Ithaca, New York has made every top ten list from Best College Town to Smartest City in America. Every true Ithacan knows, though, that the one that really counts, the one that really means something is the Ithaca Times’ Best of Ithaca list. Here are the results of this year’s readers’ poll:
Best Place to Find Pre-Owned Goods
Ithaca’s own altar to repurposing and reusing, Mimi’s very space resonates with traces of its former service as Bishop’s Hardware. A store where people can buy and sell used household everything, the floor is crowded with a diverse and intriguing selection of home furnishings from couches to coffee makers. Owner Kelly Moreland said, “being chosen is absolutely outstanding! Our merchandise is as eclectic as Ithaca itself. Thanks to all our customers for embracing the concept of repurposing and reusing and keeping it all local. This makes us so happy!”
Best Outlying Town or Village
It’s got a Gimme!, the Fair, Grassroots, a craft brewery, wineries, the best gorge and maybe, just maybe, the Rongo again. The schools are good, the buildings are historic and there’s just a very hip (no other way to describe it) vibe to the place. For a village of less than two thousand souls, it seems to have an inordinate number of cool things going on. Author Rebecca Barry, who lives on Main Street, said, “I love living here! The whole town is like this hotbed of creative ideas—people are designing clothes and jewelry, making sculptures and pottery, teaching great yoga classes. There are so many innovative projects in action in this town—CSA farms, bakeries, a biodynamic farm, permaculture, straw bale house construction, Etsy shops, solar and wind energy. People don’t just talk about ideas, they do them. I feel like so many of the things people say that we’ve lost or can’t have in the US because it’s too hard, like alternative energy, affordable organic food, a creative economy that employs barter and trade, are actually happening here. So it’s like living in the future I’d love to see.”
Best Looking Brick Building in Ithaca
The historic Boardman House is a solid, handsomely restored Italianate building located in the heart of downtown. Constructed in 1866 on land bought from Ezra Cornell and purchased in 1886 by Judge Douglas Boardman, the first Dean of Cornell University’s Law School, it later housed the Ithaca Conservatory of Music, which morphed into Ithaca College in 1932. Though it links the economic, educational and cultural development of Ithaca, it stands by itself as an architectural treasure. Slated for demolition in the 1970s, it was saved by a successful citizens’ campaign headed by Joe Ciaschi. Its distinctive red brick façade with brown trim are an anchor in the DeWitt Park Historic District.
Best Looking Bridge in Ithaca
Suspension Bridge at Cornell
The iconic pedestrian footbridge over Fall Creek has the sort of mystique of which other, more plebeian infrastructure can only dream. Perched 110 feet over the Foaming Falls and 270 feet long, even with recent upgrades crossing it requires a certain faith in engineers and the integrity of 50-year old structural steel. It is said that if a Cornell student refuses a kiss on the Suspension Bridge, it will collapse into the gorge. Given that the bridge was dedicated in 1961, the bridge’s continued existence speaks volumes for the sociability of Cornellians.
Best Creek in Ithaca
Six Mile Creek
In a very tight three-way race, Six Mile Creek edged out Cascadilla and Fall creeks. People cared a lot about this subject—there were more votes cast than in virtually every other category. The creek goes all the way out through Brooktondale and past the Caroline Elementary School and is the source of Ithaca’s water supply. The gorge trail, when can be reached within city limits, is said to hold the greatest wildflower diversity in New York State.
Best One-Way Street in Ithaca
Though also a close vote (Cascadilla Avenue by the creek and Aurora Street made strong showings), Seneca Street is perhaps the most quintessentially Ithacan of them all. To walk, ride or drive its length from Collegetown to the Inlet is to see the city in all its guises. Coasting down East Hill through the leafy, well-tended 19th-century boarding houses (and Vladimir Nabokov’s old home), one is thrust immediately into downtown at the bottom. What other street has so many iconic Ithaca locations, old and new? The Commons, Starbucks, the new(ish) Hilton, Dewitt Mall, the Clinton House, the enormous old churches and Shortstop. Heading into the west end, the porches sag a little and some of the lawns are a little weedier, but there’s the new apartment building at 602, Alternatives FCU and Greenstar, and then the street dead-ends at the Inlet by a ghost of its commercial past, the old Sign Works building. It’s the story of our city in one ride.
Best-Looking House of Worship
First Unitarian Church of Ithaca
Designed by architect William Henry Miller, who also designed over 70 other buildings in Ithaca, the home of the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca dates back to 1893. Originally, the church was supposed to have a pyramidal roof, but a tall steeple was erected instead, ostensibly so that students could not miss seeing it. Over the years, the Unitarian empire has spread to adjoining buildings on North Aurora and East Buffalo streets, but the main church building, renovated in the 1990s is an imposing architectural gem and a downtown landmark.
Best Place to Watch the Sun Rise
Tie: Cayuga Lake and Cass Park
There were many great suggestions about where to catch dawn’s early light, and Cayuga Lake and Cass Park tied for first place. Truth be told, Taughannock Falls State and Stewart parks tied for a very close second, too. The theme seems to be water and a natural setting, both of which are available in abundance around here.
Best Place to Watch Deer
Whether because of or in spite of the years-long controversy over its white-tailed deer population, Cayuga Heights was selected as the best place to watch deer. With a deer population approaching 200 (90 per square mile), it is, at times, hard not to watch deer there. Putting aside all arguments, they are graceful and elegant creatures and, at present, part of our local landscape.
Best Zumba Teacher
Cynthia Henderson, professor in Ithaca College’s Department of Theatre Arts, Fulbright Scholar and founder and director of Performing Arts for Social Change, is a force of nature and she brings her enthusiasm and energy to Zumba. “I love teaching Zumba classes. It doesn’t feel like a workout – it’s like I’m dancing and having a good time with my friends. I’m deeply honored and am so grateful to the people who nominated and voted for me! This is very exciting and equally humbling.” Henderson, whose Zumba classes at Island Health & Fitness and Finger Lakes Fitness, will soon be leading classes five times a week with an additional location on the Commons.
Best Local Writer
A best-selling interpreter of science and nature with an international reputation, Diane Ackerman is renowned for her unique insight into the natural world and the human place (for better and worse) in it. She is currently on tour promoting her new book, The Human Age; the World Shaped by Us. The hands-down winner of the category, she said, “How wonderful! I’m honored and delighted. I always sing the praises of my beloved hometown.”
General practitioner Mariette Geldenhuys’ reputation extends way beyond the legal profession, but she certainly commands the respect of the professional community. Of Geldenhuys, runner-up Luke Fenchel said, “Lawyers have certain tools of the trade: advocacy for clients, a faithfulness to the law, and a mindfulness of the community at large. But Mariette reminds me and other attorneys of other vital skills: collaborative law and mediation, for instance, but more generally-and equally important- to treat people with dignity, respect, and humanity.”
Ms. Geldenhuys herself describes her approach to practicing law as “a peace-making profession, with a lot of mediation. I’m deeply grateful for this honor. It’s amazing and very humbling.”
There were many, many nominees, but for his selflessness, all-in drive to help the homeless men of Tompkins County, there is nobody more deserving of the award this year than Carmen Guidi. A tireless advocate for Second Wind Cottages, a project to build modest one-person houses for homeless men on land he has donated, Guidi has contributed countless hours and significant treasure to the venture’s success. “I’m just overwhelmed and humbled by the volunteers who have made all of this happen. The experience of trying to get assistance is so frustrating and difficult that many people feel trapped,” he said. “It’s especially overwhelming for people with addiction or mental health issues. There needs to be a way to provide a safe sanctuary for a person to be able to break out of the cycle and take some time to piece their life together.”
Best Ithacan on Twitter
The hands-on, stay-connected style of our Masterful Mayor of Modern Media has struck a chord with city residents. His response on learning of this most recent accolade: “So many social media savvy people in #Twithaca so this is a #TremendousHonor. Unlike Twitter, Ithaca has way more than #140characters.”
Ithaca College lecturer and former Ithaca Times reporter, 2nd Ward Alderperson Seph Murtagh has won the ‘best of’ designation twice since being elected in 2011. “I’m a big proponent of the idea that scholars and teachers should be actively engaged members of the community. Being chosen best alderperson is a great honor, but the fact is, I’m not doing anything over and above what the others are doing. It’s a team effort and we really have a good group of people in our city government right now.” Murtaugh also serves on the boards of several local nonprofit organizations, including GIAC, TCAT, and the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.
