Ryan McGuire

Out of all the 21 painted utility boxes scattered around town, voters picked Ryan McGuire's "Operation Cheese" as their favorite.


Best of the 21 Boxes

Operation Cheese

When the call came from the Ithaca Public Art Commission to 21 artists to take to the streets and decorate electrical boxes found around downtown, many responded. One was Ryan McGuire, a man who likes to make art that’s humorous and easy to engage. Over the course of two weeks, working in off hours to respect people on the street, he decorated the box on Buffalo Street at Dewitt Park using automotive paint. “When I first saw the giant rectangle electrical box I thought to myself that it would make a wonderful block of cheese, and obviously when you have a giant block of cheese it would become the most desired thing to mice,” said McGuire. “This is when I started creating a team of custom, and highly trained, rappelling mice to add that extra fun engagement component that makes you smile.” Visit his art site to read about this and other projects (like the dinosaur car), or visit his web design site at www.bellsdesign.com


Best Free Music Event

Downtown Summer

Concert Series

You’d think a summer concert series so tied to the Commons as a venue might have had a hard time coping this year, but that wasn’t the case for the Downtown Summer Concert Series. The move to areas of West State Street, in partnership with the State Theatre, was so successful that some have asked that the venue remain (and the organizers might consider it). The Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA) is thrilled that when other series have had to cut back, they added shows and embraced the block party concept. DIA executive director Gary Ferguson said, “Music, summer, and downtown have become synonymous. The DIA, along with our series sponsor M&T Bank and all the individual sponsors and donors, are honored to treat the community each year to these free concerts.” 


Best Golf Course

Newman Municipal Golf Course

Ready for a short day on the links? The best greens in town are at Newman, a municipal par 36 course with 9 holes, right on the edge of Cayuga Lake. It’s all pretty flat, but you can still rent power carts at the Pro Shop, along with membership paraphernalia. You need to make reservations on holidays, Fridays, and weekends, and it’ll cost you $10 to $15, depending on the day and time. Or join up—annual membership is $630 for individuals. 


Best Finger Lakes Day Trip

Cayuga Wine Trail

There’s no question what people like to do most with a free day on the weekends around here. Hitting the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail is once again the reader favorite. There’s 16 stops on the trail, including one right in Ithaca (Six Mile Creek Vineyard on Rt. 79 East), and one cider mil (Bellwether Hard Cider). The Web site for the trail includes info on not just the wineries but also attractions (consider a side-trip to Corning Museum of Glass), dining (get some burgers at the Glenwood Pines, or a cone at Cayuga Lake Creamery), and beautiful accommodations for when you can’t make the drive home. 


Best Open Mic Venue

Lot 10 Lounge

Lot 10’s found its niche as a high-end bar (check out Best Bartender) and as a venue for allowing Ithacans to have their say (or sing). Being an open mic venue began a couple years ago with the monthly Trampoline storytelling competition helmed by Bob Proehl. But the opportunities have expanded in the past year. “We do a Tuesday night open mic that caters more towards music, although we have had a little bit of everything take place,” said Lot 10’s Matthew Riis. “Our co-hosts Leon and Amanda also help to make the night fun and engaging but I think the bottom line is the people in attendance, whether working, performing, or viewing. We are blessed to have some wonderful regulars and staff alike.” [Full disclosure: Eric Griffith, author of this article, is an investor in Lot 10.]


Best Weekend Activity


For the last two years, hiking has made the list of the best things about Ithaca, and 2013 is no exception. Take a short jaunt online first to VisitIthaca.com’s Hiking section and a search will find you a new trail for just about every weekend you’d like to get outside. Start small (I suggest South Hill Recreation Way or Shindagin Hollow State Forest, especially for dog walks) and then work your way up. Up the stair count, for example, at Buttermilk or Treman state parks, or the hills of Cornell Plantations, or just up the length—try the 50 miles of the Finger Lakes Trail found inside Tompkins County. 


Best Local Band

Sim Redmond Band

It may have been a few years since this topic was in the Best Of poll, but the group that has typically won then is still around. The Sim Redmond Band once again is the top pick by readers. Nate Silas Richardson, who has performed with SRB since 2006, has a theory why they’re still on top: “Ithaca has produced so many amazing local bands, with new ones emerging all the time. Maybe since we’ve been playing accessible music with a positive message for well over a decade now, people will associate our music with good memories from all the great local festivals and other events.” If it’s been a while since you caught them playing, he suggests turning out for their full set at the First Fest at Corks & More on New Year’s Eve, and adds, “Thanks for your support! We are always so happy to see folks bringing good vibes to our shows.”


Best Sports Bar

Uncle Joe’s Grill & Sports Bar

There’s chain sports bars with some wings and more television screens than you could ever hope to keep track of, or there’s a local tavern like Uncle Joe’s on West Green Street next to the fire department. Affordable, easy to get to, with some great burgers and wings, and most importantly, with 12 beers on tap and 6 ever-rotating craft/local beers, this is the place to watch the big game. All of them. Or participate—Uncle Joe’s is also the home of local pool and dart leagues.


Best Happy Hour

Viva Taqueria

In a place already known for margaritas, it’s it nice to save a buck? Apparently that dollar off makes all the difference to the locals who frequent the bar. From 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays your House and Goat margaritas drop from $5 to $4 each; frozen versions go from $7 to $6; and draft beers are all $2 off. Maybe it’s not the cheap booze, however; the throng of loud, happy people around the little bar doing the drinking might just be exactly what you like most. 


Best Annual Event

Ithaca Festival

A parade, music, food, shopping—if that sounds like what you like best about Ithaca, you probably voted for the Ithaca Festival as our best yearly event, as it has all that and more. Festival director Jes Seaver said that what makes it the best relates directly to this year’s theme of “Where the Heart is”—a sense of community. She said, “We are all Ithacans, large and small, people gather to be together and witness random acts of talent and local creativity.” Over 3,000 people help make the Ithaca Festival what it is, from every parade performer on to the volunteers, crafters, and food providers. But she wants people to know that while the festival is free, they need to raise money every year to keep it alive. “Currently for next year, unless we can do a lot of fundraising in the off season, we are looking at a reduced-size festival that will likely mean fewer days and no Stewart Park,” said Seaver. “We are looking for new donors, new board members, and for festival goers to support our merchandise booths as well as patronize any other festival sponsored events.” In fact they need a new director, as she’s stepping down! Remember, Ithaca Festival isn’t dead yet. It’s a yearly tradition everyone loves, so make sure to donate now so it can stay around for years to come.

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