After an absence that was altogether too long, we finally ventured, at the behest of a friend, to the most highly acclaimed of local watering holes. Not a place for everyone, Mahar's. Certainly, the selection of beers is without compare in the region, yet there is no television to entertain, nor even music on many evenings. Little food to be had, aside from blocks of cheese and microwaveable meat pies. Service ranges from subpar to average. We're still not sure exactly how we feel about Mahar's. While we certainly like many things about the place, we have serious doubts that it is among the top dozen places to get a beer in this great country. They typically have several casks among the twenty to thirty draught choices, and nearly ten times as many bottles at any given time. We get the feeling that the place fancies itself to be some sort of Americanized English Free House; half the draughts seem to be English/cask, and cask Coniston Bluebird Bitter is considered
the "house" ale. They claim to have been among the first in the country
to offer it on draught. We would prefer to see more local and regional choices, given all the fantastic beers currently being produced in the Empire State, but the current situation seems to work pretty well for them.
One of the cool things that Mahar's has going for it is their beer club:
THE WORLD TOUR OF BEER
OUR BEER TOUR HAS NO TIME LIMIT. ONLY FOUR BEERS PER DAY CAN BE ADDED TO YOUR TOUR UNTIL YOU REACH 200 BEERS. YOU MAY NOT DRINK ON ANYONE ELSES TOUR. AN $8.00 BEER CAN BE SPLIT AND COUNTED ON TWO TOURS.
50 BEERS - A TOUR T-SHIRT
125 BEERS - A MUG ENGRAVED WITH THE DESIGN OF YOUR CHOICE. THE MUG IS FOR YOUR USE ONLY - YOUR DRAFT PURCHASES WILL BE DISCOUNTED BY 20%
200 BEERS - A CASE OF YOUR FAVORITE BEER
500 BEERS - A BRASS PLAQUE WITH YOUR NAME ENGRAVED
We're still working on the t-shirt...sad, we know.
This is a place that does not post any beer menu or prices. Upon entering, one first heads for the keyboard and printer in back. Updated beer lists can be printed by beer style or country (bartenders prefer country, as it is easier for them
to locate and highlight the beer on your individual list for updating in
the system later). The one obvious drawback of this system is that beers
are completely eliminated from your personal list after you have sampled them. This
is not necessarily a major problem, as Mahar's constantly rotates their
beer stock, especially the draught. But allow us to imagine, for instance, that it
is a hot day in June. You are rather desirous of a refreshing summer beer.
Mahar's happens to have Hoeegarden White and Paulaner Hefe Weissen among the choices on tap, but you've already had them on your tour, so you might not necessarily know
that from simply perusing your list. The way the bar is set up, it can be difficult to see the extent of the taps, and, again, there is no visible posting of available beers. Sure, one could ask the bartender, but they tend to the rather surly and mostly avoid being helpful in these sorts of situations. No, you'll have to
either depend on guile and good fortune, or print the full beer list in addition to your personal copy. Even then it might be difficult to convince yourself to order a
beer that you've already had and, therefore, won't be credited for on your
beer tour. Hey, we never said Mahar's makes things easy. So what is it that draws the meandering wayfarer to it's nondescipt door? We imagine it is the beer, mostly. Really good beer, served the way it should be served. It's easy to overlook small shortcomings when there is great beer to be had in abundance. Don't just take our word for it, the following is stolen directly from a poster at www.beeradvocate.com. We feel that it gives a very accurate and succint picture of what you will find should you choose to visit Mahar's:
The highlight of Mahar's is its cask-conditioned real ale, many imported from England and lately a number of casks from Middle Ages in Syracuse.
On tap, Mahar's has a variety of American craft beers, rare beers from Europe and elsewhere, and some of the better European standards -- including a well-served pint of Guinness, NOT extra cold, and with plenty of texture.
If this isn't enough, there's also an *extensive* bottle list from around the world, with a good number of American craft beers as well. The markup on bottles tends to be about 100% from retail prices, so make a visit to Oliver's [Oliver's is a beer store a few blocks away from Mahar's. They boast of carrying 800+ beers - ed.] first! You'll still find lots at Mahar's unavailable elsewhere.
The entire food menu consists of a small fridge underneath the bar, at the back end. Their meat pies -- usually steak and mushroom, but I've had steak and kidney too -- are awesome. An excellent place to pair a cheese with a beer too. Don't go expecting a full dinner, but I've intentionally gone to Mahar's for dinner and love what they have.
The hours are limited, but very easy to remember: 4pm to midnight, Monday through Saturday.
Mahar's is not for everybody. Seating is limited, music is either off or quiet, there's no pool or darts, etc. They can also be leery of groups of young people (Mahar's is between the city's so-called "student ghetto" neighborhood and UAlbany's main campus), but not excessively so: I first started going when I was an upperclassman myself.
Well done, assumed friend. Better than we were able to say it ourself. Why did we even take the time? We will endeavour to keep our faithful readers updated as we continue to make periodic visits to Mahar's and other fine establishments throught this region (and the world).
Note: On this particular visit, we must note that the standout beer was a Rogue Integrity IPA on draught. We have never seen this beer anywhere else. Sexy beer. It blew our mind. This is one reason Mahar's is always worth a visit.