Best Local Actor/Actress
Michelle Courtney Berry
Michelle Courtney Berry is the CEO of Courtney Consulting Enterprises, a coach, trainer, speaker, author, healing arts practitioner, internationally certified stress management expert, mom, and the founder and president of the local chapter of the National Association of Professional Women. She’s also the people’s choice as Ithaca’s best local actor. “I’m indeed overwhelmed and honored by this distinction, because the talent pool of local actors is so rich. I’m grateful, too, to have been cast in a “trifecta” of performances last season—from “Vagina Monologues,” to “Love, Loss, and What I Wore,” and “Good People.” I’m indeed humbled by the audiences, casts, crews and companies who support and sustain me.”
Best Active Retiree
When describing Sara Pines, it’s not uncommon to hear phrases like “powerhouse” and “human tornado”. Though she ‘retired’ in 2010, the diminutive (4’8”) founder of Friendship Donations Network, a grassroots agency that redistributes food that would otherwise be thrown away from stores and farms to folks in need, this world-traveling, environmentalist, activist community organizer and winner of innumerable accolades shows no signs of slowing down.
Best Advocate for Local Business
Norman is one of the founders of Silk Oak, Cat’s Pajamas, and Alphabet Soup, and she presently runs IthacaMade, next to Mimi’s Attic. She was recently recognized by the Alternatives Federal Credit Union with the Jeff Furman Award for Social Responsibility in Business. “Are you serious?” said Jan. “Who even knew there was a category for that? I’m so honored. I love the fact that we live in a community that embraces the value of locally-owned businesses.”
Best Restaurant Server
Gabe Flores - Mercato/Cent-Dix
Winning this category is a reflection of the passion and professionalism of Gabriel Flores, who moved this year from Mercato next door to Café Cent-Dix. “I’m really honored,” he said. “I’m glad people are enjoying my service and what we do.” Café Cent-Dix is a French Bistro featuring dishes such as Frisée Aux Lardons, Steak Frites and rotating Plats Du Jour, and is a welcome new addition to restaurant row on Aurora Street.
FOOD & DRINK
Best Restaurant When You’re Broke
In 2012 Viva won ‘Best Cheap Date.’ In 2013, it was ‘Best Restaurant to Bring Kids To’, and this year it’s ‘Best Restaurant When You’re Broke’. A person could be forgiven for detecting a theme. It feels like the real restaurant that it is, and yet you can get out of there with an excellent meal without wincing when the check comes. It’s no wonder the place is busy.
When You’re Flush With Cash
Owner Greg Norkus was a faculty member at the Cornell Hotel School for 28 years before retiring to open Mercato Bar and Kitchen in 2010. Of winning the ‘Best Restaurant When You’re Flush With Cash’ category, he said, “Given the number of great restaurants in Ithaca, we are honored to have been recognized as the best restaurant in our category. Thanks to all who voted for us and to our customers who have supported us since we opened. And perhaps most importantly, we’d like to recognize our staff who are responsible for making it all happen each and every day that we are open; you’re the greatest!”
Best Alcoholic Drink in Town
Anything from Argos
To order and receive a dry martini at the bar at Argos is an act so thoroughly civilized and fraught with reward that one is moved to wonder if some high point in life hasn’t been reached, every single time. Argos has been open less than a year, in the exquisitely restored Cowdry house, and the bar has already carved out a well-earned reputation for itself in a city full of congenial and top-quality watering holes.
Best Non-Alcoholic Drink in Town
Long renowned beyond our Ten Square Miles, Ithaca’s own gimme! coffee is still a favorite among Ithacans. It’s no mystery why. Each shop has its own identity, yet they share an almost obsessive attention to quality, a cadre of top-flight baristas and the Ithaca vibe. Long may they reign.
Best Finger Lakes Wine
Six Mile Creek Vineyard
A subject dear to the hearts of Finger Lakes folks, Ithaca’s own Six Mile Creek Vineyard’s products won the coveted designation as ‘Best Finger Lakes Wine.’ The winery is housed in a converted post-and-beam dairy barn on Route 79, just a few miles east of downtown. They grow five to six acres of white wine grapes right on their property and their wines beat out a host of other choices in the category. Individual wines garnering votes were their Riesling and Chardonnay. Generally, the winery’s strength lies in its table blends and sweeter wines.
