandwiches.
Owner and founder Albert Smith says, “Our favorite compliment is ‘you have great people.’ If you think that, then we are doing our job.”
Albert’s recommendation for a Shortstop sandwich to chow down on while reading the Ithaca Times: Shortstop Deli Breakfast Sandwich, adding, “get it before 10 a.m. Thursdays and get $2 off so you can read the Times when it is hot off the press.” (607-273-1030, www.shortstopdeli.com)
Best Mobile Food Vendor
Hot Truck is a night-time institution on the Cornell campus, sitting at the corner of corner of Stewart and University avenues, famed as the place to go for cheap eats for the (perhaps inebriated) college crowd. The PMP (Poor Man’s Pizza) — tomato sauce and cheese on a piece of French bread — is so popular that rumor is that Stouffer’s stole the idea when it made its French bread pizzas. And that’s just the basics.
For the last 12 years, since Hot Truck founder Bob Petrillose retired (he’d run it since 1960), Shortstop has been caretaker of the truck. “Keeping the tradition going has been a lot of fun,” says Shortstop owner Albert Smith. “Especially the hugs from alumni.” (www.shortstopdeli.com/hot-truck)
Best Place For A Cheap Date
Aurora Street’s Restaurant Row has a few staples, but none have quite the style of the Vive. The bar makes the best margaritas in town (that’s not an official vote, but I’m proclaiming it.) The kitchen at Viva make their foods there daily, and at prices anyone—even students—can afford, whether eating it there or taking it out. That’s why Viva was the only choice possible for most people when it came to naming a location to for a cheap date.
Owner Pete Browning says: “We appreciate our customers, no matter how much they pay for their dates.” (607-277-1752, www.vivataqueria.com/Home.html)
Just A Taste
Just a Taste brought tapas to Ithaca and has been wildly successful with a cuisine that is essentially a variety of appetizers you share around the table. So it’s probably not much of a shocker that the restaurant would win for Best Appetizer.
The selections change regularly at Just a Taste but one item is always available: the bestselling app on the menu is the Deep Fried Russet Potato Wedges with Chipotle Aioli. Owner Jen Irwin said the recipe is a secret, but after an intense grilling by this reporter she broke down and admitted the secret of making them so perfect is that they’re cooked twice: first baked, then fried. They’re priced better than any fast-food fries and have a heavenly dip with each serving, so why wouldn’t you love them?
Best Outdoor Dining
Just A Taste
When you look at Just a Taste on Aurora Street in the summer, it sometimes seems hidden, as the outdoor diners at the restaurants north and south of it seem to encroach on the location, perhaps making some wonder if the poor place has enough seating to get by. Just A Taste’s not-so-secret to avoiding the need to dine out front is the deck seating out back.
Ithacan’s in the know will always ask for a table in back when the weather permits. Owner Jen Irwin says people like the secluded, hidden spot with its high fence walls. There’s neither traffic nor even pedestrians to watch, but those things also can’t interrupt a night out for tapas at Just a Taste. When I mentioned it’s a shame the outdoor seating at Just a Taste isn’t open year-round, Jen said, “It’s why we appreciate summer.”
Best Wine Store
Northside Wine & Spirits
At Northside, the business is run like a Broadway stage show, according to owner Tonia Borow. It’s a production that has been playing since her late husband Stan got into the business back in 1959. Stan’s service philosophy cast him in the role of producer, the general manager as the director, the staff as the principal cast, and the customers as the audience. “At 9am when the door opens,” says Tonia, everything has to be ready. “It is the same as when the curtain goes up on a play.”
These days the director is general manager Dana Malley, a man who Tonia says deserves special recognition, along with the entire crew. She says, “We are thrilled and humbled at being voted Best Wine Store in Ithaca. Stop by and enjoy the show!” (800-281-1291, www.northsidewine.com)
Best Local Fresh
Ithaca Farmers Market
We have no lack of fresh food in Ithaca, but the Farmers Market is almost synonymous with the term. “Our farmers literally pick the produce you eat that day or the day before, and all our vendors have to grow what they sell within 30 miles of Ithaca,” according to Ithaca Farmers Market manager Cathryn Koken. “You can’t find more fresh and local than that.”
