Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Good Night

All the dads out there raise your hands. Now, all the dads with kids under the age of five raise their hands.  How's he nightlife? If it's anything like mine, it involves brushing of teeth, changing of diapers and bedtime stories. Sure, I get the quick pint after work, but I almost never get out to the pubs and bars, of my pre-children days, at least not for any real length of time. I'm on year five of my pubby abstinence, but my friend Gravey has just stepped into his, with the birth of his beautiful daughter this past October. I'm guessing it's been three months since I've seen him, and far longer since we've grabbed a beer. Babies and beer can be a complicated juggling act, and so, self-restraint is the way of the responsible dad. This weekend, however gave us an opportunity. Monday was President's Day, which leads to a week off from school for both the kids and my teacher wife. Vacation weeks are always laid-back in my house—bedtime gets later, lots of pizza for dinner, and a general decompression happens. Vacation weeks are like one long Saturday afternoon. This destressing makes it easier, for me at least, to pop out in the evening for a pint. Capitalizing on this, Gravey and I hatched a plan.

Gravey and I both share a love of beer and we both, at one time, frequented Albany's Mahar's Public Bar. Like a lot of things in my life, Mahar's has been one of those things that, unfortunately, has had to fall by the wayside. Mahar's is one of the greatest beer bars in the country—I am not exaggerating this. Take a look at any number of "Best of Beer Bars..." lists, in fact Beer advocate rates it a 96 or in their eyes, world-class. Mahar's regularly has three to four cask beers on (from both the U.S. and the U.K.), nearly 30 taps and well over 100 different bottled beers—available at any given time. Although, in recent years, it has lost a little of its sparkle. It's become very popular, and is often crowded, and the service can be a bit on the abrasive side. With our run-around world and the less than ideal conditions, we both simply stopped going to the little blue pub on Madison Avenue. I think Mahar's proprietor, Jim Mahar, has also gotten tired of the Albany pubs' rat-race. Recently, he opened a second location in Castleton-on-Hudson, NY, a short 15-minute drive from downtown Albany. On a whim, that's where Gravey and I found ourselves on Saturday night. Two dads with a rare few hours to kill, in a place of freely-flowing cask Greene King IPA. 

Mahar's Castleton is a shabby little venue, and I say that with a smile on my face. It's wood paneled, with mismatched chairs and tables. There's a random selection of music that streams quietly through the place. A few beer engines are perched at the front of the bar, and behind it, black lacquered, glass-paned cabinets, hide bottles of almost every kind and flavor of beer from around the world. Groups of armchairs and benches are piled together, creating little reading nooks or conversation areas. There are no stools at the stubby bar; a bar that is festooned with brightly colored, flag-like bar towels, and an effigy of the La Chouffe gnome that peeks out at you from a mirror-backed shelf. While the decor is charming, albeit hodge podgey, and the atmosphere is the closest to a proper English Pub, I would imagine you could find in the States; what makes Mahar's Castleton really unique is Jim. He is the most curmudgeonly, cantankerous gentleman you'll ever meet. He'll tell you how it is, and if it's not that way, how it should be. Behind that gruff and callous exterior, lies the heart of a good man and a dyed-in-the-wool beer lover—the pub owner's pub owner. A night spent in Mahar's Castleton is like taking a trip back in time—to Mahar's Albany of 1999—to a time before the Albany pub had caught on, before the beer geeks and crowds, when it was just a quiet pub with amazing beer. Mahar's Albany may be the legend, but Mahar's Castleton is the man.

Gravey and I spent a few hours back in 1999, catching-up, talking about motorcycles, soccer, F1 and drinking pints of cream-topped IPA, pulled fresh from the cask. Saturday night was a good night.


  1. It really was a step back in time, wasn't it? What started as an overdue opportunity to grab a pint and check out a "new to us" establishment really became a time I won't soon forget. I think the quieter Castleton location agrees with Jim and his gift of "telling it like it is". Definitely worth a trip back but for our next meet up there's little place called Smith's I found...

  2. Hah, those first few sentences sounds so very familiar!!