A short, incomplete tour of places in the Capital Region to work that are not your office

Uncommon Grounds

Uncommon, yet very familiar.

Much of AOA's work is not done in a traditional office. We'd guess that probably about 65 percent of our work is done in cafes, libraries, a car parked near a wi-fi spot, places like that. In fact, the text you're reading right now -- cafe.

All this time spent out and about has given us a chance to survey various non-office working spots in the Capital Region.

Here's a quick take on a bunch of them...

This is not comprehensive. It's not systematic in any way. Some impressions are based on just a few visits. Others on hundreds. Your mileage will vary. Disagree? Great, please share.

Uncommon Grounds - Albany
1235 Western Avenue, Albany | website

Crowd: Lots of college kids. Retired people. A bunch of professionals around lunch time.

Good: Bagels (usually -- they can be inconsistent). Lots of bustle as background. Music is usually pretty good. If you get a bagel with a schmear and a drink, you can eat here for less than $5.

Bad: Tables are small. Not a lot of plugs. It gets crazy busy at lunch time. The back is dark. After any more than an hour or so you will reek of roasted coffee. The wi-fi is sometimes turned off from noon - 2 pm.

Uncommon Grounds - Saratoga
402 Broadway, Saratoga Springs | website

Crowd: The whole Saratoga scene.

Good: Good bagels (including the cheddar jalapeno that's unavailable in Albany). Lots of space. Nice.

Bad: Gets crazy busy and loud.

Saratoga Coffee Traders
447 Broadway, Saratoga Springs | website

Good: Usually pretty calm -- often a good refuge from the UG across the street. There's an old-school candy section in the back.

Bad: Kind of small. And sometimes a place that's empty is worse than a place that's busy.

Panera
various locations | website

Crowd: Big cross-section. Lunch is a lot of professionals and moms. The afternoons often have a lot of out-of-office professionals -- drug reps, sales people, people like that -- sometimes having meetings. Students tend to be older.

Good: Many of the locations have good space, with generally good light. Tables are usually (relatively) big. Plugs are often easy to find. The food is OK. Free and easy refills on drinks.

Bad: Wi-fi is limited to 30 minutes between 11:30 and 1:30. Lunch rush can be crazy. The food is kind of expensive. The music is awful -- just really bad. It's gotta be some of the worst elevator music ever. We've heard outright soft-rock violence committed against all manner of song. Panera should be embarrassed by its music.

Starbucks
various locations | website

Crowd: Depends on locations, but we tend to see more students than at other places.

Good: Tables are often an OK size. Plugs are usually not too hard to find. There's free, all-day wi-fi now (and it works pretty well). The music is often not terrible. Starbucks has almost defined its own genre of music -- and it's easy to mock -- but compared to a lot of other places, it's not bad.

Bad: Drinks are expensive. Food selection is limited. There often seem to be a lot of "campers," so it can be hard to find a good table. There's a lot of variation in locations. For example, the location at the south end of Wolf Road is dark and pretty much a no-go for us -- the location at the north end of Wolf Road is brighter and more hospitable.

Professor Java's
217 Wolf Road, Colonie | website

Crowd: Wolf Road cross-section, students.

Good: Central location for meeting people. Food's OK. A pretty good number of tables.

Bad: Some of the space can be really dark.

Ultraviolet Cafe
292 Delaware Avenue, Albany | website

Crowd: Delaware Ave neighborhood cross-section. Students.

Good: Good windows that look onto the street. Food's pretty good.

Bad: Very small, so you hear and feel everything. Tables are small.

Flavour Caffe
228 4th Street, Troy | website

Crowd: Troyalty.

Good: Friendly, good neighborhood feel. Food's OK. Good windows.

Bad: Not a huge number of tables (though we've never been there when it's so busy this has made a difference). On a few occasions the wi-fi has seemed to be a bit slow.

Hudson River Coffee House
229 Quail Street, Albany | website

Crowd: Kind of what you'd expect from the surrounding neighborhood.

Good: An interesting space (it's a former telephone company building). Friendly. Comfortable. Late hours.

Bad: Small enough that you can feel people coming and going.

Tierra Coffee Roasters
1038 Madison Avenue, Albany (the former Muddy Cup) | website

Crowd: Tends a bit toward the funkier slices of Pine Hills.

Good: Big windows, so there's lots of light.

