Tanner Efinger is the owner and managing director of queer bar and theater Wunderbar. He is also the artistic director of Breadcrumbs Productions, a nonprofit theater company that performs all over CNY but is in residence at Wunderbar. Efinger is also a theater artist, community activist and organizer, and recently directed and taught at Le Moyne College. He lives in Syracuse.
Were you born and raised in CNY?
I was not, no. I moved to Syracuse almost four years ago. My husband got a job at Colgate University and we wanted to live in the nearest “big” city, so we landed in Syracuse.
Why do you choose to stay and make your home here?
I definitely think that Syracuse chose us in many ways, and the opportunity that I have had to create art and theater here keeps me in Syracuse. I also think that, in many ways, the LGBTQ community keeps me here. The development that has happened with the queer community over the past four years is pretty incredible. So I think both of those things are what keep me here.
What does your “good life” look like and how does CNY play a role?
I would say my good life in Central New York looks like a region that is exploding with opportunity for local artists to develop and be creative. And opportunities to deepen the culture and positivity for LGBTQ people; so, the continued growth of both of those communities is where my good life lives.
What do you like most about living here?
Aside from those things, I’m definitely going to say the seasons. I have lived in many places and just being able to get four distinct seasons, which change my lens on what I’m doing every few months, I think that’s a good thing. It keeps me refreshed with new energy.
What makes CNY different from other places you’ve lived?
I think one of the major things that makes it different is the affordability of living here. You know? I’ve lived in New York City, I’ve lived in Los Angeles, I lived in England. Those are all very expensive places to live and so the ability to live more affordably comes with different opportunities.
How would you spend a day off in the area?
Antiquing, no questions asked. I’d probably start at Syracuse Antiques Exchange; it’s one of my favorites in the area. There are so many different antiques shops and vintage stores scattered throughout Central New York. So definitely doing a trail of that would be an ideal day for me.
Go-to place to eat?
Mello Velo is my go-to dinner spot. They’ve got a great bar, they’re fairly new, independently owned and the food is incredible. They did a lot of creative stuff to get through COVID, what they did with outdoor seating and their bakery, I’m happy to see that they’re still holding on and moving forward.
First place you take out-of-town friends or family?
This is probably cheating, but it’s definitely Wunderbar. Mostly because I have to work all the time, so I’m like ‘come, have a drink.’ But we do, I think, have some of the most interesting cabaret, fringe art that exists in Central New York, and we are a developing and growing hub for that. It’s fun because I get to go to work and bring my friends along who enjoy themselves.
It’s probably a dead heat between fall and spring. I mean, neither extreme and yet full of all of the fun activities outside. I just love it.
Favorite way to take advantage of our beautiful outdoors?
This is pretty season-specific for me. We go skiing, hiking, apple or pumpkin picking. There’s plenty of cider tours and wine tours that you can do. And there’s loads of camping, which is fun.
A place or business you think is underrated or under-discovered?
Yes, handfuls. But I’m going to point out Habiba’s Ethiopian kitchen which is in Downtown Syracuse. I think it opened a couple years ago, before COVID. And it is fantastic. Some of the best Ethiopian food I’ve ever had.
Favorite memory related to living in CNY?
Something that makes me think about my memories here are the memories of my garden and what grows in the spring and summer. We’ve got a really nice garden that has a lot of flowers and vegetables, so I think the ability to have that and tend to that, and what a central part that is to my life and my time and my home time, is a part of my memories. I was gardening a little before COVID; [but] we definitely gardened more the in last year.
How would you describe CNY in a few words?
The two words I’d use would be nostalgia and renaissance. Even though I didn’t grow up here, there is something about the seasons, the outdoor offerings, and the small town feel of Central New York that reminds me of childhood. I suppose my passion for wandering the antiques stores of CNY also brings me this deep sense of nostalgia that makes me love this region. The renaissance this region is experiencing creates a striking balance of energy.
What do you think we take for granted here?
I think, for me, coming from an arts background, there are a lot of arts resources here in this city and in this region that go under-used in many ways. So I would say the arts resources are really going under used and the art that’s being created is being under seen or under produced. So I think what’s happening is many of us are missing out on everything that art can be, and do, to transform our communities because we don't engage with it as much as we could be.
Best way to get to know the area better?
Something I try to [do] is an idea from a book by Julia Cameron called “The Artist’s Way.” Take yourself to a museum, to a movie, go on a walk, take 20 minutes to write a poem...[try] a new cocktail or [go] to a new dance show. Something that you’ve not done before. So this idea, I think, would be the best way to see the community because it’s intentionally trying to feed your soul by going out and doing new things.
Myth about CNY or Upstate you’d like to dispel?
When I moved here, the idea that theater professionals would move to Syracuse to develop a professional career [was] unheard of. And that’s, in my mind, a myth I am working to dispel. There are really fantastic resources here and I think those resources can be further developed by more arts professionals moving to our region to be able to uplift our arts community and utilize these resources in ways they haven’t been perhaps in a long time.
Did you see an increase in the number of creative and artists that came here from larger cities after the pandemic started?
I can’t say that I have seen more creatives move here in the pandemic. I think Syracuse is a fairly transitory town. So you see a lot of people kind of moving in and moving out and that's been my experience in the past four years. I think Syracuse is a city, and you’d have to look this data up, but I think it has been going down in population since 1950 every single year. And [2018 was] the first year that it actually rose in population. And largely that was driven by millennials. So the idea that millennials are moving to Syracuse, millennials are taking hold of these opportunities to be able to develop and utilize, I think it’s saying the right thing. Of course, the pandemic threw a wrench in so many things and what the world will be like after the pandemic, who knows? I think we’re starting to get a little bit of those post-pandemic rumblings now, but I have always had high hopes for Syracuse. I think for me Syracuse is the land of opportunity in so many ways that go unseen. Just because no one’s offering someone a resource doesn’t mean that resource doesn’t exist and doesn’t mean that we can’t train ourselves to reach down and pick it up.
Is there anything that you think people outside of Central New York should know about living here?
The diversity here is incredible. In Syracuse, in particular, which is called a sanctuary city, I believe, the migration of people from around the world to Syracuse is starting to show more and more in restaurants and businesses. You look at the Salt City Market, you look at restaurants like Habiba’s Ethiopian Kitchen, there are just some incredible things. And of course, the city has experienced that kind of sort of growth from an Italian population that moved here a long time ago, an Irish population that moved here a long time ago. So we are fortunate to experience diversity from around the world through immigration and through diverse immigration. That is great thing about Syracuse that I think people don’t know about.
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