A Guys’ Getaway to Syracuse, NY

Written by: Brandon Sousa

Time and time again, I hear tales around the table about guys’ weekends in Vegas or Miami, but I’ve never been one to fall in line with the trend. So I started to think of a road trip option that could lend itself well to a “Dude Destination” and landed on Syracuse, New York. Surprised? Keep reading to find out why.

1. Only 4 hour drive from Toronto

Pack up your car, put on a playlist and before you know it, you’ll be in Syracuse. To make it a real Guys’ Getaway, I brought my  buds Lucas and Jon along for the ride. We decided to stop at the halfway point in Buffalo for a bite to eat at Big Ditch Brewing, a craft brew pub we visited on a different weekend escape in Upstate New York. Located in the heart of the city, it’s a great spot to grab a local bite with some local suds (Lucas and Jon sampled a few while I, the driver, stayed hydrated with water). After lunch, it was straight on to Syracuse.

We pulled into our hotel, the Jefferson Clinton Hotel, right in downtown Syracuse and checked into our suite. With complimentary hot buffet breakfast and Chef Antawn Hunter flipping custom omelets, we knew the JC Hotel would be an excellent home base for our weekend.

The Jefferson Clinton Hotel is full of history. Built in 1927, it is one of the most historic hotels in Syracuse and has hosted actors, musicians, TV personalities and travel writers like me (and Anthony Bourdain). They’re also big on practicing sustainable hospitality, focusing on ways to reduce their eco-footprint across their operation. Best of all, it’s in a prime location; a 30-second walk from bars, restaurants and the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology.

2. Home to the best NCAA basketball team in New York State

As a big March Madness fan, it’s been on my bucket list to attend an NCAA basketball game. Since Canada doesn’t participate in the NCAA, crossing this item off has been hard to accomplish, and definitely worth the drive.

No one can deny the power and strength of Syracuse’s University’s men’s basketball team. Part of NCAA’s Division I, the Syracuse Orange hold an active NCAA-record of 46 consecutive winning seasons. With the help of current NBA all-star Carmelo Anthony, the Orange were the 2003 NCAA Tournament Champions.

Holding 3 tickets to the game, the boys and I ventured off to the Carrier Dome, a 49,250 seat stadium on the Syracuse University campus. One thing you’ll notice is almost everyone in attendance is wearing orange or Syracuse-branded clothing – so we made a quick visit to the gift shop before sitting in our seats. The game was against Colgate, another Division I team from New York State, and a crowd of over 21,000 fans was roaring the entire time (average attendance at a Raptors game is 18,000). Syracuse scored its 52nd consecutive victory over Colgate, tying the NCAA’s record for consecutive wins over one opponent with a final score of 72-58. Oshae Brisset (11) from Toronto scored a career-high 20 points – we believe it’s because he had local supporters in the crowd cheering him on.

3. Good things brewing

Craft brewers are hard at work all over the world, but particularly across the American eastern seaboard. Syracuse brewers are definitely leaders in this movement. The Sip on Syracuse passport program is comprised of 13 breweries, 5 wineries, 2 distilleries, 8 pubs and a cidery, allowing you to experience the full flavour of the region. With only a weekend in town, I carefully selected a few destinations to get a taste.

Middle Ages Brewing Company is the longest continuously running, full production brewery in town. It has been locally owned and operated for 20 years with a public tap room open Sun-Wed 12noon-8pm and Thurs-Sat 12noon-10pm. The fully-renovated space is the perfect place to grab a pint or flight before a Syracuse game, which is exactly what we did to get fired up before seeing the Orange in action.

Empire Brewing Company is an operation that will leave any beer connoisseur speechless. With both a brew pub around the corner of the JC Hotel and a farm brewery about 30 minutes outside of the city, Empire Brewing makes some really good beers. Their limited release Deep Purple won over my heart and taste buds, while their Skinny Atlas Light is a four-time Great American Beer Festival winning brew. I recommend heading to the Empire Farm Brewery for a tour, taste and a full meal.

