You’ve been to Wegmans. You’ve been to the mall. Perhaps you’ve even stumbled upon the Commons a time or two. But, if you’re like most students, you’ve probably been too busy to give the Ithaca area a good once-over. Even so, you might have noticed that for a town of its size, Ithaca has an unusually high number of eateries, shopping centers, theaters, bars, and even grocery stores. And, aside from the larger chain-stores, Ithaca is chockfull of homegrown establishments just waiting to be visited by adventurous patrons. Daze recently ventured to some of these lesser-knowns in an attempt to meet the real Ithaca. What we found has the potential to put an end to those boring weekend afternoons and maybe, just maybe, liven up your Cornell experience. So grab some comfy shoes, a few friends, and be sure to bring along an appetite. From vintage matchbooks to acclaimed hamburgers, and rare books to Guinness on tap, there’s a lifetime of things to experience right here in Ithaca. So here’s a word to the wise: check out the town before your classes get any tougher. Make a day of it. Or, better yet, make it a habit.
Located on Aurora street between State and Buffalo, Micawber’s is one of the few places in town with Guinness still available straight from the tap. They also offer Blue Moon Ale, Bass, and Amstel. Aside from the variety, Micawber’s offers an ambiance that you’ve probably never seen in Collegetown. The establishment boasts two televisions, a juke box with an extensive song library, an ATM, and most impressively, a real dart board. No magnets or peg holes for Micawber’s, folks. This is the real deal. On Mondays and Tuesdays they offer a free slice of Rogan’s Pizza starting at 11:00 p.m. In addition, Micawber’s often hosts live musical acts and sponsors the occasional trivia competition.
Located on the Commons just off of the Main Pavilion, Sounds Fine has everything you would expect to find in a record store plus a ton of extras. They boast a variety of wearables, including a wide selection of tie-dye shirts along with several other logo tees. Aside from CDs, Sounds Fine has an extremely large selection of new vinyl as well as an extensive collection of used CDs and DVDs. The sprawling used section is not only an affordable way to buy new music, but a great resource for those looking for the odd Clash album or Marvin Gaye disc. In addition, a large collection of boxed sets are available and you can even pick up an import or two. Then, before you check out, you can grab a couple of sticks of incense at the counter. Head out the back entrance that connects the store to the Center Ithaca shopping pavilion where you can grab a slice of pizza or a pita. With its central location and good stock, Sounds Fine is a great resource for local music lovers of all genres. Plus, if you need a little extra cash and haven’t listened to that Ace of Base album in awhile, you can take it – along with any other used CDs you may have lying around – to sell or trade.
The Fall Creek House
Best known as “The Creeker,” this small bar is one you may have heard of but probably haven’t ever visited. Now in its 24th year of business, the site of the Creeker has a great deal of local history, tracing its roots as a pub and hotel to the mid-19th century. From its location (on Lincoln Street at the base of Gun Hill) to its crowd, the Creeker is a complete 180 from the bars found on College Ave. Though a large portion of the clientele are area residents, students are a welcome addition to the typically busy weekends at the Creeker. There’s a heavy emphasis on sports which means that, at any time of day, the television is tuned to a game or, at the least, to ESPN. With Labatt, Bass, Killians, Guinness, and Bud on hand, the Creeker is the perfect place to grab a beer, relax, and watch the game. The Creeker boasts occasional drink specials including one dollar pints of Miller Light whenever there’s a Friday night hockey game.
The Dewitt Mall
Made famous as the location of Ithaca’s Moosewood Restaurant, few students realize how many other establishments call the Dewitt Mall home. Originally a schoolhouse, the Dewitt Mall is an interesting and beautiful location to shop for a plethora of items. A few of the most notable locations within the mall are The Bookery, Ithaca Guitar Works, Pastimes Antiques, and Toko Imports.
Ithaca Guitar Works specializes in instrument repair and restoration and also provides lessons to aspiring musicians. They have a huge stock of instruments ranging from your standard Gibsons, Fenders, and Epiphones to your harder to find Taylor Guitars and banjos. Electric and acoustic alike, whether you’re looking for an amplifier, a cord or two, a strap or some sheet music, Ithaca Guitar Works can (literally) hook you up. (www.guitarworks.com)
Just next door, you’ll find Pastimes, a shop dedicated to small antique items. Like vintage jewelry? Want an “I Like Ike” button or a McGovern campaign pin? How about a vintage matchbook from a Las Vegas casino? All of these and much more, including a swell collection of used vinyl, can be found at Pastimes.
If you’re in the market for a rare edition of a 19th century gothic romance, there’s only one place to shop. The Bookery is actually housed in two separate locations within the Dewitt Mall. One is dedicated to rarer texts while the other, larger space focuses on newer editions and later releases. In the business since 1975, owner Jack Goldman also publishes The Bookpress, a local periodical dedicated to the literary arts.
Toko Imports sells nearly every kind of percussive instrument that you can imagine. Plus, the shop has an interesting stock of items for the home. One of the highlights of the store is the hammock chair that hangs from a rafter. Stop in and check it out, but don’t get too comfortable in that chair, there’s a lot more to see in the Dewitt Mall.
Glenwood Pines Restaurant
This little hideaway is found off of route 89 just past the town of Ulysses in Trumansburg and is famous for its award-winning Pines Burger. Popular with a handful of greek houses, the “Pines” has remained one of the area’s best kept secrets for nearly 23 years. There’s plenty of parking and a large dining room downstairs that looks out onto the lake. The upstairs area provides a more intimate dining space perfect for a reunion of friends or a date. The Pines also has an operational bowling machine which has proved to be one of the establishment’s watershed investments. Dating around 1950, the bowling game operates much like a skee-ball machine and has become popular with customers young and old.
The Valentine Cafe
Ambiance is key at the Valentine Cafe, which is arguably one of Ithaca’s hardest to find finds. Located in an apartment building at the end of South Quarry Street (115 S. Quarry) on the very fringes of Collegetown, the Valentine Cafe is a first-rate restaurant with a diverse menu and wine list. Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner only (5:30 T-Sat, 5:00 Sun), reservations are required. Walking into the entrance of the apartment building, first time patrons of the Valentine Cafe are surprised at the elegance and atmosphere of the place. Indeed, the establishment’s isolation is part of its mystique. When eating at the Valentine, one feels as if he (or she) has discovered a well guarded secret — which, of course, he has. Complete with original works of art by the likes of Stan Taft (a Cornell professor and artist), the Valentine’s interior is lush but not overbearing. With a nice collection of jazz and classical playing on the stereo system, guests are privy to one of the finest meal experiences around. This makes the Valentine Cafe the ideal location for a romantic evening.
As for the f
ood, there are but two things to say about the Valentine Cafe. First, the prices are advantageously low and the quality of the food is something you would expect to find in a large, international city. Sole proprietor and chef Etienne Merle ’69, ensures the personal touch with his patrons, greeting each upon entry, and thanking each upon their exit.
The Valentine Cafe is one place you can’t afford to miss. Potential patrons should keep in mind that the Valentine is a popular spot, so reservations should be made early. For current dishes, prices, and to make a reservation call 277-9969.
The next time you and the gang head out on the town, consider taking a chance on some of the places on this list. Or, make a list of your own. When you’re laying around next Saturday afternoon, take advantage of the town at our doorstep. Go out to eat, bundle up and take a walk, turn off the instant messenger. This is an opportunity that might pass you by as you drive from the mall to Wegmans. Granted, the view from the Hill is beautiful, but you’ve only got a few years of those sunsets left. Try seeing some of them from greater Ithaca. You wont be dissapointed.
Archived article by Nate Brown