ALBANY — You take a story like Lombardo’s from a few years ago and ask yourself, what will it take to fill the space of such an iconic Capital City landmark? Well, now you’ve got your answer.
Last week, someone hung up a “Future Home of Hattie’s Restaurant” in the old eatery’s window on Madison Avenue. The simple and clean sign needed little more description to single the charge of yet another iconic restaurant — albeit from Saratoga Springs — to come fill the void left after its doors closed in 2018.
Hattie’s Restaurant is a Spa City landmark for residents and tourists alike. The legend says that before it opened for business on Federal Street in 1938, Hattie Gray was peddling her mouth-watering fried chicken to patrons at the Saratoga Race Track. Once she gathered enough money to open her own place, she introduced upstate New York to fine Southern and Louisiana cuisine that has stayed for nearly a century.
Since those first days of offering chicken and gumbo to Saratoga’s nightlife, the restaurant moved to its present-day Phila Street location, and spun off another room roughly eight miles south in Wilton. Both will remain open as the restaurant opens its third location in what was once Albany’s Little Italy.
The 9,500-square-foot location was sold in April, more than two years after Lombardo’s closed its doors forever. The giant electric sign with the Lombardo named scribed vertically down an arrow still hangs above the street pointing would-be customers to its ballroom.
The Italian American joint had carried the family name of the man who first owned and operated the place. Charles N. Lombardo Sr. founded the restaurant in 1919, later expanding in 1933 to the footprint that remains. His son, Charlie, Jr. was a boyhood friend of Pulitzer Prize winning author William Kennedy, and inherited the business that would pass down through the family until 1991 when Paul and Rose-Marie Mancino purchased it.
In its time, Lombardo’s was a place that lured everyone, from locals to state legislators, with a menu that promised generous portions of pasta, seafood, salads and more.
Paul Mancino announced his intent to close the restaurant on New Year’s Eve 2018. Rose-Marie had died the year before. For two years, it remained vacant, except for various signs to leave hints of its recent past. In March, Mancino’s realtor announced a buyer with a particular interest in the kitchen and a rare parking lot to support business.
No date has been announced as to when Hattie’s will open its Madison Avenue location. The signage announcing the venture states that all profits will go towards local charities. People expressed excitement over the news, with some more concerned that it signaled the end of the Saratoga Springs location.
“Both locations will remain open,” someone from the restaurant stated on its Facebook page.
Hattie’s is often listed among the area’s best places for fried chicken. Before settling down in Saratoga, renowned chef Jasper Alexander previously worked at Seattle’s Restaurant Zoe, Ponti Seafood Grill and Axis Restaurants, and New York City’s Aureole, Gotham Bar and Grill and Gramercy Tavern.