Restaurants and Eateries that Transcend Generations
Purity Ice Cream: Celebrating its 85th Anniversary in 2021, Purity Ice Cream is quintessentially Ithacan; few from the area can imagine summer days without a cone or sundae in Purity’s distinctive white and red bowls. Operating in the same location for more than six decades, Purity has seen the town around it change, but the décor inside is still reminiscent of the 1950’s soda fountain that gives Purity its unique style and upbeat personality. Always staffed by friendly and helpful scoopers, with fresh baked muffins and cupcakes available every day, Purity maintains its position as a cultural hallmark of Ithaca, and still manages to surprise even seasoned tasters with an inventive and ever-changing menu of unique flavors.
State Diner: First opened in 1936, this downtown staple has served classic diner breakfasts, lunches and dinners for over 70 years, with homemade baked goods and an undeniably Americana-inspired interior rounding out this iconic eatery. Initially built out of a railcar (as was common for diners in the 20’s-40’s) and soon after expanded into a brick-and-mortar building, this classic eatery has defined what generations of Ithacans think of as comfort food. True to the Greek roots of its founders you’re just as able to get a great spanakopita or baclava as you are classic diner fair like eggs, bacon and burgers.
Simeon’s: Located in an over century old building on one of the busiest corners in Ithaca, Simeon’s American Bistro replaced a clothing store (which itself replaced a 1920’s era soda fountain) and managed to maintain gorgeous architectural features from throughout the history of the building, including the marble bar and detailed exterior brickwork. Transitioning over 40 years ago from tavern to fine dining establishment, Simeon’s preeminent place in the Ithaca dining scene has endured and grown; they remain one of the most reliable excellent place to get cocktails, raw oysters, and traditional American bistro fare.
The Antlers: Initially opened in 1972 as the Stables Inn by a pair of Cornell Graduates, The Antlers took its current form in 1982 with a major renovation that preserved many unique architectural features of the original structure, as well as reusing found elements from around Tompkins County. The transition from tavern space to fine dining restaurant did little to blunt the popularity of the space with both locals and students of the nearby Cornell University, with its continued success, not to mention that it’s still owned by the same pair the opened it more than 40 years ago, being a testament to the ongoing excellence of the staff, food, and perhaps most importantly ambiance in this north-east Ithaca essential eatery.
Ithaca Bakery: First opened in 1910 on the same spot it still occupies on Meadow Street, and since then undergoing numerous expansions, renovations, and almost constant growth, Ithaca Bakery has become an indelible part of the Ithaca landscape. As the bakery flourished in the years after their founding they also adapted to changing times in Ithaca and Tompkins County; whereas initially their deliveries were done in a horse and buggy they eventually boasted the second truck in Tompkins County (a 1936 Dodge). In the City Directory of 1957, the bakery boasted unique baked goods including Italian Vienna Bread and had a phone number with 4 digits (something anyone born over the last 50 years is sure to find mind-boggling). With artwork and elements of the structure preserved since at least the 1950’s this piece of Ithacan history continues to connect the past and the present at the southern end of Cayuga Lake, with an eye towards continuing this tradition far into the future.
Shops & Spaces Rich in History
Fontana’s Shoes: Open over 11 decades on Eddy Street in Collegetown, Fontana’s offers specialized services, such as shoe & leather repair and expert assistance on all footwear-related inquiries. The care and attention given to each customer seem like something out of a different era, and indeed their strong tradition of customer service and attention to detail can be traced directly to the Old World roots as a cobbler of their original founder, Cesare Fontana, who emigrated from Central Italy in 1905. Maintaining excellent selection and facilities, as well as acknowledging their influential past in Ithaca while still moving forward with the latest brands, technologies and innovations has made Fontana’s one of the longest-standing pillars of Ithaca’s retail services.
Hangar Theatre: Located in the former aircraft hangar from Ithaca’s first municipal airport, the Hangar Theatre offers an early, and highly successful, example of adaptively reusing architecture, a practice that is gaining prominence in sustainable construction practices and green building. Originally constructed in 1912, the former municipal airport was eventually abandoned after the construction of the current Tompkins County International Airport near Cornell University in 1948. After some time acting as storage for city equipment, the space was renovated in 1975 and hosted its inaugural performance on July 11th. Since that time the facility has undergone multiple expansions and renovations, including a 2010 winterization project that allows the space to function year-round as a venue for performances. NEW for 2021: The Mainstage season will take place outdoors.
Stewart Park: Perched at the Southern end of Cayuga Lake, Stewart Park celebrated its centennial in 2021. Originally the property of the prestigious Cascadilla preparatory school, the site later hosted an amusement park and entertainment district, followed by a stint in the 1910’s as an influential location in the Silent Film industry. Following its purchase by the city the park has seen significant changes, with a zoo, swimming area and ice skating coming and later being discontinued for various safety or ecological reasons, while its carousel, installed in 1951, continues to run and be an iconic part of many Ithaca residents’ early childhoods. Today the site of a large portion of the Cayuga waterfront trail as well as tennis courts, playing fields, a bird sanctuary and the municipal golf course, Stewart Park continues to connect residents and visitors of Tompkins County with the rich history and beautiful wildlife we are lucky enough to share.
Inn at Taughannock Falls: With more than 70 years as an Inn and Restaurant, this historic property offers a variety of accommodation and event options in unmatched natural settings. Occupying 5 buildings (the oldest of which dates to the 1870’s) and entirely surrounded by the gorgeous Taughannock Falls State Park, the Inn at Taughannock Falls represents an unmatched opportunity to connect with nature and history in beautiful Tompkins County. With renovated spaces that represent the height of comfort and elegance the unique property blends the old and the new in ways that continuously delights guests.
Greenstar Co-Op: Coming up on its 50th year in operation Greenstar continues to grow, now with three stores and over 12,000 members! Initially a small group of like-minded Ithacans who wanted to put healthy food first while also reducing the financial costs through group buying, Greenstar has expanded to claim its place as one of the most popular markets in the area. An early example of a “food co-op” which has increased in recent years offered an alternative to conventional supermarkets, Greenstar continues to lead by example in ensuring the best of local, healthy products for its members. Their continued work with local farms furthers their goal of supporting local agriculture while battling food insecurity, while their new flagship location is a leading example of sustainable architecture and green building practices.
If you're interested in local history, explore more at The Tompkins Center for History & Culture located on the Downtown Ithaca Commons.