Track-side at the Saratoga Springs’ legendary racecourse, Brentwood Hotel is a remastered motel with a stable-load of style. The blue-and-brass rooms are impeccably groomed, with Billykirk leathers and Sharktooth textiles alongside Persian rugs and antique finds from local markets. Every evening, signature drinks flow to the sound of sixties soul at the intimate bar, while marshmallows are a-toasting in the fire pit outside. True, Saratoga Springs is famed for its summer races, but it ain’t a one-trick-pony – the well-heeled spa town is an all-season destination peppered with upscale eateries, and it makes a handy basecamp for exploring the lakes and mountains nearby.
11am; check-in, 4pm, but flexible, subject to availability.
Double rooms from £129.05 ($168), including tax at 13 per cent.
Rates do not usually include breakfast, but there is free tea and coffee at the bar.
On arrival, buy ($5) a pack containing chocolate, marshmallows and crackers – the trinity required for making the American campfire classic, ‘s’mores’. – from reception Roast ‘em, squidge ‘em and scoff ‘em around the firepit, and don’t be afraid to ask for s’more.
At the hotel
Bar, fire pit, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: Flatscreen TV, minibar with local snacks, Tivoli clock radio, C.O. Bigelow bath products, raceday canvas bag.
Our favourite rooms
Room 12 has added privacy because it’s on the end of the L-shaped building, and it’s also the handiest for a game of Horseshoes on the lawn. The Deluxe Suite is the family favourite, with a pair of full-size bunk-beds as well as a queen-size double.
A list of race tips from a reputable insider, or failing that, your lucky horseshoe.
One of the Single Queen rooms is wheelchair-friendly, with a roll-in shower and grab bars in the bathroom.
All ages welcome. Baby cots (free) can be added to all rooms.
Every room comes with a ‘green card’ – calm down Mr. President, it’s just a way to opt out of unnecessary linen washes. The light bulbs are energy efficient, and the cleaning products are kind to the environment too.
Take up position in the yard for your own personal paddock experience – the horses trot right past on their way from the stables to the track.
Be raceday-ready in summer hats and sundresses; collars and chinos for the chaps.
There’s no restaurant, but you might be able to eke out your five-a-day from the bar’s fruit-laden cocktails.
There’s an understated sophistication to the cut-glass tumblers and copper cocktail shakers at the shot-sized Brentwood drinks den. Pull up a stool at the marble-top bar and order from a list created by the mixology-masters at Hamlet & Ghost; the speciality is the Whitney, whisked up from vodka, pineapple and St Germain elderflower liqueur, with a twist of lemon. The record player spins upbeat soul and rock ‘n’ roll all day, with happy hour from 6pm until the last note of the B-side.
The hotel bar is open all day long, from 8am to 11pm.
There’s no room service, but you’re never far from the bar.
The hotel is directly opposite the historic Saratoga race course, on the edge of Saratoga Springs in upstate New York. Call the Smith24 team for help booking all things travel.
The closest airport is Albany, which is a half-hour drive to the south from the hotel. Albany airport is an hour flight from New York City; there are direct routes from other major US cities, including Chicago and Atlanta, too.
Amtrak’s ‘Adirondack’ service links New York City to Montreal, stopping at Saratoga Springs on the way. The journey takes a little over four hours, and the station is a five-minute cab ride from the hotel.
The going is good. The stay is a three-hour journey due north from New York City, south from Montreal, or west from Boston. There’s car hire aplenty in all three, as well as at Albany Airport. Parking is free at the hotel, where cars fit neatly into the motel-style layout.
Fist-bumps all round if you arrive on horseback.
Worth getting out of bed for
Gee up your stablemate for a day at the Saratoga Racecourse; from late July till early September there are races every day except Tuesday, with the showpiece event – The Travers Stakes – in late August. For a different kind of saddle, grab one of the Linus bikes from the hotel and ride into town. Fill your basket with bounty from Broadway’s upscale shops, or scour the artisans’ studios and galleries in Beekman Street Arts District. There are 21 mineral springs to keep you refreshed along the way, including several spouting naturally carbonated water. The Roosevelt Baths and Spa make a soothing spot for a soak, or you can swat up on horse racing history at the National Museum of Racing. Outdoorsy activities are just beyond the city limits, with hiking, snowshoeing, and apples for the picking nearby – ask the hotel for seasonal recommendations. Landscape lovers should drive half an hour north to scenic Lake George and beyond that, the Adirondack Mountains.
The Creole kitchen at Mouzon House (1 York Street) serves up farm-to-table cuisine in a really-rather-lovely Victorian house and garden. Fine dine at 15 Church (15 Church Street), where lobster rigatoni vies with gorgonzola-slathered steaks for attention. In race season, the winners party hard to the sound of live bands at The Horseshoe Inn bar and grill; it’s at 9 Gridley Street, across the road from the hotel.
