By Maureen Werther
A sold-out crowd celebrated the long-awaited re-opening of the legendary Caffè Lena at 47 Phila St. in Saratoga Springs on Friday, Dec. 30. The first concert in the newly renovated space featured the one-man band of Matt Lorenz, the Suitcase Junket. In honor of its re-opening, the evening ended with musical tributes to Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez.
Caffè Lena holds the distinction of being the longest continuously running coffeehouse in America. They have been showcasing great folk artists for 56 years, putting on 16,000 shows since 1960, with 35,000 artists at the same iconic venue since opening there in 1960.
It’s been six months since Caffè Lena closed its doors to receive a log-awaited facelift that included upgrades. A successful $2 million fundraising campaign, including a philanthropic partnership with Bonacio Construcition, made the renovation and expansion possible. The result is a more spacious concert venue with seating increased from 85 to 110; along with a new, modernized kitchen, a green room and administrative offices.
Perhaps the most significant renovation includes an elevator and enhanced handicap accessibility. Prior to the renovation, the only way to access the upstairs performance venue was an old staircase.
The addition of an atrium entry and lobby, in addition to the upgraded and expanded staircase and accessible restrooms will ease traffic in and out of the venue.
Caffè Lena will share the new atrium lobby, staircase and elevator with the new, four-story mixed-use building that Bonacio Construction is erecting on the adjacent lot, which is scheduled to be completed by late spring. Once that phase of the project is complete, Caffè Lena will be able to accommodate guests who have previously been unable to access the historic musical venue.
Caffè Lena Executive Director Sarah Craig is excited about the new programming that is also a part of the coffeehouse’s new appearance and space.
“Thanks to the generous donations we’ve received, we have also been able to add new programming,” she said.
One new series is titled “Nordlys Global Voices.” The word “nordlys” is Swedish and means “northern lights.” The series will focus on bringing the folk music of other, non-English speaking countries to Caffè Lena.
“Folk music is universal,” said Craig. There are already several groups booked for the new series, including Sweden and Georgia, with more bookings from different parts of the world in progress.
Another new monthly series, “Bright New Music,” will feature young, rising bands that will be performing at Caffè Lena for the first time. “These new bands take the roots of folk music and carry them to the new generation of folk-music lovers,” said Craig.
In addition to the new programming, Caffè Lena has booked artists for the next six months and they are in the process of making plans for a grand opening for either late spring or early summer, in conjunction with the completion of the adjoining building and elevator.