Jamestown, NY

Celebrate Lucille Ball's birthday in kitsch country.



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DISTANCE: 395 mi -- about 6 hours 32 mins

WHY GO: Let Tennessee keep Graceland. New York can lay claim to its own celebrity shrine devoted to the queen (of comedy), Lucille Ball. To pay tribute to royalty, the Lucille Ball--Desi Arnaz Center (300 North Main St; 716-484-0800, lucy-desi.com) throws the annual Lucille Ball's Birthday Celebration in her native Jamestown (she'd have turned 98 on August 6). This year's fete includes free outdoor screenings of I Love Lucy episodes, film festivals of Ball's movies ($10 per screening), a collector's show of Lucy-Desi memorabilia and a birthday-cake bake-off where you can sample the local entries for free. Hop on a coach bus with the diehards dressed as the birthday gal for a two-hour guided Lucytown Tour ($20) of significant spots around Jamestown. You'll be accompanied by a "mystery guest" (in the past, it's been Ball's personal secretary Wanda Clark, her chauffeur Frank Gorey or I Love Lucy head editor Dann Cahn). "It's always interesting to hear the people who really knew Lucy talk about her," says eight-year attendee Lloyd Faulkner, 80, who grew up in nearby Celoron, in the house where Lucy lived for a while with her grandfather. Admittedly, he's one of the few residents you'll encounter there: "The locals aren't the ones to support the event," he says. "They think they know it all already."

WHY STAY: Despite the fact that Ball often claimed to be from Butte, Montana, and only begrudgingly admitted to hailing from Jamestown later in life (uh, Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do!), the comedian has an overwhelming presence throughout the city, as evidenced by the four outdoor murals painted downtown by local artist Gary Peters Jr. Even the Reg Lenna Civic Center (116 E 3rd St; 716-664-2465, reglenna.com), a majestic 1920s theater that normally hosts ballet, opera, comedy and live music performances, cedes its refurbished seats to Lucy for movie screenings. Once you've gotten your fill of kitsch, head to the Fenton History Society (67 Washington St; 716-664-6256, fentonhistorycenter.org; $5) for exhibits about the Civil War, hilltop valley views and ghostly encounters. "I'm a history guy, so old things don't really scare me," says resident Drew Emerling, 30, of the Society's purportedly haunted 1863 mansion that was once home to New York Governor Reuben E. Fenton. "But I've seen some strange things in there." Another place to get goose bumps is the Jamestown Savings Bank Ice Arena (319 W 3rd St; 716-484-2624, jamestownarena.com), where for $5 you can escape the summer heat and go ice-skating or play a pickup game of hockey. For evening entertainment, check out Mojo's (104 E 2nd St; 716-487-9892, myspace.com/mojosjamestown). Depending on the night, you could hear bands playing anything from blues to heavy metal, though you'll never pay more than a $5 cover. The bar recently hosted Ra Ra Riot, but you're more likely to catch bartender Matt Baxter's indie jam band Thee Audience, which regularly plays here.

WHERE TO EAT: As much as you'd like to stuff your face with chocolates in rapid succession, opt for a more civilized meal at Iron Stone (516 W 4th St; 716-487-1516, ironstonerestaurant.net), where you can get ten ounces of slow-roasted prime rib for $16.95 on weekends. For dessert, choose from Jamestown's many old-school bakeries—owned mostly by members of the town's sizable Swedish community. Ecklof Bakery (832 Foote Ave; 716-488-1516, ecklofbakery.com) is worth a stop for its pink-striped shortbread cookie ($4.32 per dozen), which has its very own 570-member-strong Facebook group. Another area staple is the Southern Tier Brewing Company (2051A Stoneman Circle; 716-763-5479, southerntierbrewing.com) in neighboring Lakewood, which offers hour-long brewery tours on Saturdays at 4pm ($8) and sells half-gallon growlers ($9.99; $14.99 for Imperials) of August releases like Pumking Imperial Pumpkin Ale and Oat Imperial Oatmeal Stout. If you can't make it there, Jamestown's Forte (114 E 3rd St; 716-484-6063, fortetherestaurant.com) serves Southern Tier's top-notch IPAs on tap. By day, the popular restaurant doles out nouveau American cuisine (kobe beef and falafel burgers, $12 each) and sushi; later in the evening, it transforms into one of the city's swankiest bars. Shawbucks (212 W 2nd St, 716-487-2201) tends to be the It place on weekend nights, when the bar hosts DJs or live bands (country-pop singer Jackson Rohm is a frequent and popular performer). "If you're looking to hook up or dance, this is more like a club or a singles' bar," says Drew Emerling, joking about the dive. "They're very fancy; they have a coat check for $1." If your timing is right, you might catch Emerling at the Cherry Lounge (326 Cherry St, 716-664-5439), where he works once a week. Outfitted entirely in cherrywood, the bar is renowned for its deep-fried wings (ten for $6.25, 20 for $11.25) in Parmesan cheese, dried Cajun, honey mustard or BBQ. They were voted best in the county three consecutive years by local mag The Word, and this town's denizens should know a thing or two about wings: You are, after all, only an hour south of Buffalo.

WHERE TO STAY: The all-around best option, per the locals, is the centrally situated Clarion Hotel (150 W 4th St; 716-664-3400, clarionhotel.com) in downtown Jamestown, which has an indoor pool, free parking and complimentary breakfast. It also happens to be the official host hotel for Lucy's Birthday Celebration, and it's offering a reduced rate of $136 per night to attendees who book before July 7. Around the corner, the Best Western (200 W 3rd St; 716-484-8400, bestwestern.com) has equivalent amenities and the same special festival rates; for those looking to splurge on I Love Lucy mouse pads instead of accommodations, the Red Roof Inn (1980 E Main St; 716-665-3670, redroof.com) in nearby Falconer is just an eight-minute drive away and costs $76 per night with the Lucy rates.

GET THERE: There's no direct train or bus service from New York to Jamestown, so unless you plan on taking public transportation 90 miles farther than necessary to Buffalo and transferring south to Jamestown (a plan that sounds like one of Lucy's harebrained schemes), your best bet is by car. It's a six-and-a-half-hour drive (cue up the mixtapes!), but you'll be glad you came with wheels; otherwise, your main method of getting around will involve hailing cabs.

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