NOexcuses: A Tour Experience

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Back in February when the NOexcuses website went live I wrote a feature on the project and just recently I had the pleasure of going on an exclusive test tour. It was quite an interesting experience and even I learned a thing or two about Syracuse while on it. I also got a chance to see where the NOexcuses vision is going and how great it’s going to become when the official tours start up. So here’s a first-hand account of my experience and exclusive details on some of the sample tours, as well as an interview with the NOexcuses founder.

Of the three sample tours that were quietly announced, which included Hawley Green, Tipperary Hill, and downtown/Armory Square, I went on the Armory Square version. Each of these tours highlighted unique details and provided insider access, but the downtown one was tough to beat. We went to so many stops and did so many cool things in a few hours that I think our heads were spinning. In a good way, though. These test group tours were setup specifically to provide feedback and we’ll find out from the NOexcuses founder as to how things went.

The Hawley Green tour kicked off at Lacy’s Tapas Bar and after a check-in with guests, set out towards ArtRage Gallery on Hawley Ave. ArtRage Gallery provided NOexcuses an unheard-of private opening just for the tour. The group was given an exclusive look at the gallery’s video projection exhibit called Rationalize & Perpetuate. Heagerty then lead the group to Sparky Town where Chef Colleen prepared all kinds of hors d’oeuvres and owner Lauren talked about the local art on the walls. After that the tour circled over by the Century Club where more history was expounded upon and some lesser-known street art was presented. Finally heading back to Lacy’s, the entire group was let up into the private upstairs Moroccan Room where drinks and conversation about the tour was had.

The Tipp Hill tour kicked off at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park. But it wasn’t the normal zoo visit, it was an insider mini-tour given by the staff.  They provided the group with a behind-the-scenes experience that included feeding of the penguins. The group then made the trek over to Behind the Iron Gate, the antique dealer on the corner of West Genesee Street and Avery Ave. The group was given an exclusive 10% discount on any purchases. Given NOexcuses’ partial focus on Syracuse history, this stop seems just right. Since food is also a big focus, the next stop was clear–Blarney Stone! Upon entering the restaurant famous for its burgers, the tour group was escorted to a reserved table in the back. Samples from the entire menu along with drinks came at a constant flow. From burgers and fries, to several signature varieties of wings, a Blarney first-timer would instantly become acquainted with this hidden gem of a pub. The tour ended with the entire group sharing a meal & discussing the tour.

The Armory Square tour was a whirlwind experience that wowed everyone in the group. This is the one got to join in on. The tour group gathered by the Creekwalk, met Walt the Creek Dragon, and checked out some of the locally designed details of the area before heading to LoFo for samples. I picked up the tour at LoFo where the group found out in depth details about the massive amount of art that covers the walls. The owner, Abigail Henson, then brought us each a small version of the restaurants delicious Bananacado smoothie as well as a tasty (and healthy) beet salad. The next stop brought us to Kitty Hoynes where we sat at several specially reserved tables and sampled off-menu items served by David Hoyne himself. We had delicious potato pancakes topped with parsnip mash, Irish bacon and cabbage with a cream sauce on the top. Michael got into some interesting history about the space while we ate. Brady’s Irish Cream Liqueuer shots arrived before we made our way to bc Restaurant. At bc there was a huge reserved table and once every sat down Chef Wayne brought out and introduced several plates of scallops and pork belly. The entire group–myself included–couldn’t believe the spread. The food was unbelievable. Then we checked out the awesome local art hanging in the restaurant. Next we made our way to Empire Brewing Company. At Empire another large table was reserved and we got sample after sample of beer, along with insider info on each one. We even heard anecdotes about how some of them were invented and heard from brewing staff as well. This is not the sort of thing you can just go do on your own. The final stop was Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge and the bar provided us with pretty much every cheese on their list at no charge. At this point we started to get drinks and tour mode slowly faded as Heagerty handed out gift bags loaded with various coupons, posters, and more.

The main thing about NOexcuses is that it is still in development but from my experience, I really think the project’s onto something big. As locals, when we think about tours we don’t really see any value. With NOexcuses things change. Locals learn new things, meet the movers and shakers of Syracuse, get truly insider access, and actually make new friends in the course of a two hour tour. For this reason NOexcuses remains extremely interesting and useful even if you’ve been here for years. If it’s that good for locals, imagine what a visitor would think! Of my experience I can say that it outdid my expectations. The tour aspect was great, the history was interesting, but the sheer amount of “exclusiveness”–off-menu food, private gallery openings, insider knowledge–made this a huge hit. While I don’t want to make any official announcement about the public tours, I’m guessing you’ll see that before too long.

Guru will have the exclusive story as this awesome full service tour project expands.


NOexcuses Founder Michael John Heagerty talks tours:


Q:
So Mike, I think we can definitely say that these first few tours gave a real glimpse into how great this concept could be. What are your thoughts on the first few, how did they go?
A: I was actually surprised how well it went. I put a lot of work into it but I didn’t know it would turn out as amazing as it did.

Q: What are the next steps?
A: Pulling the trigger! I’m privately booking, taking on clients who are are coming into town to visit and interested in personalized tours. I’m ready to launch a handful of tours in May.

Q: These tours were essentially practice runs, what will change and what will stay the same on official tours?
A: We went big on the Armory Square tour and all those stops will obviously be on board, but there are also lots of other potential stops. I’m interested in continuing to have the cool, insider pass so I’ll constantly be working with different local businesses and festivals and things so we’re able to swing in and do some cool stuff. Areas, neighborhoods, and styles of the tours will remain the same, but the stops and the way we get around will change. It’s not just going to be food and drink, because there are plenty of boutiques and local organizations that have shown interest in working with me. There are many opportunities to do behind-the-scenes type stuff. Hospitality and insider knowledge–that’s what we offer.

Q: When are you aiming to launch public tours?
A: Since we had good luck with the test tours, on May 1st we’ll start booking public tours. We’ll throw them out there and see what happens.

Q: Aside from tours, what else will you offer?
A: The tours are only one part of the service, but we’ll also offer ways for organizations to get their message out through word of mouth marketing. There’s also the service of custom itineraries, advertising through the website, and events that will happen in different neighborhoods. We’ll grow inch by inch with these tours and expand as we go.

Q: In conclusion, what can people expect from an official NOexcuses experience?
A: Even if you’re the most active person in Syracuse, the organic development of NOexcuses means that there’s still a high potential for you to learn some new things and be inspired by the great people you’ll meet along the way. By the end of the tour if you haven’t met someone new, been somewhere new, or tried something new I haven’t done my job. I’m setting up this fun, engaging experience for locals and visitors alike and sometimes it will be a mix of both in the group. The process of walking along on the tour with a group will create a connection and that’s what’s it’s about. It’s truly about creating connections and promoting this community of people that are working hard for Syracuse.


Photo Credit: Taylor Baucom of Jerk Magazine via NOexcuses.

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