Lincoln Street Diner
It took a lot of votes to beat the Carriage House and the peloton of other Ithaca diners, each of which has its devotees, but the Lincoln Diner is a long-time favorite among locals who take breakfast seriously. It is cheap, with friendly, relatively speedy service and should be on the national registry of places that provide excellent diner fare. The rumor that the CIA uses Lincoln Diner sausage gravy and biscuits to extract secrets from spies has been neither confirmed nor denied. Said owner Chris O’Brien, “Being chosen for ‘best breakfast’ is fantastic! Humbling, too. We’re really honored to have been picked.”
Best Place to Satisfy a Sweet Tooth
Life’s So Sweet
This was a close race, with Sarah’s Patisserie, Purity and Sweet Melissa’s all within striking distance. Life’s So Sweet is to chocolate what a microbrewery is to craft beer. Being locally oriented, with hand-made products and top-quality ingredients makes the shop a solid favorite in Ithaca. At least 60 percent of their chocolate confections are made on premises, and the rest is from family-owned businesses within the United States. They use real, artisan-grade chocolate, fresh cream, local honey, local berries and any other ingredients that they can acquire in an economical and socially responsible way. High standards and delicious chocolate; it’s a win-win.
Ithaca Ale House
The Ale House is also a burger house supreme, with over a dozen specialty burgers, including two varieties of kobe beef burgers. Their menu pairs them with suggested beers from their large selection, a nice touch that no doubt our readers appreciate.
Fat Jack’s opened an Ithaca restaurant on Elmira Road a few years ago as an outpost from its origins in Philadelphia where, they say, in their 30-plus years of operation they have won 200-plus local and national awards. Now it’s 200-plus plus one. Congratulations, and welcome to Ithaca!
On the Street Pitas
“Fantastic!,” said Brian Horvath. “I’d like to say thank you, Ithaca, where I’ve been serving falafel for 20 years, 21/2 at this location.” The shop is on S. Fulton Street, just round the corner from Maxie’s.
Ithaca Bakery wins something in every Best of Ithaca poll, no matter what categories we make up. This year people focused on the soups. They are made fresh every day in the kitchen up at the Triphammer Mall and available at both that location and the aboriginal Meadow Street location. They are also posted at the bakery’s website, complete with a list of ingredients (but not measurements).
“Wonderful!” said Nathan Couchon, the manager of the Triphammer location, upon being told the IB soups got the most votes. His current favorite is the pumpkin bisque with Granny Smith apples. The soups change with the seasons. “In the summer we have cold fruit soups and gazpacho,” said Couchon, “an d in the colder months you’ll start seeing things like chicken pot pie.”
They make four soups per day with at least one of them vegetarian and/or vegan. When possible they use local ingredients. They are made fresh every day. When Couchon arrives at 5:30 a.m. to open the shop, the cooks have already been there for a while. The Triphammer kitchen also makes the soups for the Collegetown Bagel shops, but they will often be different “flavors” from those at the bakery locations.
Best Cocktail Selection
This contest was a virtual tie between Felicia’s, the veteran West State Street joint, and Argos, new and nicely appointed up on East State Street. “We are so lucky to be in Ithaca where many of our cocktail ingredients can come from local farmers and distillers,” said Felicia’s co-owners Amelia Sauter and Leah Houghtaling. “Tree Gate Farm keeps us well-stocked with blackberries, herbs, horseradish, and more! And we wouldn’t be able to keep winning in this category without our awesome staff, and all the people in this tiny town who appreciate drinking good cocktails.”
We trust the two will raise a glass to each other in sharing the award.
Best Menu Item Nickname
Cheatin’ Vegan Nachos at Viva /
Pines Burger at Glenwood
One is hard to comprehend. The other is plain and straightforward. The tie between two so different might say as much about Ithaca Times readers as anything. We congratulate both restaurants for pleasing our readers (and perhaps illuminating them).