Bad: We've had limited experience here, so that acknowledged -- dodgy wi-fi, inconsistent service. This place has changed hands recently, so some of this might be improving.

Albany libraries
various locations | website

Crowd: There are often a lot of kids. Also some older adults.

Good: The new buildings are really nice. Free wi-fi (and you don't have to buy anything). A surprisingly large number of plugs.

Bad: Limited hours. There's no food. The spaces can be kind of noisy in a distracting way. Sometimes it's kids goofing around. But other times it's people like an older guy complaining loudly about why the library computer won't load his Facebook profile.

Yep, Uncommon Grounds has advertised on AOA.

Comments

Haha, where was this post a month ago? =D When I was waiting to move into my apartment on Lark, I lived with my friend in Clifton Park. However my laptop of 4 years wouldn't cooperate with his internet router and I needed the internet to telecommute for my job. I was a big fan of the Starbucks on Western. They have late hours (weeknights they are open until 11:30 PM, weekends they are open until midnight) and the regular crowd takes care of one another. Now that I live in my apartment, I'm not going to lie, I kind of miss the crowd a little bit and I'm a little tempted to go back some nights.

I'm a huge fan of working at Flavour - steady wifi, good food and better coffee. Not sure if I'm alone in this, but I've never been able to trust the wifi at Prof Javas. It's been awhile (6 months?) though.

@Lisa: That's been my experience with Professor Java's, too. Sometimes the wi-fi is fine -- other times, kind of dodgy.

I was surprised (stunned, really) recently to find that Uncommon Grounds, right on the edge of the SUNY campus and heavily student-oriented, has not a single place to lock up a bike. Rode my bike there a few weeks back, couldn't find a place to lock up, rode back to my truck and drove there. Made Al Gore cry.

Definitely can't recommend the main branch of the Albany Public Library. I used to work from there during a prolonged problem with my home internet and, while the internet at the library worked great, it's a crazy place. No matter how busy you look, no matter if you've got headphones on, creepy people will sit down next to you and try to chat with you. The worst was when a vile-smelling man sat down next to me and told me he wanted to "make love to my feet." Ick.

Happy to see Hudson River Coffee House and Tierra on here, along with chains and Wolf Rd/strip mall spots.
In my opinion, the food at Hudson River Coffee House is far superior to Uncommon Grounds. At the former, they will make an egg sandwich using a fresh egg - cracked, beaten and all. Uncommon Grounds pulls a premade egg patty out of a refrigerator and microwaves it.

@Carl: Agreed, it's quite frustrating. I usually carry a 7ft kryptoflex cable for my wheels, but at UG I use it to wrap my bike around the pillar, then ulock the cable and frame/rear wheel together. That way it has some sort of security, and they can't roll it away easily if they cut the cable.

I still feel the need to sit at the bar and watch it though. It definitely keeps me from going there very often.

Also, just to add a bit of information about the Hudson River Coffee House: I work here most of the week, and a few of the strengths relevant to telecommuters were left out.

For one, there are outlets everywhere. They seem to be placed about every six feet, with every table having a four-outlet box next to it, essentially. At a quick count, there's about 18 tables, the majority of them for 1-2 people, so there's almost always space to work, particularly during 9-5 hours.

It's better than fighting for an outlet at a place like Uncommon Grounds, and the great coffee/latte helps. 85 cent coffee refills, too.

Beware the chess boards everywhere. If you work with a friend, it can be an awful temptation. :)

I love Saratoga Coffee Traders. Such a more relaxed environment and the workers are real friendly. Has more of a hometown feel than Uncommon

The State Library (7th floor of the Cultural Education Center where the Museum is) is a quieter alternative to the public libraries. Open Mon thru Saturday, 9-5 (9:30 on Saturdays). Parking in the big lot on the west side of the building is free on Saturdays, and free after 3:00 during the week. Wi-fi available free, clean and comfortable work tables and desks.

I have to call BS. The food/coffee at the Ultra Violet is not "good" and is way overpriced. Half the time I go in there they are out of coffee. Strange for a cafe. If you're seeing a movie at the Spectrum and are early it makes sense to wait in there but that's the only reason to be there.

@ Paula - perhaps I was overly exuberant. I should have started with "I would like to get to know your feet."

very soon I hope you'll add my new coworking space to the list....

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