One landmark building in Downtown Saratoga Springs is receiving a major makeover. At the corner of Maple Ave. and Lake Ave., the old headquarters of daily newspaper The Saratogian is on the verge of transforming into Walt + Whitman, an innovative beer hall/brewery, that will also function as a coffeeshop, venue and creative workspace for remote workers.
Plans to breathe new life into the two-story Saratogian Building, which has sat vacant since 2017, when the newspaper moved to its current location on Wells Street, were announced back in January. After nearly a year of extensive renovations and a few delays, the new Walt + Whitman is on track to open in time for this year’s holiday season. And, just its namesake, poet Walt Whitman, who famously penned “I am large, I contain multitudes,” Walt + Whitman is simply brimming with creative quirks. “Our entire team is a huge fan of Walt Whitman,” says Shawna Jenks, Director of Operations at Walt + Whitman. “We think he encompasses everything to do with American culture. He’s the original original, and we really love what he represents.” The space’s name also alludes to the multi-use nature of the space: “Walt is our coffee brand, the creator, the worker,” says Jenks. “And Whitman is our beer brand—the more expressive side, connecting with others, connecting with culture and having fun.”
The bottom floor of the historic building—what Jenks refers to as the “Whitman” space, which used to house the newspaper’s presses and mailroom—has been completely gutted to create a spacious brewpub and lounge that will feature between 8-15 of Whitman’s own home-brewed pours. Jenks, a Saratoga native who previously worked at Morton’s The Steakhouse, says Whitman’s line of beers will offer a variety of flavors from popular hazy, hoppy IPAs to crisp, German-style Kölsch beers. Patrons will even be able to see brewery production happening onsite, just like at Saratoga’s OG brewpub Druthers. The downstairs space will also have a brand-new kitchen, serving up a selection of pizzas and popular, international “street food” items to pair with Whitman’s beers.
The second floor of the building, the “Walt” space, will be converted into an upbeat café, open from 7am-7pm, and offering hot breakfast items and grab-and-go eats. A variety of kombucha, nitro, cold-brew and hot coffee, provided by Baltimore’s Ceremony Coffee Roasters, will all be available and on tap, no less, via a new, built-in Modbar coffee system. “We put a lot of thought into who was going to provide our coffee,” says Jenks about the decision to go with an out-of-town company. “Ultimately, we really wanted to enhance the local coffee scene, and Ceremony Coffee Roasters have great sustainability practices, and they just put out really good coffee.”
Originally slated to open this past summer, Walt + Whitman experienced a number of delays due to asbestos and some structural problems with the historic Saratogian Building, which was constructed, originally out of wood, in 1902. “It was a lot of added emotion to know that we were going to have a chance to restore the building, but it also delayed us about a year,” says Jenks. Saratoga’s Bonacio Construction has been leading the ambitious restoration effort, and, though the space is still under construction, the results of the renovated interior are already evident. (I was given a walkthrough on October 4, and the results of the renovated interior reveal a sprawling space with antique red-brick walls and the beginnings of bars and counter spaces, some even fashioned from pieces of repurposed wood, recycled from the original structure.)
It certainly hasn’t been an easy road forward, but Walt + Whitman’s team knows they have something special on their hands. “Every time we thought about walking away from this, we told ourselves this was the dream,” says Jenks. “It was a dream having this in the center of downtown, being a beacon for Saratoga and supporting the tourism industry and the locals.” The Saratoga native is feeling very optimistic about the new venture, which after so much hard work is finally on the cusp of its grand opening. The cafe (“Walt”) section is scheduled to open on Friday, December 6 with the taproom opening later that same week.