Troy has a reputation for being a hipster paradise, a place for fine dining, a burgeoning arts scene full of compelling music venues. Sometimes with so much within walking distance it feels hard to leave the city. But what happens when you want to go on vacation but you don’t want to actually let go of your precious Troy?
The Franklin Alley Social Club has come up a perfect solution to this conundrum. Headquartered in the basement of Takk House, the club has the air of a throwback cruise ship, shimmering shuffleboard and bocce ball courts stretch across the floor.
The painting of a cruise ship cutting a white swath of foam across a periwinkle blue ocean decorates a part of the wall. The furniture, made of reclaimed wood from the Knights of Columbus that used to occupy the same space, makes for stylish but outdoorsy setting. There’s the bingo board now illuminated by LCD lights that blink on and off, highlighting the name of the club.
Heidi and Frank Sicari, owners of the club and Takk House upstairs, are dressed in spring outfits, a light floral skirt and hawaiian shirt, respectively. Eight classic arcade games dot the back wall. From Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to Street Fighter II, and Dig Dug, the games are throwbacks not only in their age but in their pricing–just a quarter for one play. That kind of pricing went out of style nearly three decades ago.
“We bought the building four years ago to really do wedding events for creative people,” says Frank. “Heidi’s been in the business for a long time and we had this space down here in the basement that used to be a bowling alley. We wanted to do something cool with it.”
After exploring their options and finding out that restoring the bowling alley was not really an option, they settled on a new set of games and brought in a friend of theirs who is a contractor. “He turned four bowling lanes into two shuffleboard courts and a bocce court. He used the rest of the wood for tables, counter tops, and other things. In the end he used all the wood that was in here so it still has a lot of history,” says Frank.
Heidi and Frank have also just started weekly arcade tournaments that have drawn in a crowd.
“We went down to Brooklyn to Barcade and Brooklyn Bowl and all those places,” says Frank.
“That started us off on researching arcade games. We found local people who had some for sale, got some on eBay and we went into some storage units. I felt like I was on Storage Wars,” says Heidi. “One day we had 2,000 pounds of arcade games delivered to our door but it’s a basement and everything had to come down to the basement–arcade games, beer coolers. Some of these things weigh hundreds of pounds.”
Maintaining classic arcade games from the ‘80s and ‘90s isn’t exactly easy, as the couple quickly discovered.
“We have people in our life now that we probably didn’t know would ever be there,” says Heidi. “We have these contacts now who we can follow at night to a storage unit full of arcade games, and we have people on call who can repair them. It’s really important to get it all squared away. We found out quickly that if we want to have classic arcade games we can’t just hope they are going to work. We had three of them already have little hiccups here and there,” says Heidi.
The couple says they expect the arcade games and tournaments to draw folks from the nearby Center of Gravity, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and video game shop Pastime Legends.
On the menu you’ll find an assortment of hot dogs with what seems like an elementary school kid’s fantasy of topping choices—mac & cheese, chocolate syrup, cheese curds, sauerkraut, cream cheese, chili, blue cheese crumbles and more. Topping choices for tater tots are similar but include a fried egg and mushroom gravy.
The bar features a magnificent selection of boat drinks and beer. They also have craft soda for the non-drinkers and kids who stop by before the bar opens at 8 PM.
Bocce ball and shuffleboard cost $10 per person, which gets you an hour of court time and a free lesson.
There is an undeniable easy feeling that floats through the basement. During a visit on a dark and damp February evening I immediately felt transported, as if returning to my elementary school summer vacation made up of lazy beach days on Cape Cod. But there was no beach, and my responsibilities, as far as I could tell, were still very much intact. And yet here I was, sort of floating without even a sip of a margarita.
In a lot of ways the social club already feels like a logical part of Troy’s ecosystem as downtown Troy lends itself to exploration and foot traffic. Finding the social club can be a bit challenging but the couple’s creative signage makes it a bit easier.
“I think there are a lot of factors that make Troy work, the history that is still evident here, for one. It is a very walkable city, everything is kind of right there,” says Frank. “The owner of one of our neighboring businesses just dropped off cheesecake that he had. When we have days off we make a point to go visit our friends who own businesses. This is a very tight knit community and that really helps.”
Heidi says that she feels Troy’s resurgence has been “organic,” which helps to sustain everything.
So what made the pair decide on Troy for their wedding and entertainment business?
“We’re both pretty local,” says Heidi. “Frank’s from Guilderland, I’m from the Albany area and I always wanted to live in Troy because of all the brownstones here. But it was kind of tough for me because I have pets and these old historical places don’t really rent to people with pets.”
Heidi says it took some time to convince Frank, who owned a house with his brother in Saratoga, to commit to Troy. “I convinced him Troy is better than Saratoga, it took some doing!” she says.
“I did not believe it,” says Frank.
“But I won the battle, and when we bought this place four years ago I really won the battle because we’re going to be here forever, or at least a long time,” says Heidi, laughing.