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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Freedy Johnston show a reminder of the treasure that is Saratoga's Caffe Lena

As I sat at Table 15 about 10 feet from singer/songwriter Freedy Johnston during his 90-plus-minute set Sunday night at Caffe Lena, I wondered why in the world I do not take advantage of this treasure of a place more often.
Its intimacy and simplicity create an almost magical venue.
Freedy Johnston at Caffe Lena in
Saratoga Springs Feb. 23, 2014.
Caffe Lena, with two f’s, is the oldest continuously operating coffeehouse in the country. It’s in a small upstairs space on Phila Street that’s easy to miss from the sidewalk, especially if you’re understandably distracted by Hattie’s restaurant, another local landmark, whose entrance is next to the door that opens onto the stairway to Lena’s.
The coffeehouse was founded in 1960 by Lena Spencer. After she died in 1989, Caffe Lena was converted into a nonprofit entity, which, as its website says, “continues as a living legend: breathing in ideas, dreams, and possibilities—breathing out music, poetry and theater. Caffè Lena has always been a place where people renew their faith in the power of music.”
This was Johnston's third time at Caffe Lena and the second time my husband saw him there; I was out of town. Somehow we missed the first visit of Johnston, who was Rolling Stone's songwriter of the year in 1994. 
Last time I remember being at Lena’s was for a local talent night to hear The Real Vandals, my son Joe’s high school band with Chris Chambers, Ryan Koella and Cameron Pilkey. So it’s been a while.
Lena’s stays busy year-round with a variety of local and national performers. Ticket prices are extremely reasonable, as are the prices of the menu of mostly cold and hot coffee drinks, chocolate chip cookies and a couple of sandwiches. There’s absolutely no pressure to buy a thing. 
The place is clean and cozy, with local artwork on the walls, exposed brick, a worn wooden floor — it couldn't be less pretentious if it tried.
Just as I am incredulous when people fail to take advantage of the world-class offerings at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, I can’t understand how people would never ever make it into Caffe Lena. 


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