Most Comfortable Restaurant Seats
Madeline’s wants you to be comfortable through a sumptuous dinner that few patrons end without lingering long over longed-for dessert. “Let us make your evening the best part of your day,” the restaurant says.
Best Bar Without Live Music
Madeline’s features signature cocktails, over 50 kinds of scotch, and regional beers and wines (along with very comfortable seats to enjoy them in, and no music to shout above).
Our readers chose to cite an event rather than a particular show. One has to admit, it’s hard to compete with four stages, four summer days. Congratulations to the festival organizers and 1300 volunteers!
Best Public Art Piece
The 21 Box Project is 21 artists painting mini-murals on 21 utility boxes on poles around town. Check it out all at once on their Facebook page, or better yet, one at a time around town.
Best Underrated Activity
We assume, by the winner, that readers construe “best underrated” as “best under-underttaken.” Maybe next year we will have “Best Overrated,” for contrast.
Best Keyboard Player
Molly plays (and teaches) traditional jazz, primarily. Our readers recognize her classic influences, and influence, too.
“Wow,” said MacMillan. “I’m honored and happy—thanks so much, Ithaca Times and everyone who participated in the poll. I always enjoy reading the results, and wish everybody a musical year. Having just been a listener at Porchfest 2014, I’m impressed with the talent in our area, and everyone’s generous spirit.”
The Nines trivia night is a long-standing tradition. Teresa Panek, a bartender and waitress (and, yes, Pete’s daughter) said that she can’t remember when it started, “It seems like we always had it.” The host for the past two years has been Matt Taylor, and George Larson and Eric Henne have made up most of the questions for the past four or five years. All of them are Nines employees.
Larson and Henne show up for work early on Tuesday and sit down to write the questions. Often, said Panek, they will ask the other employees to contribute questions. When they contribute questions those employees are excluded from the night’s contest. “Otherwise, we’d have an unfair advantage,” said Panek, who comes up with questions of her own. The categories range across a variety of academic subjects and into pop culture.
The contest is every Tuesday at 10 p.m. Panek said there is a regular crowd. “Some of them even come in through the summer,” she said.
Best Stand-up Comic
Stand-up comedy is a growing scene in Ithaca, and Ruben “RC” Arce is in the midst of it, at numerous venues and events. “That’s outstanding,” said Arce. “It didn’t realize I was nominated. That’s so cool.” Arce, with fellow comic Evan Roberts, founded Groundhog Comedy two years ago. (They both have birthdays on February 2, 1984.)
“We talked each other into going to the open mic at the Shop,” Arce said. “Then we found out about the FLOPs [Finger Lakes Original Pranksters] ‘Funniest Person in Ithaca.’ After that there was a buzz about comedy in Ithaca. Arce and Roberts started a stand-up open mic at Pixel Lounge in summer 2012, which recently moved to Lot 10 Lounge.
“The day I found out I won this my mother had me call her,” said Arce. “She told me my father passed away, so it was a silver lining on a difficult day.”
Best Art Gallery
State of the Art
SOAG is member-run with members mounting monthly show. They also regularly invite out of town artists to exhibit along with a member. Their First Friday openings are always crowded and full of people who know each other; it is a real community. “State of the Art gallery is proud to be in our 25th year,” said president James Spitznagel. “That makes being voted Best Art Gallery a very special honor.”
Best Downtown Event
Apple Harvest Festival
It’s not as high profile as the Ithaca Festival, but apparently it is highly beloved by Ithaca Times readers. (Maybe it’s that Ferris wheel.) Organized by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, it’s right around the corner, from Friday to Sunday, Oct. 3 through 5. You never know what the weather will be like, but there will always be apples (even after the soon-to-be legendary lean harvest of 2012), hot cider, and really all things Malus domestica.
Best Theater Company
The Kitchen Theatre just started a new season. They have a perpetually robust and intriguing schedule, a dynamic artistic director in Rachel Lampert, and a beautiful new facility at 417 W. State Street. Our readers give them a standing o.
“Wowee!!” said Lampert. “What an honor! Kitchen Theatre Company loves being part of the lively cultural life that distinguishes Ithaca and Tompkins County as a great place to make art and experience art. We relish being able to do the work we do and present it to such a welcoming and enthusiastic theater audience. It is great to able to share our still-new gorgeous space with other theater companies. Thank you everyone who voted for us. See you soon at the Kitchen for one of those important conversations.”
