How Caffè Lena’s $2 Million Renovation Sparked a Renaissance for the Historic Saratoga Venue

From the time it was hosting legendary folk artists such as Bob Dylan and Don McLean in the 1960s and ’70s up to 2016, Saratoga Springs’ historic music venue Caffè Lena looked a lot different. But with generous support, Caffè Lena was able to complete a $2 million renovation in 2017, expanding to 110 seats and installing a state-of-the-art sound system, among other upgrades. saratoga living recently talked with Nancy Kass, Caffè Lena’s director of communications and development, about the Saratoga venue’s transformation.

You caught shows at the “old” Caffè Lena. How much has the experience changed?
I’ve been an avid show-goer and supporter of Lena since 2001, when I moved to Saratoga. It always had this intimate feel. However, the shape of the room was a little awkward; the kitchen kind of sat in the middle of the listening space, and the acoustics weren’t great. Caffè Lena has evolved from being a simple coffeehouse to a state-of-the-art listening room that features extraordinary music in this intimate setting steeped in history.

Do the performers appreciate the new space?
The artists are blown away by the new space. The openness of the room, the warm colors, the lighting and the beautiful handmade lightbox murals impress their visual senses. And then when they begin to play and experience the state-of-the-art sound system and acoustics of the room, they are elated! And yet, underneath all the bells and whistles associated with the renovation, there lies a special reverence that the artists have for this place: They feel the history in the bricks that hold every note played here since 1960, and this reverence is reflected in their performance.

I take it the renovation’s allowed Caffè Lena to book more name acts. How are attendance numbers?
A good percentage of our shows sell out these days and yes, we’ve been able to bring in bigger names, such as Judy Collins. (She’s playing four sold-out shows August 17-19.) The renovated space makes every show sparkle; it has greatly impacted the artists as well as the audience.

Now that the new Caffè Lena’s a couple years old, is there anything else you’d like to add or change about the space?
We have a much grander entryway than we did in the old days. That atrium has a lot of a room, and we have dreams of doing more with it, and maybe even the little courtyard area just outside as well. Otherwise, for the near future, we don’t feel that the space needs any further changes.

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