If she had to pick a local fresh fruit or vegetable to eat while reading the Ithaca Times? This time of year she’d say an ear of raw sweet corn, a sungold cherry tomato, or a sweet red pepper. It’s hard to narrow down to just one, so buy them all before the weekend market at Steamboat Landing closes for the winter in December. (607-273-7109, www.ithacamarket.com)
The Haunt, Kilpatrick’s Publick House (tie)
Ithacan’s love to rock out with their tongues out — singing, that is. Crooning with the hits on karaoke nights is so popular that readers couldn’t narrow it down to one venue. Instead, two mid-week karaoke nights get the nod as the best.
DJ Dale provides no-cover karaoke at the Haunt on Wednesdays from 8 p.m. to midnight. You get to sing from the stage, and that means the full power of the Haunt’s sound and light system is there for you. Consider it if you’re a “serious” performer.
The next night, head to Kilpatrick’s. Starting at 10 p.m. there’s late night karaoke to be had, courtesy of Bob Higgins of Elephant Sound. They’re in year three of Karaoke Thursdays there, and Bob says it’s the best place for singing, with a large stage in an intimate setting. Drink specials don’t hurt. In fact they help all karaoke. A lot. (The Haunt, 607-275-3447, www.thehaunt.com, 8 p.m. Wednesdays with DJ Dale, www.djdale.biz; Kilptrick’s, 607-273-2632, www.kilptrickspub.com, 10 p.m. Thursdays with Elephant Sound, elephantsound.homestead.com)
Best Outdoor Weekend Activity
Best Outdoor Weekend Activity
In the reality that surrounds our 10 square miles there are trails aplenty for the people who love to get back to nature. The Finger Lakes Trail alone is 560 miles long, with 50 of those miles right within Tompkins County. Shorter but no less beautiful hikes include the Cayuga Waterfront, Cascadilla Creek Gorge, South Hill Recreation Way, and if you like stairs, Buttermilk Falls State Park, to name just a few. Search VisitIthaca.com’s Hiking section to find a new trail today. (www.visitithaca.com/attractions)
Best Happy Hour Band
GoGone drummer Scott Wiggins once told the Ithaca Times, “Our audiences like to be in bed by 10.” Maybe that’s why they won for Best Happy Hour Band, playing only during those early drinking hours in their former regular slot at Castaways. It certainly helped get them noticed by voters.
Guitarist R Cooper calls Castaways closing “a massive loss for all bands and the entire Ithaca community.” But the band is still performing at favorite venues like Americana Winery and the Haunt (which he says is “simply the best consistent sound in town for live music.”) He hopes others will come looking for their musical services in the coming year. GoGone is one of the few bands that play all their own original music.
“Big shout out to those who honor us,” says Cooper. “Awards are fickle and all the local wonderful musicians are as worthy as us, but not as lucky as we are today.” (gogonemusic.com)
Best Art In A Restaurant
We almost feel bad about rating a restaurant for its art and not its food... but the Moosewood has always had accolades for its vegetarian cuisine. So it’s OK to single out that it also has a fine gallery, typically stocked with some of the best local art in Ithaca. Typically two or three artists are showing at once, since wall space is so plentiful. Shows stay up for a month at a time.
Laura Branca, co-owner of Moosewood, sends a thank you to voters, saying, “It’s no surprise to us that we have classy customers with such excellent taste and appreciation for the finer things in life!”
Ned (Aneda) Asta manages the Moosewood art exhibits and wants the many artists in the area to know she’s on the lookout for young blood, people that take chances, and art with an edge. Patrons, get ready to view some interesting images with your Texas Two Bean soup. (607-273-9610, www.moosewoodrestaurant.com)
Best Local Radio Show
WICB’s Best of Broadway,
WVBR’s Monday Night Bromance
The two winners of this award couldn’t be more different, hitting on the Ithaca area’s love of performance in one, and a rock show the hosts call “a genre-bender” in the other.
The Best of Broadway is Ithaca College Radio’s longest running show, always hosted by the student DJs with the most interest and knowledge of the show tunes of the Great White Way (and the occasional traveling show or movie musical).