The best cuppa in town is at the Saratoga Tea & Honey Company (348 Broadway); they also do tastings of more than 15 types of artisanal honey. When all you want is a slap-up brekkie, head to Compton’s (457 Broadway) for fried eggs and hash in an old-school diner. Uncommon Grounds (402 Broadway) roasts its own beans and bakes bagels every day.
At speakeasy-styled Hamlet & Ghost (24 Caroline Street), the cocktail concoctions are made with bitters and tinctures handcrafted in-house. For beers and cheers, try Henry Street Tap Room (86 Henry Street), where the craft ales are matched with cheese tasting-boards. Live jazz comes with a choice of more than 250 martinis at moody saloon, 9 Maple (9 Maple Avenue).
Having been to Saratoga Springs exactly once, I am in no position of authority to give advice on the best time to visit. But that’s not going to stop me. It’s October – especially in those first couple of weeks at the top of the month when you think it ought to be feeling and looking like autumn but it doesn't quite yet. Or, at least, it didn’t where I was coming from. New York City, which is three hours south by car or about four by Amtrak train, might be geographically close, but it was half a season behind.
My drive up was a myriad of yellows, oranges, and reds, with trees screaming ‘fall’ so emphatically they looked like they should have been guzzling pumpkin-spice lattes while wearing infinity scarves. The air got crisper as I passed Kingston, and when I pulled into the gravel parking lot of the Brentwood Hotel, I was tempted to pat myself on the back in congratulations for nailing the leaf-peeping weekend (regardless of how I feel about that term).
Given a hip makeover by the Brooklyn design firm Studio Tack (who are responsible for styling fellow Smith properties Casa Bonay in Barcelona and the Chow Kit in Kuala Lumpur), the former motel has 12 rooms that feel right at home next to the Saratoga Race Course. There are subtle nods to stable aesthetics, but they’re recontextualized with kilim rugs, vintage oil paintings, Tivoli radios, brass accents, and glossy black bathroom tiles. In other words, your riding boots will fit right in, but the place doesn’t put out any of the serious horse-girl energy that’s on full display at other venues around town. The room ran a little cool, with a space heater at your disposal should you prefer a toasty setting over bundling up in an all-white-everything bed that made for ideal cool-weather sleeping (my favorite kind).
Though there isn’t an on-site restaurant, there is a charming-as-they-come triple-threat reception area where check-in takes place, of course, and in the morning it’s where you grab your free coffee, which you definitely ought to sip outside while watching the thoroughbreds trot around the neighborhood. And, come evening, it’s where you can pick up a cocktail at the bar. Drink it there, surrounded by wood-paneled walls and gilded mirrors that set the scene for coziness, or take it out by the fire pit while trying to spot Orion or Cassiopeia constellations in the clear night sky.
Speaking of stars, the town itself (population 28,027) has a Gilmore Girls’ Stars Hollow feel that will charm the socks off anyone coming from a place where making eye contact with a neighbor is seen as intrusive. The vendors selling homemade pasta, bourbon-barrel-aged maple syrup, and local produce at the Saturday farmers’ market were practically bursting with enthusiasm and smiles, and I encountered live music – from a cappella to guitar duets – at least a half dozen times over the course of a weekend. The shops on Broadway are ideal for afternoon dawdling – don’t sleep on Saratoga Tea & Honey, which well delivers on the promises of its name, but in a modern, slick way that includes Japanese ceramic teapots and cups that I regret not bringing home.
Just outside of the bustling town center, there is ample hiking and – more adorably – apple-picking to be had. If you’re interested in scoping out the local art scene, head to the Tang Teaching Museum on Skidmore College’s campus, which is architecturally satisfying in its own right. During my visit the museum, which you can explore in an hour, had multiple works on display by Nan Goldin and Kara Walker – and zero crowds.
Surprising no one, I’m sure, Saratoga’s restaurants lean into the locale’s warm hospitality. Don’t miss a Southern-comfort-food dinner at Hattie’s, which got its start as a chicken shack in 1938. I had the andouille-sausage-stuffed mushrooms and a dish of creamy barbecue shrimp that regrettably left me too full for a slice of pecan pie. For those who haven’t indulged so heavily, make your way to Mrs London’s Bakery, which was bustling on a Saturday morning, and order a spinach-leek quiche, an almond croissant large enough to serve two and a latte as you get a feel for the local characters. And, treat yourself to a bowl of pumpkin risotto at the Mouzon House, which is, in fact, a house…but hardly the only Saratoga dining spot that does hominess right.
Other people – say, those who have visited Saratoga more than one time – might contend that summer is the best time to hit the town. They’ll make a strong case, pointing to the racing season, which runs from mid-July to Labor Day, and all of the alfresco entertainment options, including a residency by the New York City Ballet and a concert series that included both Dead & Company and Cardi B recently. That all sounds plenty enticing, but I’m not sure I’d be willing to sacrifice those blazing leaves or a good night’s sleep in crisp air, cosy in a warm bed. Take their word or mine – or, better still, go twice and judge for yourself.