So What If It's Snowing in Syracuse? By John Mariani

So What If It's Snowing in Syracuse? By John Mariani
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As someone who lives in a winter snow zone (the southern part of New York State), I share a love-hate relationship with Mother Nature that by this time in March tilts towards the latter. So it is difficult for me to imagine the deprivations of far snowier, bitter cold climes of the northern and western parts of the state, where snowfalls are measured in feet rather than inches.

Syracuse is located in the northeast corner of New York’s Finger Lakes region and won the Golden Snowball Award for the most snowfall in the state from 2002 to 2011, with an average of ten feet per year and the distinction of being the city in American that gets the highest annual snowfall. Yet my stalwart friends in Syracuse simply shrug when I ask them about being continuously under assault by blizzards, explaining that, like all cold weather people, from Kodiak to Kennebunkport, they are so used to it and plan so well for it, that it’s just part of their daily lives. Snow falls, plows come through, you dig out and get on with your life without whining. That done within hours of a snowfall, the natives have come up with myriad things to do during the winter, whose record temperature was -26 degrees in 1936. In fact the city has proclaimed itself the “official home of the misunderstood season.” Of course, the Syracuse University basketball and hockey seasons are in full swing, and Labrador Mountain ski park is just 30 minutes away, with 22 slopes. Art museums and galleries are respite from the cold and warming to the soul. Many of the Finger Lakes wineries are open throughout winter for tastings and tours, at a time when the vineyards are dormant and winery owners have more time to spend with visitors. (For info: http://fingerlakestravelny.com/wineries ) Since clearing the streets of snow is a given in Syracuse, a downtown walking tour is a capital idea—a slow stroll will take under two hours—not least because the city has some impressive historic architecture, built on the wealth created by timber, salt, potash and nearby crop lands, all easily shipped on the Erie Canal and a network of railroads. Indeed, in many ways Syracuse was a true gateway to the west at a time when it was still pretty wild. Water is still drawn from Skaneateles Lake, considered one of the cleanest in the country. Begin your walk in the wide-open Clinton Square (above), anchored by its 1910 Soldiers & Sailors Monument dedicated to those who died in the Civil War, surrounded by a reflecting pool used in winter for ice skating. The Third National Bank Building, done in a rust-colored Queen Anne style, and the Victorian Gothic-style Syracuse Savings Bank (in the middle of the photo of Clinton Square) are joined by the limestone Gridley Building (on the right), the Romanesque City Hall (above), and the newly restored Hotel Syracuse; once one of the grandest hotels in America, opened in 1924, it is now a Marriott-managed property.

The restoration not only polished clean the hotel’s magnificent interiors (right), it unveiled a 40-by-6-foot mural depicting 20 key events during the first 100 years of Syracuse’s history, which had been ignominiously covered over with mirrors in the 1980s. Now it looks rapturous, showing in vivid colors events like the discovery of salt springs near Onondaga Lake, and the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Grand Ballroom is once again magnificent, while all the white-and-gray bedrooms, now 250, down from 600 (average rate $300 per night) have been completely modernized with the most up-to-date amenities. You can get a palpable sense of the hotel’s history simply by enjoying a cocktail in the clubbish Cavalier Room off the lobby, while a more contemporary look marks the restaurant Eleven Waters (right), a sunny American bistro serving everything from an excellent onion soup gratinée ($7) and the locally beloved Syracuse salt potatoes ($7) to luscious merlot wine-braised short ribs with mashed root vegetables ($19) and a main course of hearty macaroni and cheese ($14) made with New York cheddar and Gouda, tomato bacon jam and grilled chicken. The spiedie chicken Cobb salad with buttermilk dressing ($12) is bountiful and very good, and all dishes are listed with suggested New York State wines by the glass.

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