On the other side of the coin is a “show buoyed by a classic rock core, but we consistently distort the boundaries of rock’n roll, often entering unclassifiable territory.” That’s what hosts Professor G and DJ Kaminsk think of their weekly Monday Night Bromance on WVBR. Music is only part of their appeal. They have an irreverent style of banter that may be tangential to the music, sometimes deconstructing arguments about the music and the cultural context behind it. They say, “there simply isn’t another Ithaca radio show like MNB, and our fans truly understand this.” (Best of Broadway, 10 a.m. to noon Sundays, www.wicb.org/programs.php; Monday Night Bromance, 7-10 p.m. Mondays, wvbr.com/mnb)
Herbert F. Johnson
Museum of Art
“I’m thrilled that we were chosen,” said Stephanie Wiles, the Richard J. Schwartz Director of the Johnson Museum since November 2011. “I think the Museum is a favorite for many different audiences because we offer new exhibitions and programs every year on a wide range of topics and from many different time periods. I think this award shows that we’re not just for first-time or out-of-town visitors but loyal, local audiences who come back and also show the Johnson off to visitors.”
Stephanie recommends that Ithaca Times readers bring a copy of the paper to the museum and read it while gazing frequently at The Giacometti Walking Man, a six-foot high bronze sculpture of a, well, walking man with a small head and attenuated body. It set a record, selling at auction for $104.3 million in 2010. She says it presents “a view of humankind that is curiously fragile yet portraying an inner strength that captivates our attention.” Just like the Times.
The Johnson Museum is planning some fantastic new programs over the next few years, so she encourages those who think it’s already the best, and those who haven’t yet been inside, to visit as often as possible. Stephanie says, “Remember, this is your museum!” (607-255-6464, museum.cornell.edu)
Best Venue To Watch
Local Theater Productions
What was once a municipal airport hangar is now what the art-centric citizenry of Ithaca consider the best venue to watch local theater. It doesn’t hurt that the building, since becoming a theater in 1975, has gone through several stages of improvements. The most recent was a $4 million dollar renovation.
Hangar artistic director Peter Flynn says one outstanding feature no one should miss isn’t even on stage, but in the lobby. “We are now offering supplemental displays that enhance and bolster the onstage experience,” says Flynn. “With a café that offers coffee and light snacks, the lobby is now a gathering place for discourse about the art we’re creating.”
“It is a rare gift and responsibility to be one of several performing arts organizations that is so enthusiastically supported by our community,” says Flynn. “Thank you, and keep coming to see live theater!” (607-273-4497, www.hangartheatre.org)
Best Hair Salon
Transformations Hair & Body
If you want the full treatment, Transformations is your place. They’ve got it all: manicures, pedicures, facials, full-body waxing, massage, bridal services, you name it. The staff of eight stylists, including owner Debbie Doolittle, are there Tuesday through Saturday.
Debbie says, “We have a fantastic team and we truly do care about our customers. I’m really grateful for clients that love us, and we love them.” (607-277-3943, www.transformationshairstudio.com)
Best Barber Shop
Gene’s Barber Stylist
Mena Nepa has owned Gene’s Barber Stylist for several years, after she bought it from founder Gene Tobey, whom she worked with for 18 years before that. She kept the name, but expanded the staff and the hours at customer request. Very few barber shops in town are open every day of the week for someone to get a cut. Gene’s is, and has Cathy, Joel, Charlene, Carol, and Peggy all taking shifts, ready with a pair of scissors and clippers.
Her mission statement for the place is all about customer service being the main objective. “We live by that,” she says, “we make sure we all support each other and stick to good customer service and good haircuts.”
Mena says thanks to those who voted, but also sends kudos to Triphammer Marketplace, which she says is an awesome place to have a business, with an awesome landlord. (607-266-9573)
Tompkins Trust Company
Tompkins Trust has been around since 1836, more than enough decades to perfect its approach to banking. CEO Greg Hartz says the honor of being named Best Bank likely stems from the bank’s commitment to serving the Ithaca community.
“We believe strongly in supporting the many organizations that make our community such a tremendous place to live,” says Greg. “We contribute to more than two-hundred local organizations every year and we encourage our employees to be involved in their communities whether it be one of the health and human service agencies, the performing arts, or their school or community center. We have that same local focus in serving our customers.
“On behalf of all of my colleagues at Tompkins I want to offer heartfelt thanks. It is truly gratifying to be recognized by the community we serve.” (273-3210, www.tompkinstrust.com)
Best Food Market
What more is there to say about Wegmans? As a corporation it’s the kind that Ithacans can embrace, since it gives a lot back and is actually nice to its employees (according to Fortune Magazine). It all goes toward the company’s recent pledge toward “continuous improvement.”
“The company continues to re-invest in our community and the stores and the people,” says store manager Gary Woloszyn. “They spent millions remodeling a store that’s only fifteen-years-old, to update us with new trends.”
