Caffe Lena


A slice of music history.

By Mike Hare

When you hear it on the radio, you can be pretty sure the D.J. is out on a smoke break. But here's what you may not know about the longest song ever to top the Billboard charts-- it was written in Saratoga Springs and debuted in an historic Spa City coffee house.

OK, everybody, "Bye, bye Miss American Pie. Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry." (This is the part where most people start to get lost).

The first time Don McLean shared this rock and roll anthem with an audience was in a little hole in the wall in Saratoga Springs called Caffe Lena. By then McLean was a regular at Lena Spencer's Phila Street coffee house.

Spencer opened the now famous cafe in 1960, as a venue for little known counter-culture musicians and poets. When the avant-garde movement hit its stride, Caffe Lena was there to welcome its artists and help launch their careers.

An unknown, skinny, insolent folk singer with rumpled clothes, messy hair and a grating voice by the name of Bob Dylan brought his guitar to Caffé Lena. Other legends to pass through the place include Arlo Guthrie and Odetta.

Lena Spencer was not a business woman. She worked for the love of the artists and the art. She fed most, gave some a place to stay, and created a family atmosphere for all. By the time she died, in 1989, she'd given everything she had to her piece of music history.

When Spencer died, a board of directors formed and turned Caffe Lena into a not for profit, where it continued to launch the careers of artists like Ani DiFranco. Today performances run the gamut from folk and blue grass to jazz, blues, funk, punk and soul. Open mic nights are held weekly for musicians and monthly for poets, and the venue is as popular now as it has ever been.

Mike Hare is the author of Saratoga Lives and a Spa City tour guide.


I attend the open mic weekly. I also have been featuring open "mikers" in a documentary-interview-series called "Inside the Open Mic." Currently there are 8 episodes and I'm taking a little break. New tapings will begin soon.

I also write a lot about the open mic on my blog which can be found via

Episodes of "Inside the Open Mic" can be viewed at

Say Something!

We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.

What's All Over Albany?

All Over Albany is for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. In other words, it's for you. It's kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who can help you find out what's up. Oh, and our friends call us AOA.


Recently on All Over Albany

Recycled robots

We're charmed by these robot sculptures standing in Jim DiNapoli Park, the wedge of grass and sidewalk and trees and benches between Maiden Lane and... (more)

Civil War walking tour of Albany Rural Cemetery

The Albany Rural Cemetery has a Civil War walking tour August 4. Tour blurbage: Mark Bodnar, known as "The Civil War Guy" at Albany Rural,... (more)

What qualifies as the Capital Region?

What or where is the Capital Region? Should be a few core counties? The entire "commuting shed" for people who work here? A broad economic... (more)

Toasting the Past and Present of Arbor Hill

This Thursday is the 12th birthday party for the Albany Barn (with food, drinks, music, and art), and the Ten Broeck Mansion is also hosting... (more)

What's up in the Neighborhood

Among the topics in this most recent spin around the Capital Region's online neighborhood: guns, crosswalks, a bad case of the selfies, a gravel grinder,... (more)

Recent Comments

I frequently find myself along this trail on Sunday mornings, hungry, & very little is open. There's a lot of talk about special mowers & building bathrooms & that's nice, yes, let's do that, certainly. But *right now* people using this trail are hungry & want to buy food & drink (& use the bathroom, as a paying customer): if the businesses that are already there were OPEN it would go a long way to providing amenities & destinations. ...

Historic brewing district tours of Albany

...has 3 comments, most recently from Colin

A very animated explainer about ticks

...has 1 comment, most recently from Jamie

Shmaltz is selling its brewery

...has 2 comments, most recently from Sean

The Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail is set to get a new paved section this summer, and a few more bits about its future

...has 4 comments, most recently from Sean

E-bikes stretch the idea of what a bike can be in interesting ways, but they're stuck in a gray area here in New York

...has 8 comments, most recently from Russell Nelson