Albany Jane's guide to stocking the bar for parties

albany jane party drinks composite

Albany Jane game plan involves a few stops.

By Albany Jane

It's party time.

Say you're having anywhere from 5-25 friends, family, or moderately tolerable neighbors over for dinner.

What do you do about the bar? Wine, cocktails, aperitifs? If you can't hire a bartender for the night (and chances are you can't), you're on your own.

So here are a few stores that I enjoy patronizing for my party libations.

All Star Wine & Liquor

AllStar Liquor.jpg

All Star, in Latham Farms, has recently expanded their store, which means more selection, and more space to wander while gazing at bottle after bottle of wine and liquor. They offer wines all types for all price ranges, both in bottles and boxes (yes, they have some nice wines in a box, and I'm not talking Franzia). All Star generally has several sales on liquors as well, and have some of the lowest prices on liquors in the area.

AllStar Promo.jpg

If you're looking for something new to buy on a whim, All Star often has several bottles of wine on sale for under $5. If you're up for a bottle, but can't decide what, it's fun to give one of these a try.

In addition to their selection, customer service is their game. They've got a knowledgeable staff that is always helpful and courteous without being overbearing. They're also really good about opening up registers if the lines start queuing up -- they'll open up a second register when there are only three people in line.

As an aside, they've got a cute little water pond in the back of their store, and occasionally doggies meandering, too.

Empire Wine

Empire Wine Exterior.jpg

Empire Wine, in the Northway Mall on Central in Colonie (by the Target), is another great store to get your drinks on the cheap. They're bare bones when it comes to decor, but my golly they've got one heck of a selection of wine. They sell some liquors, but the selection really pales when compared to just how much wine is in this store.

They too, often run wine bottle specials, but generally in the $6-12 range. The liquor specials here can be insanely low. I once found a bottle of Crown Royal Cask for $29.00, which could have easily retailed for double. I'm preferential to tempranillos, and Empire has the best selection of this Spanish wine in the area.

Empire also does a solid amount of tastings. I've discovered a few New York wines I like this way, or found out that a certain bottle with a cute label was lacking in the flavor department.

Beverage Centers

Okay, after all of that wine, maybe we could use a little bit of beer?
I generally like going to a locally owned beverage stores. Brew Crew, Beverage Barn, etc -- as long as you see "Beverage Center" somewhere in the sign, you're set.

You'll find a ton of selection of brews in these stores. They've got your American domestics, imports, and probably way more than what you've seen at the grocery store. The Brew Crews often have specials they advertise (usually in-store, but sometimes on their Facebook pages), and fill up growlers of beer from the tap.

You can pick up bottles of Rogue Ales, Delirium Tremens, and kegs of PBR, Guinness Stout, or special order something a little more special (I'm looking at you, Lindeman's Framboise).

So, here's my general plan of attack for a large party-

+ Buy the bulk of the wines at Empire. If a bottle of liquor looks especially appealing, pick it up.

+ Head over to All Star for liquors, toss in any cute & cheap bottles of wine on special that catch my eye.

+ Hit up a beverage center for beers.

Albany Jane writes about her many food adventures at Albany Eats!

Bonus tip from the Editors: We've had success scoring deals on cases of wine at a few of the small, neighborhood-type shops around town. Very often the people working the counter are the owners -- if you tell them you're stocking up for a party and looking to buy a case of wine, they might be able to give you discount. You just gotta ask. Ten or 15 percent off a case adds up.

Earlier on AOA:
+ We price checked 13 stores to see who had the best prices on beer
+ Albany Jane's must-try cheap lunches


All Star will give you case discounts.

They wouldn't be my first choice for stocking up for a party but to discover new wines you'll really like I recommend For the Love of Wine in Crossgates (it's up near the Borders in the "new" section). They have a Tuesday night tasting class that's only $5 and are very helpful in general.

If you're at Empire Wine, you might as well stop at the liquor store in BJ's right around the corner. You don't need a membership, just head to thr right as soon as you walk in. They have some pretty ridiculously low prices, especially on handles of liquor, but the caveat is it's all mainstream stuff. The upside is, if you're buying 1.75l of vodka, rum, tequila, and whiskey for a party, odds are your guests will quickly not be able to the the difference between Svedka and the newest ultra-premium rhino horn filtered small batch vodka.

In other news, I heard that if you want to buy a car, you should go to a car dealership.

I agree with B. on the values to be had in the BJ's wine and spirits locker. There were some bottles of wine at BJ's for $6 that were going for about $10 at Exit 9.

Speaking of Exit 9, I was surprised to see that it didn't make the list. They have some spectacular deals, and more importantly a selection of New York distilled spirits that isn't available at the other markets.

For example, Finger Lakes Distilling not only makes a stunning rye, but a tasty unaged corn whiskey, among other things that aren't available at All Star or Empire.

Regrettably despite their massive size, the sherry selection at Exit 9 is atrocious. But I doubt that is why it was left off the list.

Please support University Wine and Liquor in the University's locally owned and is actually IN Albany city limits...!

and it's pet friendly--so if you are at Pet Supplies Plus with your pooch you can always stop in and pick up some "whine"..(sorry..couldn't resist)

University Wine and Liquor may be pet friendly, but it's not people friendly.

The last time I was there, some man came in and asked the cashier where the vodka was located. The cashier told him it was at the end of the aisle, and then proceeded to ring up my purchase.

This vodka searching customer must have misheard, because he was looking at the near-end of the aisle as opposed the the far-end of the aisle. Under his breath, but loud enough for me to plainly hear, and without any provocation, the man at the register angrily said, "the other fuc*ing end." Wow.

That was not my first experience with strange and hostile behavior from the employees of that store.

I'll go there for a last minute bottle of something, but this is exactly the kind of store that will go out of business when wine moves into supermarkets, and this is exactly the kind of store that will not be missed.

Never had problems at University

I've had good luck at the Wine Shop on New Scotland Ave by Quail Street. They carry a lot of good inexpensive wine and the sign cards that they have really describe the wine well. It also has been the only store I've been able to find Bota Box wine, which tastes like bottled wine.

Regarding University--I have had nothing but good luck and courteous service there. Somehow I am not surprised at Daniel B's experience. Not to suggest that a clerk would be rude to another customer simply because Daniel was in the store--but gee the negativity comes through strong and clear in most of his posts. Daniel just seems to experience life in Albany differently from the way most people do.

Empire sells Bota boxes.

@KM: I'm reasonably sure you'd feel differently after meeting him face to face. He's a very pleasant person.

@KM: There are born critics. We have strong opinions about what we like and don't. We share them because that's how we're most useful. We don't wish to be your filter, rather to feed your filters crisp, undiluted input. We assume you know this.

DB is a smart, fun and smiling guy. If that's not obvious over the tubes, blame the tubes. Meanwhile you'll find that nobody puts some life in your taste like a firm, fair, engaging critic who calls what he sees today, yet is glad to be proven wrong tomorrow.


EmpireWine will match ANY advertised price... They don't just say that. I have gone in there too and also special requested wines and they brought in the label for me, that they normally do not stock. They go out of their way for their customers, and they are still cheaper than anyone around. I don't need to see a Pond or a Piano in the store... it is the price and the customer service that ultimately interests and keeps me coming back.

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For a decade All Over Albany was a place for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. It was kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who could help you find out what's up. AOA stopped publishing at the end of 2018.

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