The updates outside may be done, but the interior is once again in flux in an effort to feature new items, in particular gluten-free foods. “The demand wasn’t there years ago, but now as more people get diagnosed with intolerance to gluten, there are more manufacturers with good items and we can give it proper presentation,” says Gary. “We continue to evolve as the industry evolves.” (607-277-5800, www.wegmans.com)
Best Place To Get
Previously Enjoyed Furniture
Looking for something useful or even exotic when it comes to furniture, but don’t want to pay for something brand new? Locals know that the place to go to first is Mimi’s Attic. For example, manager Meaghan Nawn says the most unique piece she’s sold was a seven-foot tall antique walnut entryway mirror with ornate carvings—not exactly something you find at Walmart. The staff loves being part of the process of watching a piece of furniture go from one owner to finding new life with another.
What makes Mimi’s Attic the best, she says, are the customers. “They contribute so much to our success through providing us with inventory, inspiring us with style, and participating in the everyday fun we have. Our customers are as unique as the items that they bring us and we are thrilled to get to know every single one of them.” (607-882-9038, mimisatticithaca.com)
Best Tanning Salon
TanFastic holds the claim of being the only multi-level salon in the area, with five levels of equipment, everything from tanning beds, to high-pressure tanning, to the only Mystic Booth spray-tanning in the area (the kind that looks completely natural).
Owner Scott Marlette has been in the tanning business for about 25 years, with 12 years at the current TanFastic location. When he bought it he expanded and got new equipment which has since been updated again, keeping it modern. With what they have, he says they could support up to 1,000 customer visits a day.
“We are service driven and quality driven,” says Scott. “It’s our customers that keep us on the cutting edge.” (607-272-5598, mytanfastic.com)
Best Civic Improvement
Svante Myrick’s Parking Space
The young mayor of Ithaca got rid of his car, but he had a parking space. While some would take that as a reason to go get a Prius, Svante instead turned that prime piece of parkable real estate into a miniature park, complete with a couple benches and planters made out of old tree stumps. The “Reserved for Mayor” sign got an addendum that says “And Friends.” It’s received national coverage. And the people of Ithaca like it enough to call it the Best Civic Improvement in town.
Svante said at the time he hoped it would be a “personal inspiration” to people. Of course the site has been used for more than just lunches — it’s even been used for the occasional protest.
“I love seeing people in the park when I come out of the building, or being tagged in pictures of people in the park on Facebook,” says Svante. “We hoped to turn a parking space into a people place — so the more the merrier!” (twitter.com/SvanteMyrick)
Best Massage Therapy
The interior of Rasa Spa has customers feeling relaxed even as they step off the elevator on the second floor, and it only gets better from there. Founder Rachel Hogancamp says their approach is all about individuals. “At Rasa, all therapists look at the whole person, listen to the whole person, and provide a service that is for that unique person. Rasa is never routine or repeated.”
They go for providing a full 60-minute session (rather than the 50-minute hour that’s standard in most places). That’s not just more worthwhile money-wise, but Rachel believes, “This way, the session can embody the experience, the therapist can get the most out of his time with the client, and fully therapeutic results can happen.” And she’s spilled the beans on a little secret just for Times readers: Rasa will soon add a yoga program
To the customers who voted she says, “Thank you for supporting Rasa and the work we’re offering our community.” (607-273-1740, www.rasaspa.com)
Best Green Business
GreenStar Natural Foods Market
GreenStar’s happy to hear that all the work it’s done over the years to stay green (energy-wise, not just vegetable-wise) has not gone unnoticed.
Among the strides the market has made in its main location: lowering the ceiling so there’s less space to heat and cool; providing re-usable bags to customers gratis, instead of plastic bags; solar panels on the roof generate enough energy for the GreenStar kitchen, and just all around good usage policies for items that can be recycled.
Marketing manager Joe Romano says GreenStar has a lot of expansion plans, specifically the ongoing search to find a new and even better location. They’re not close yet, but Joe says, “It will be a very green building. We’re still looking, but that will happen.”
“I’d like to thank our customers for being so green themselves,” says Joe. (607-273-9392, www.greenstar.coop)
Eric Griffith is an editor at PCMag.com and the writer of the novels BETA TEST, which you can order at Buffalo Street Books or find online, and KALI: THE GHOSTING OF SEPULCHER BAY, available exclusively on Amazon.com.