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Facelift Planned For Caffe Lena

The entrance to Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs has just as much character as the club itself. It’s easy to walk by the door on Phila Street. Go up the creaky wooden steps, and you’re in the same room where Bob Dylan and Sawyer Fredericks both cut their teeth.

Now, as part of a new partnership with local developer Bonacio Construction, the folks at Caffe Lena have some big upgrades in mind. But Executive Director Sarah Craig cautioned the renovations would not affect the feel of America’s oldest continuously operated coffeehouse.

“I think that the ideas that we have for the decoration of the space and the way we are going to finish it off, are going to, if anything, accentuate that feel of history and magic that’s in the room, and not in any way make it contemporary or vanilla. It’s going to be just magical.”

Caffe Lena has overlooked Phila Street since 1955. The building it’s located in was built in the late 19th century. Developer Sonny Bonacio said there are some needed upgrades.

“While we know that is really a phenomenal stairwell coming up and it has all the history, kinda getting in and out of this building is not quite up to code.”

Bonancio Construction is building a new mixed-use building next door and will assume the Caffe’s parking lot. A new entranceway and elevator are planned. Craig says the Caffe has been hoping to install an elevator for some time.

But there’s more than a new entranceway planned. The tiny venue seats only 85 people. With some new renovations, there will be room for 25 more.

Caffe Lena board member Bob Rehm pointed out some of the planned modifications.

“You can see the bathrooms and the kitchen are back over there? They’re going to be demolished. So this becomes more of a square. So that’s how it expands. That’s the additional space: taking the working guts of the Caffe, putting it over here, and that becomes an expanded listening room with the extra seating.”

In addition to the bathrooms and kitchen, there will be new office space, and a green room, a shower, and washer and dryer for traveling performers.

A new sound system and heating and cooling system are also planned. The project is supported by a $1.5 million capital campaign. With a $100,000 donation announced by Bonacio Construction, that brings the total amount raised to $825,000.

Work will continue on the building throughout the year. A grand re-opening is planned for this fall. In the meantime, Caffe Lena is hoping to hold performances throughout Saratoga Springs while 47 Phila Street gets its facelift.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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