Not your average Capital Region bar

different bars composite

By Casey Normile

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

Spotty Dog exterior.jpg

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.

Spotty Dog bookshelves.jpg

Spotty Dog Interior.jpg

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Chalkboard menu at spotty dog.jpg

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
Saratoga Springs

9MapleAve Exterior.jpg

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.

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Liquor at 9Maple.jpg

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.

The Point
1100 Madison Ave

The Point Exterior.jpg

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

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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."

Earlier on AOA:
+ The Bier Abbey
+ Footsy Magoo's


mahar's sheen of pretension has deterred me and i'm sure many other non-loudmouth twentysomethings looking for good beer in a quiet setting. from everything i've heard the proprietors/customers would probably wear that fact as a badge of honor, but to my mind it's just missed business for the sake of beer snobbery.

Love all these bars, Spotty Dog is the best!

as much as I love Mahar's I'd say The Ruck and The Bier Abbey have better draught beer selections.

Thanks - great ideas - lots of fun - we recently "discovered" the Sawmill, a "biker" bar on North Jay St., in Schenectady's Little Italy section. You'll have to see it to believe it! Not ritzy, but lots of interesting, colorful characters, an extremely generous owner (Don Birch - who is forever getting involved with fund raising events like "bike rides" for charity, including one where the bikers collect toys for tots). There's a very unique display on clotheslines over the bar - I am not going to spoil the surprise!

I agree with #1. It's one thing to promote unique beers, but I have been subjected to pure snobbery behind the bar at Mahar's. I currently endorse The Bier Abbey, as they seem (fingers crossed) to have gotten their wait staff in order.

Exelsior pub (Delaware Ave) is also a pretty cool place. They serve (smaller) 8 oz. draft beers ONLY from New York state... They also have a "pub club" but I believe it costs $$ to join.

The Spotty Dog IMO is what a true bar should be no TV. That being said The Bier Abbey in Schenectady is doing a great job bringing some of the best beer to the Capital District. I also think Mahers in Castelton is better than their bar in Albany great food and more inviting atmosphere plus great views of the Hudson river.

I second the review for 9 Maple. I had the good fortune to have a quiet drink there on my birthday last June. My husband and I were all dressed up and we didn't feel out of place.

Here is an effective way of combating beer snobbery at Mahars (true story, bro): A friend had just come back from a European tour with his band, and we decided to celebrate by going to Mahars. Being in Europe for almost two months, he had been exposed to a lot of good (and free) beer.

As we ambled up to the bar, he asked the bartender for a recommendation of a lighter, summer beer. The bartender (who ironically happened to resemble the comic book guy on the Simpsons, you know who I'm talkin' about!) stated coldly, "We don't serve ANY light beer here...." My friend looked him up and down, noting his rotund figure and flatly said back, "From the looks of you, I should have known." We were promptly served and were never bothered with said snobbery that evening afterwards.

The fact of the matter is that Mahar's has been going downhill for a long time. I was a regular customer, but, the lack of beers (from what it used to be) and the shabby interior isn't appealing to me anymore. Mahar should stop sinking money into the place in Castleton and put some of the cash back into this place... which has become a dump. Why this bar is on the list is beyond my understanding. Oh, and forget about finding women there.... it's a huge sausage fest.

#9 So just be a snob back to them, brah? When I pay for goods or services I don't want to jump through illogicial hoops.

I find it interesting that Mahar's states on their website that they have "no tolerance for bad attitudes or bad manners" when it seems that I get nothing but those two things from the staff whenever I'm there. I can understand not wanting raucous hoards of people in your bar, but being rude to ALL your customers while insisting that they cannot rude to you doesn't seem quite fair. There are plenty of other (read: better) brew pubs in the area to patronize that don't include bartenders looking down their nose at me.

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