The Excelsior Pub: exclusively New York

Excelsior Pub: Empire State beer, wine and spirits.

By Casey Normile

Jason Bowers spent years tending bar at Capital District pubs known for their beer selections -- places like The Lionheart Pub and The Van Dyck. And the longer he tended bar, the more he noticed something about his customers' ordering habits: New York brews like Brooklyn Brown were being ordered as often as big-name imports like England's Newcastle Brown.

The popularity of New York beers led him to start The Excelsior Pub, a recently opened pub attached to Cafe 217 in Albany that offers only New York beers and wines, and a host of New York spirits.

Excelsior -- "ever upward" -- is, of course, the motto of New York State. And Bowers sees the pub as a way of elevating the state's wide selection of beers to greater recognition.

"The beauty of this place is that we can be a vehicle for smaller places," says Bowers. "I can find a brewery at a farmers' market or hear about it from a customer and get a keg here."

photo: Mike Wren Photography

For example, he's been able to feature Flying Bison Brewery, which doesn't normally distribute outside of Buffalo, as well as Spider Bite from Long Island. At Excelsior, they're featured right next to brews from Brown's or Lake Placid Brewery.

The rules for a pint here are a little different. Modeled after McSorley's Old Ale House -- the oldest tavern in New York City -- your pint is split into two 8 oz glasses. "Splitting the pint allows customers to discover more beers than just a regular pint and, if they don't like it, it's only 8oz," explains Bowers. It's a particularly good way to try a few different beers since The Excelsior Room doesn't offer flights or samples.

The downside to offering beer from small breweries: prices are usually higher. Depending on what beers you choose, you can get a pint for between $5 and $10. "A couple of people have walked in looking for Coors Light, we don't have it, and they just leave. But there are people that are willing to explore and think that the price is worth it and those are Excelsior Pub people."

Right now there are 14 beers on tap at the Excelsior Room, along with 10 wines. "There are a ton of wineries in New York," he says. "I'm still getting to know New York wines. It's going to take me a while."

photo: Mike Wren Photography

They're also carrying more than a dozen varieties of New York State spirits and creating some New York cocktails -- including a drink called Jason's Capital Apple, a Harvest Spirits Core Vodka based cocktail that is like liquid apple pie.

Also spotted behind the bar, Albany Distilling's Coal Yard whiskey.

Excelsior does have some non-NY spirits at the bar. "We keep the well liquor because we realize that some people might come in looking for one of the most famous New York drinks, a Long Island Iced Tea, which requires tequila and rum, so we want to be able to make that for them," says Bowers.

The well liquors are the only ingredients at the bar that don't come from New York. The sodas are from Adirondack Beverages and even the bitters come from Rochester.

In keeping with the New York theme, Café 217 has added famous Empire State foods to the menu: hot dogs, Saratoga chips, beef on weck (Buffalo) and garbage plates (Rochester).

The Excelsior has a fireplace and a pretty relaxing atmosphere -- it's probably not the place to come if you're up for a raucous night of $3 pints and shots, says Bowers.

"I've had two girls come sit at the bar and complain that this place is boring. So I said to them, 'Yeah, this isn't really your scene.'"

Find It

The Excelsior Pub
12 1/2 Delaware Ave
Albany, NY 12210


Used to live right next door before moving to Schenectady...Maybe I will venture back to try some of the lesser-known brews.

place looks great. i will add to my list of places to try

Great selection of beers. Just be prepared, a few weeks ago they said they would be going cash-only.

Looks great. I loved Cafe 217 when I lived in Albany... this looks like a nice addition to the landscape.

Jason is a great host, knowledgeable and charismatic. I'm lucky to have known about this cool space since his 'going away' party at Lionheart. Great place to relax and share a drink with some friends!

Why no spirits from Albany Distilling? There are a couple of great breweries in Glens Falls, Coopers Cave and Davidson Bros, please consider featuring these at some point. Will have to check out your version of a Nick Tahou's garbage plate, haven't enjoyed one since the 80's

Charlie, did you even read the article?

"Also spotted behind the bar, Albany Distilling's Coal Yard whiskey."

And Fee Brothers bitters. Awesome.

two 8oz glasses? makes no sense. Why not offer various sizes? The Bier Abbey in Schenectady offers 4oz pours on everything, plus a 10oz pour and a 16 or 20oz pour depending on the beer. Even Mahar's has 10oz or 20oz servings.

Charlie, did you even read the article?

"Also spotted behind the bar, Albany Distilling's Coal Yard whiskey."

...And pretty sure that 7th tap from the left in the second photo is Davidson Brothers...

"I've had two girls come sit at the bar and complain that this place is boring. So I said to them, 'Yeah this isn't really your scene."

Hahahahaha, that's amazing.

I've always been so focused on the beer when I go there, that it never occurred to me to try a cocktail. Jason's Capital Apple, I want it.

To Andrew and Jen, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa. I did not see the Davidson Bros tap in the pic, and totally missed the Albany Distillery comment, I read the list of beers and spirits and did not see either one mentioned.

Sounds like a really great place. I love the local sourcing trend in the area lately! Can't wait to stop in

Why the "this place is boring" girls were even in that spot is the question. The (new) Lark Tavern, Legends, Bombers, etc. await them a mere 100 yds away. Shoo..shoo!

Good for Bowers, hope he has a ton of success there.

Hopefully, they will keep the taps clean. It seems that most places I go these days the beer tastes like feet because the taps are never cleaned.

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