Part 1 of our Things To Do In Ithaca series.
Nearly every night of the week, all year round, there are multiple performances underway in venues throughout town. These range from the familiar – well-loved musical theater, touring comedians, and movie screenings – to the unique – interpretive circus performance, DIY experimental live music, and competitive story-telling! In order to keep tabs on the numerous fabulous venues and performance groups in town we’ve assembled this roundup post.
…and because we’re foodies we couldn’t help but include recommendations for nearby food and drink.
Cinemapolis is Ithaca’s not-for-profit movie theater located in the heart of Downtown Ithaca specializing in independent, foreign, and locally-produced films. Post-screening panel discussions and collaborations with local organizations are common. Home of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival, Ithaca Fantastik Film Festival, and Cine con ¡CULTURA! Latin@ American Film Festival.
If you’re feeling as adventurous with your food choices as you are with your movie selection, try Mia Restaurant for an eclectic, Asian-inspired menu with both full entrees and small plates.
The Range surprised some folks when it opened on The Commons as a country-western themed bar, but they quickly integrated into the community. Located on an upper level this mid-size venue is known for their happy hour drafts and hosts weekly Tango dance nights, bi-weekly drag shows by The House of Merlot, and regular live music.
Restaurant Row (the block of Aurora Street between State Street and Seneca Street) is home to many delicious options, including Viva! – a California-style tacqueria for fast, healthy Mexican food paired with a cozy cantina for sit-down meals, sangria, and margaritas.
The State Theater – which was one of the original 9 grand theaters in Ithaca – is now our last remaining historic theater. With 1,600+ seats the State Theater hosts over 75 events each year from fall through spring. These include concerts, comedy shows, theatrical productions, dance performances, classic movies, and readings put on by national, international, and community acts and organizations.
Just two doors down, The Watershed’s conversational atmosphere and selection of classic alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages is perfect for a pre-or-post-show drink.
The Hangar Theatre is housed in a retired airplane hangar which has been seamlessly converted into a spacious full-service theater. Between the professional Mainstage productions, the imaginative KIDDSTUFF shows, the experimental theatre of The Wedge, and the variety that is Caberetc, there is a series for everyone all year long. The Hangar’s many educational programs range from technical apprenticeships to theatrical training.
Among the excellent dining options on the West End of town is Maxie’s Supper Club & Oyster Bar for Southern dishes, shellfish, and a lively atmosphere.
The Haunt is a mid-size venue which has hosted local and touring live music since 1969. Bands and solo acts playing everything from rock to blues to electronic to swing have set up on this stage. They offer recurring themed events on weeknights including Tuesday Bluesday, Comedy Night, I-Town Jazz Jam, and Reggae Night.
While The Haunt itself has plenty of beverages and a small menu of bar food you still may want to stop before the show at Liquid State Brewing Company – a classic beer hall with skeeball, arcade games, beer flights, visiting food trucks several nights per week, and the Ithaca-twist of wine, cider, and kombucha on tap
Ithaca Shakespeare Company produces an outdoor Shakespeare festival each summer, with two of his works performed weekends in July on the shores of Cayuga Lake. Not to let an entire year go by without scratching that itch, they stage two indoor productions during the winter months as well.
If you’d like to bring a picnic to the park visit GreenStar Natural Foods Market’s flagship store on Seneca Street; mix and match from their hot foods bar, their prepared cold salads, fresh produce, and local libations.
Running to Places (R2P) is a non-profit theatre company staging performances with area middle and high school youth – regardless of the school they attend. Participation is entirely free and they don’t turn anyone away, so students can try their had at all aspects of theatre production. For the first 10 years R2P staged shows in venues all over town, but beginning Fall 2018 they’ll be converting four of the former cinema spaces at the Shops at Ithaca Mall into their own home venue.
For a filling, budget-friendly family meal drive just up Triphammer Road to Ciao! for flatbreads and pasta.
The House of Merlot is a group of Ithaca-based drag performers who encourage creativity and self-expression in all its forms. The house formed to provide a space for LGBT+ individuals of all ages to connect, and they perform bi-weekly, themed shows at The Range, as well as a monthly Drag Story Hour at Buffalo Street Books (our cooperative bookstore) and a recurring Drag Brunch at Ten Forward Cafe.
While The House Of Merlot’s venues vary depending on performance, all are within walking distance of Ten Forward Cafe – a fabulous vegan cafe offering paninis, wraps, salads, milkshakes, smoothies, and indulgent vegan baked goods (carbs and sugar are vegan, after all!).
Ithaca Underground is the local underground music community whose mission is to provide an all ages, radically inclusive environment for those with do-it-yourself ambitions, ensuring that new and challenging music and art is available to all. They coordinate shows year-round with a focus on hardcore, punk, hip hop, and other progressive and experimental genres.
When Ithaca Underground shows occur at the Chanti Loft you’re within steps of Gorgers and their soft, doughy sub rolls; just cross the street for salads, sandwiches, and soups.
The Cherry Arts are a burgeoning not-for-profit theatre company with a preference for pieces that are radically local and radically global – with bold forays into headphone theater, puppetry, and other mediums. The Cherry Artspace – their newly constructed venue located on the banks of Cayuga’s Inlet on Ithaca’s West End – is situated between parking lots and industrial buildings, which is perhaps an ideal representation of how The Cherry explores the places, topics, and mediums that are off the beaten path.
Seemingly alone in an industrial neighborhood, The Cherry’s only hospitality companion is Ports of New York: a specialty winery and museum with a winemaking pedigree dating back to 1919 in France.
The Kitchen Theatre Company creates challenging and exciting professional theater in an intimate performance space in Ithaca’s West End. Their tagline – “Important conversations happen in the kitchen.” – alludes to the thought-provoking nature of each show they produce, and post-show talk-backs and panels are regularly scheduled with each new production.
The Rook (located almost directly across the street) offers a straightforward menu with inventive twists on staple dishes – but we’re more often found after the show enjoying their unique cocktails and indulgent desserts.
Circus Culture is our local circus school offering camps, classes, performance, and parties for kids and adults. Circus is a unique blend of art and sport which includes aerial fabric, trapeze, juggling, tight wire, acrobatics, hooping, and more! Performances can be found on their calendar page and vary in subject and frequency throughout the year.
In the spirit of the close-knit camaraderie of a one-ring circus we suggest a family-style meal at Hawi Ethiopian Cuisine: order the Combo platter and choose from a variety of meat and vegetable dishes. Since the vegetarian dishes are naturally vegan and the injera (traditional Ethiopian bread eaten with every meal) can be ordered gluten free, this is an excellent option for diverse diets.
Trampoline is a monthly competitive story-telling event (founded by local author Bob Proehl) in the spirit of events like NPR’s The Moth. Attend with the intent to participate by sharing a 5-minute personal story on the topic du jour, or just enjoy the entertainment. The monthly events occur at Lot 10 – a lounge & bar on Cayuga Street – with occasional one-offs elsewhere in town.
Luna Inspired Street Food has three locations, one of which is inside Lot 10 itself so you can eat during the show! Generous portions and globally-inspired street food is their signature.
Casita Del Polaris is located in the residential Fall Creek Neighborhood. The most intimate of Ithaca’s live music venues, it is also the only one which pulls off the juxtaposition of stylish wood paneling and Star Wars spaceships hung from the ceiling. The stylish bar offers a variety of beverages, and patrons can perch on a stool or sink into a comfy leather couch to enjoy the eclectic performances.
Sister establishment Northstar House caters to the neighborhood’s residents: a meal at “Fall Creek’s place” is bound to feature organic, local produce and a rotating selection of craft beers.
Science Cabaret was inspired by the Cafe Scientifique movement, which started in Europe in the late 1990’s and has spread rapidly. Cafes Scientifiques are informal talks in bars, cafes and other public venues that give like-minded people a chance to discuss current and sometimes controversial topics in science. The Ithaca Science Cabaret occurs monthly, is organized by local professors, graduate students, and members of the Ithaca community, and is open to anyone with a curious mind.
Just a few minutes along Route 13 in Ithaca’s West End is Saigon Kitchen – a popular Vietnamese restaurant serving hearty Phở, vermicelli, and other traditional favorites.