Best Car Repair
Diane’s Downtown Automotive
Diane’s has quickly become a favored institution in Ithaca. The friendly, full-service shop (with gas pumps, too) is on the corner of West State and Corn Streets. Employee Danielle Anderson said, “We’re so excited down here. At first we thought someone was messing with us, but then the photographer came by and took our picture.”
“The most important part of our business,” said owner Diane Russell, “is taking care of our customers, so we are thrilled and proud to be voted Best Auto Repair this year. It’s an honor to serve folks in Ithaca and the surrounding communities. Yeah our team!!”
Russell has owned the business for eight years. The shop works on all makes and models, but Anderson said they see a lot of Subarus (“This is Ithaca”).
Serendipity can bring the glitz and glamor to events of any type, but does it with special dedication to local farmers and food purveyors. They take it a step further, said Serendipity’s Stephanie Holzbaur, with ties to local professionals in entertainment, lighting, photography, and party rentals. It all makes for worry-free events for clients, and recognition from our readers.
“We are thrilled to have won best caterer!” said Holzbaur, “We are constantly exploring new ways to provide new and exciting menus to our clients while incorporating local ingredients, beautiful design and exciting aesthetics. We are thankful for the support of our dedicated team and amazing clients.”
Best Hair Stylist
Sean Kee at Resistance Salon
With training from the Sasoon Academy in London, Sean started Resistance two decades ago, a long tenure for a salon. Resistance’s website cites Sean’s “passion for the craft” and inspiration from the worlds of art and fashion. It also cites commitment to a “friendly, courteous” atmosphere. All that can help keep you in business a while, and winning some awards.
Best Customer Service
Wegman’s sets the standard for supermarkets in Ithaca and the region. Congratulations for this well-deserved award to manager Gary Woloszyn and all the hard-working, friendly Wegman’s crew.
“Hey, nice,” said assistant store manager Matt Morano upon getting the news. “To be honest it’s the company’s focus to put the customer first. It’s a longstanding thing.”
“Customer service is written into our philosophy,” store manager Gary Wolosyzn said. “It’s hanging in our conference room and office. We’re always measuring ourselves against the company’s calls. It’s a family-owned company and they treat us like family, and we treat the customers that way.” When we called Wegman’s corporate headquarters, even they described the recognition as “a great honor.”
Best Carpet Cleaners
ABC Oriental Rug and Carpet Care
ABC specializes in oriental carpets, but works on them all. Owners Ken and Harriet Adams have been at it a long time, and the Yelp website offers testimony to their professional. We’re happy to extend the same.
Adams started the business in 1970 and it included custodial services, fire and water damage clean-up and mold remediation. Over the years they have spun those off and reverted to the core expertise of cleaning and repairing Oriental and other area rugs.
ABC has had to evolve with industry changes, including the shift in 1986 from control of the warrantee care from the mills to the fiber producers and the big shift to hardwood floors in the 1990s. Adams’ provides his staff with special training
Best Frozen Yogurt
It’s starting to become a crowded field, but Yogurtland gets the nod in 2014 as Ithaca’s Best Frozen Yogurt. The Elmira Road location is a little hard to find, but our readers say it is worth the effort. Their popularity may be in part due to their sensitivity to seasonal changes.
Best Massage Therapist
Rasa Spa, Jenna Milner
Our readers cite not just an individual, but an enterprise. Jenna Milner doesn’t work at Rasa but was the individual therapist who racked up the most votes. Rachel Hogencamp, owner of Rasa, described the massage therapy community has one where everyone knows one another and was happy to hear that Milner did well in the poll.
“Massage therapy is not just the hands-on part,” said Hogencamp, when asked what makes a good practitioner. “There is also the interaction with the client, building rapport. You have to be excellent at building a relationship and treat someone as an individual and be concerned about their overall wellbeing.”
“This is such an honor,” said Milner, “in a town with so many other remarkable massage therapists! I am incredibly grateful for the support of my clients.”
Best Dog Breed Representing Ithaca
Ithaca is a place that celebrates the intrinsic worth of self above pride and pedigree. We guess. •