The border that exists between the states of New York and Massachusetts is a thin, nondescript strip of land with no border guards
or checkpoints. When it comes to beer, however, the line of demarcation that separates the Empire State from New England is significant
in that it is an endline of sorts for many of the Bay State's more lesser known offerings.
With an afternoon to kill, Javen and I decided to break out the passports and and cross from New York's Capital District into Western Mass to scope out what our fine state might be missing out on.
Enlisting my sister Mary Katherine and brother-in-law Scott, we headed to Lanesboro, Mass., and Ye Olde Forge, a small, charming colonial-style tavern. At the entrance, a small, inviting dining area lies straight ahead. There isn't very much seating, but enough to accommodate the crowd that was there on a Saturday afternoon.
Scott noted that the bar "feels like a place Paul Revere would have drank in." Indeed, the bar imparts a very colonial feel, with lots of wood and brick. The whole vibe of the place is very old-timey and authentically New Englandy. The walls are very ornate, with cardboard coasters of beers you've never heard of adorning nearly every square inch of wallspace.
We were told by the hostess that there would be a 6-7 minute wait, so we headed to the bar. We noticed about a dozen taps, many with offerings not often available on tap in New York State. On tap were such diverse brews as Lagunitas Lumpy Gravy, Mars Xmas Bock, Boulder Buffalo Gold, Great Divide Hiberator and Berkshire Brewing Lost Sailor. Javen and I tried the latter, a nice roasted English IPA with the vibe of an Extra Special Bitter.
Another impressive element of Ye Olde Forge is its two full coolers of diverse and sometimes obscure bottles. Usually when you see such tall coolers, they are filled with Molson and Michelob Ultra. To see the fridges full of Fullers ESB and Franziskaner Dunkel-Weisse warms the heart on a cold day.
Once seated, we scoured the menu filled with a good selection of pub fare. Since Javen had read about the wings, we started with a dozen of them, which were deceptively spicy. Jables enjoyed the Cup of Chili with cheese (only $3.50), and was even more impressed by the presentation. It was the right combination of spicy and sweet, he noted. I had the Turkey sandwich on focacci, which was moist and really delicious. The food received positive reviews all around.
There were a couple missteps (the server seemed slightly annoyed that we were there, she brought me the wrong beer, and Scott got a slight hassle due to having a perfectly valid NYS driver's license), but nothing to sour a very positive experience. We all noted that we would spend 4-7 nights a week here if we lived anywhere near it.
A fantastic place that you have to know about -- it's off the beaten path a bit, so you don't just end up there. On Route 7 in Western Mass., about 5 miles north of Pittsfield, and maybe 10 miles south of Williamstown. Because of the latter, this is a big Williams college hangout, replete with beer club mugs hanging all over the place to canonize the personal acheivements of so many drunk college students. Kind of a weird parking situation -- there is some parking just off the road next to the place, which is a bit precarious due to its proximity to the 55-MPH highway. There is a large lot down a small driveway and behind the building, though, and on Friday and Saturday nights, it's typically packed. Upon entering, you see about a 14-person bar running the right length of the place, a dining area with about a dozen or so tables running the length to the right, and a divider in the middle kind of like a picket fence. A narrow walkway at the back leads you to a back room with about 8 more tables, some for larger groups. There is an outdoor deck that is open in the summer, which here lasts from about late June to early Sept. Behind the bar is the wall of coolers, containing a fairly impressive bottled selection -- I think they claim 200 or so. There are also a few towers scattered about housing a total of 8-10 drafts. The bottled list is divided out by brewery name, and while it contains a few gems, it is mostly three or four decent selections from regional micros and the like. They are particularly strong on Unibroue beers for some reason, and featured the usual suspects, plus the new 15 Anniversary, Chambly Noir, Blanche de Chambly, as well as a $9.99 closeout on the Unibroue Edition 2004. The tap selection is a nicely chosen array of styles and breweries. Standouts included Clipper City's Loose Cannon Hop Ale, Geary's Winter Ale, Lindeman's Framboise, Corsendonk Pale Ale (you often see the brown, but not so much the pale), Sea Dog Blueberry, and Berkshire Brewing Steel Rail Pale. I didn't take notes, so I can't remember the rest, but suffice to say there weren't really too many clunkers -- maybe a Guinness and Magic Hat #9 were the closest. I had a Clipper City, Geary's Winter, and a Corsendonk Pale the last time I visited, and all were outstanding and fresh. The really great thing about this place is the food. It's slightly inventive pub grub, but large portions, fair prices, and well done. The cajun etoufee with shrimp, chicken, and andouille over rice is outstanding, as are the wings (pretty much all the wings around here are good -- but these are truly outstanding. As good as any in Buffalo). The beer gal had a "Vienna" sandwich, which was open faced roast beef, caramelized onions, swiss, and au jus, served with fries, and it was also delicious. I've had the burgers before, and can vouch for those as well, and they have an array of interesting appeteizers such as butternut squash quesadillas, shrimp and smoked sausages, etc. The fish and chips plate is the size of my head and delicious. A very convivial atmosphere and friendly, attentive, and fairly knowledgeable bartenders put a cherry on top. If you are ever in the area, you must visit. Makes a fine one-two punch with Pittsfield Brew Works just down the road.
Ye Olde Forge Restaurant 125 North Main Street, Lanesboro. Phone: (413) 442-6797.
Hours: Daily from 11am to 10 pm.
Prices: Appetizers $3.75 to $8.95; soups $1.99 to $3.95; salads 75 cents to $8.50; burgers and sandwiches $3.25 to $8.99; dinners including pasta, seafood and sirloins $6.50 to $15.95.
Wine and beer: Many kinds.
Handicapped accessible. Noise level: On the deck, sounds off the water range from quiet to passing boats and recreational devices.
Sept. 1, 2004