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Robin Flanigan has 100 things to do in Rochester before you die

Woman, smiling and sitting at a natural wood table with candles, looks at the camera. Behind her, patrons sit at a bar under modern retro lights.
Jeff Spevak
Robin L. Flanigan at Living Roots Urban Winery & Tasting in Rochester.

Robin L. Flanigan’s new book is “100 Things to Do in Rochester.” A friend suggested the subtitle, “Quick, Before You Croak.”

Rejected. So the gentler “100 Things to Do in Rochester Before You Die” it is. In big type, paired with a picture of a bucket, in case you missed the dark humor: Before you kick the bucket.

Picking 100 things to highlight about the city is a daunting task. As Flanigan discovered, it’s not that it’s hard to find 100 things. No, it’s hard to limit the list to 100.

“I knew that people were going to get upset with me,” she says, “saying, ‘What do you know?’”

And OK, Flanigan did grow up in Sedona, Arizona. But she’s lived in Rochester since 1999, when she came here to take a job as “shopping reporter” at the city’s big daily newspaper. “That’s how I furnished my house,” she says. But staff cutbacks drove from the room specialization such as shopping reporters. And Flanigan long ago moved on to a career as a freelance writer.

In 2009, she wrote the text for a coffee-table sized, city-promoting book, “Rochester: High Performance for 175 Years.” And she wrote a children’s book, “M is For Mindful,” when her daughter was 3.

“But it sat in my desk for over 10 years before I decided to do something with it,” Flanigan says.

The idea was simple. One letter of the alphabet for each word. If you want your kid to grow up as a responsible, thoughtful person, D is for Diversity.

Flanigan had hoped to have “100 Things to Do in Rochester Before You Die” ready last fall. But C is for Car wreck, and Concussion. Those kinds of things can stand in the way of completing a manuscript. She’s now all healed up, and “100 Things” is in your bookstores.

The theme of the book is actually not even Flanigan’s idea. It’s part of a franchise. She estimates there are over 150 “100 Things to Do Before You Die…” books now in print, virtually all sporting the big-print cover. Buffalo has one, Syracuse has one. And they all have the bucket on the cover as well.

The book is broken up into five sections: “Food and Drink,” “Music and Entertainment,” “Sports and Recreation,” “Culture and History,” and “Shopping and Fashion.” To further help curate the picks, Flanigan points out that national media outlets such as NPR and The Food Network have chimed in on Rochester’s best as among the nation’s best as well. One year, she says, Esquire magazine named Good Luck one of the best bars in the country.

So for this story, echoing the “Food and Drink” section, last week Flanigan was sitting in Living Roots Wine & Co. on University Avenue. “I love dry wine,” she says over a glass of shiraz.

There are lots of bars and restaurants in “100 Things to Do Before You Die.” Among the gossip that accompanies chatter about local restaurant history: Richardson’s Canal House was a nudist colony in the 1930s.

Just like “M is For Mindful,” this book’s idea, once again, is simple. But the execution is complex. Flanigan accepted advice from friends on how to settle on 100 highlights for Rochester. “Focus on either what’s unique to Rochester, or what’s gotten national press or international attention” is what the consensus was.

Book cover: 100 things to do in Rochester before you die
Promotional photo of the cover of Robin Flanagan's new book.

So she starts off with one that hits on all three points. No. 1 on the Rochester Top 100 is “Put Calories on the Back Burner With a Nick Tahou Hots Garbage Plate.” As Flanigan reminds us, it’s “often viewed as the ultimate hangover food.”

And the facing page lists four more Rochester versions of the Garbage Plate. Such add-ons raise the number of “100 Things to Do in Rochester” to over 160.

And all right, that was an obvious pick. As Flanigan points out, she has a page on “Go Hog Wild at Good Smoke BBQ” but, “I couldn’t leave out Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.”

When stepping out on the town, at least we know how to dress for excess. DogTown, she points out, offers a choice of 18 hot dog toppings.

Age counts for a lot. The Little Theatre opened in 1929. The Jack Rabbit Roller Coaster is one of the oldest continuingly operating wooden roller coasters in the country. We have ski terrain formed by glaciers.

And Flanigan’s geography is not limited to Rochester. She suggests the Jell-O Gallery Museum in Le Roy. And your search for remnants of the abandoned Rochester subway ends in Rush and the New York Museum of Transportation.

Yet for the cheers accompanying every minor-league baseball team, there is the Compline – the Sunday-evening chorale of fourth-century prayer and Gregorian chant sung by Eastman School of Music students — at Christ Church on East Avenue.

For every museum, from The Memorial Art Gallery to the zany ARTISANworks, there is the Hopeman Memorial Carillon bells, heard from a tower on the University of Rochester campus.

For every George Eastman, Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, there is the Lady in White haunting Seabreeze Amusement Park and the Union Tavern.

Yes, you can see dead people. Famous dead people. At Mount Hope Cemetery.

Flanigan says she discovered 17 mentions of the Fairport Lift Bridge insisting that "no two angles are the same on that bridge.”

Lady in White, OK. But on this engineering legend, she was skeptical.

“There were lots of citations," she says, "but I couldn’t just put that in the book without verifying.”

How did Flanigan verify this reported curiosity without clambering all over the bridge itself, protractor in hand? She went to the syndicated feature "Ripley’s Believe it or Not."

It had not heard the claim. But at Flanigan's prompting, she says, Ripley's checked it out. And on Sept. 15, 2022, as the main item in that day’s cartoon, Ripley's reported — as had been claimed — that no two angles on that bridge are the same.

For the safety of all concerned, particularly Flanigan, that’ll have to do.

You can find your copy at 100thingsinrochester.com.

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle.