Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. Sometimes, maybe not so much.
Sure, it's nice to have a comfort zone -- that bar where you're a regular and you know exactly what to expect.
But if you're in a rut, or looking to change it up a little, here are a handful of Capital Region bars that I've found offer an experience with a little something different.
The Spotty Dog
440 Warren Street
Imagine yourself with a good book, a cold beer in front of you, enjoying a great book. Not many local bars facilitate reading or quiet conversation, but The Spotty Dog does that and more. A former firehouse, the bar offers big comfy seats, a small bar, entirely local beers, and, oh yeah, a bookstore. In this sanctuary, you can browse their selection, grab a book and drink with it, no purchase necessary. They're just that relaxed.
If you're not a bookworm, that's okay, you can be social as well! Business picks up around happy hour and on the weekends so you can strike up a conversation with the locals and meet some pretty interesting people. As one customer described it, "You can have an intelligent conversation with everyone you meet here, and that makes it unique."
9 Maple Ave
9 Maple Avenue
This bar transports you back in time -- to a time when liquor was not served with diet soda or Red Bull. Here, Ella Fitzgerald croons softly in the background as you sip a martini and forget your dark past of keg stands and light beer.
9 Maple is a jazz bar that offers the largest selection of single malt scotches in the state, an 11-page martini menu with more than 250 choices, and a huge selection of bourbons and Irish whiskies. They are not kidding around.
It's a small, dark mahogany room with candles at each table, a porcelain tap, and a glass bowl of peanuts for all to share, and a constant stream of jazz, whether from the speakers, or from the live bands that play there every week.
9 Maple is pretty small, and like a lot of Saratoga bars, it gets pretty crowded on the weekends. If you want to fully experience the relaxed, jazzy vibe, go on a weeknight.
Even if you're not a frequent whiskey or bourbon drinker, the bartenders are more than willing to point you in the right direction. Based on your tastes, they can help steer you through their vast selection to something you might enjoy.
1100 Madison Ave
A touch of class without being pretentious -- that's what you'll get at The Point. This bar/restaurant offers a more upscale experience without taking itself too seriously.
You'll see people in jeans and t-shirt or in dresses or suits. The point is (pun intended) all are welcome. No matter how you're dressed, the bartenders are willing to make conversation as well as drink suggestions.
Their signature cocktails such as the "True Blood" or the "Tequila Mockingbird" are consistently delicious and their menu is large and available until midnight Monday through Thursday and 1 am Friday and Saturday. And we're not talking french fries and chicken wings. Duck confit jalapeno poppers, shrimp scampi pizza, and a cheese board are all available until the wee hours of the morning.
The Point is a ritzy bar that doesn't care if you're ritzy or not.
1110 Madison Ave
Mahar's website clearly states (in all caps) that they are not looking for new customers. "You see, we are not actively seeking new customers (in fact, we should probably lose a few that we already have) but if you are 21 years old and able to act it, we can always find room for one more."
So why go there?
This unassuming little blue building, just two doors down from The Point, is a beer haven. Any Capital Region beer lover will tell you that Mahar's selection can't be beat. When you arrive, they hand you an extensive two-page menu full of domestic and international beer -- some you might be familiar with, others that will sound downright made up.
The selection varies every so often, but if you start an account, they keep track of which beers you've tried and how many you still have left to tour.
Mahar's is very much like visiting your grandparents when you were younger. They're happy to see you as long as you're not loud, annoying, and there's only a few of you to deal with. That is, if your grandparents gave you great beer when you visited.
And, as Mahar's website also states: "Please remember, we have no juke box, no bands, no beer specials, little or no food and no tolerance for bad attitude or bad manners."
We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.