There’s a spot I highly recommend for a Guys’ Getaway that isn’t on the passport; that’s Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge. With an overwhelming wall of premium spirits and liquor, there is no cocktail that can’t be made at Al’s. We stumbled in here after meeting a group of grad students from Syracuse U who led us from The Blue Tusk, another great spot on the Sip on Syracuse passport. I was happily surprised to see Wayne Gretzky’s Red Cask Premium Crafted Whisky on the shelf; a nod to Upstate New York’s love for Canada.

4. The original location of a biker barbeque joint

There’s something about bikes and barbeque that gets just about anyone fired up with excitement. That’s why Dinosaur Bar-B-Que was the perfect dinner option for our Guys’ Getaway. Dinosaur was established in 1988 on Willow Street in downtown Syracuse after founder John Stage spent 5 years cooking up good BBQ for the biker crowd as a mobile location. On Willow Street, it quickly became home for many looking for a good meal, drinks and some live music.

Today, Dinosaur BBQ has grown to 8 other locations, but nothing beats the original in Syracuse. The food and sauces are award-winning, fresh and homemade. A quick tour of the kitchen and smokers showed me just how much passion and care goes into preparing the tender and tasty meat.

I recommend starting with the Swag Sampler Plate which has chicken wings, fried green tomatoes, deviled eggs and spicy shrimp. If you can’t decide what to get for your main dish, order the Tres Niños which has a sampling of brisket, ribs and pork, along with two sides and cornbread. Finish it all off with a piece of pie and you’ll know the true meaning of satisfaction.

5. Plenty of options for gentlemanly competition

It’s true. Guys can get a little immature and competitive when they hang out. Thankfully, Syracuse has a few outlets to embrace some gentlemanly competition. The first is The MOST, the Museum of Science and Technology across from the Jefferson Clinton Hotel. This interactive science and technology exhibit is not just for kids, but for anyone young at heart.

Lucas and I got a bit too competitive in the Energy exhibit, which allows you to learn about renewable power through kinetics. I don’t want to brag, but I won that little contest. The Flight & Space exhibit was a personal favourite of mine as a travel-lover and aviation-geek, allowing you to get behind the controls of flight simulators and even air traffic controllers. For those like Lucas who grew up loving Jurassic Park, the 3,000-square-foot Paleo exhibit does a great job of showcasing 128 rare fossils including a cast of Lucy, Archaeopteryx, raptor and T-Rex, among many others.

Second is Destiny USA, New York’s largest destination of its kind with over 250 places to shop, dine and play, visited by 26 million guests every year. We decided to focus on play, because shopping isn’t really our thing. Our first challenge was WonderWorks, a 40,000-square-foot amusement park for the mind. It’s home to the world’s largest suspended indoor ropes course, with 3 levels of ropes standing at 70 feet tall.

The 3 of us took to the ropes course as if it were no problem… until we looked down. Considering I’ve done a lot of adventurous and somewhat intimidating outdoor challenges, there was something about this ropes course that left me petrified and confused by how the 8-year-old birthday crowd was running circles around me. I barely lasted 10 minutes before I ran back longing for solid ground. Jon won that display of bravery, staying up the longest with the fewest exclamations of fear.

There’s also a Laser Tag Arena which really brought out our competitive spirit, especially against those rotten 8-year-olds who made me look like a fool on the ropes course. Their father was not impressed.  Lucas had the top score in that competition.

With the competition tied across the board, we decided to tie-break at RPM Raceway. This indoor electric go-kart track was the perfect way to settle the score. What Jon and Lucas didn’t know is that I wanted to be a professional kart driver when I was a kid, so go-karting is kind of my jam. After seven grueling laps, I crossed the finish line in first, with Lucas not too far behind and Jon wayyy in the distance. I managed to pull off a decisive win in our Gentlemanly Competition.

To find out more about Syracuse, New York as your next travel destination, check out www.visitsyracuse.com.