We’ve visited well over 100 bars in the Adirondack Park on our quest for the best 46 bars in the Adirondacks, what we have termed as the 46 “High” Peaks. When we began our search, we didn’t have any preconceived notions about what would make a bar a 46-er. We have since chosen most of those 46. No two are exactly alike, and none has fit any absolute standard. A major factor in our determination, however, was that most people would feel comfortable at this bar.
That criterion works both ways, in that some may be too haughty for most people, inasmuch as some may be too divey. Honestly, there were very few too haughty. As we work toward our final reviews for our upcoming book, Happy Hour in the High Peaks, we hope to be able to convey what can be expected at each of these Adirondack bars. Each will offer varying atmosphere and amenities, but all have the potential for a good time.
What makes a good bar good is largely up to you! If you bring a positive attitude and an open mind, you’re most likely to enjoy yourself anywhere. If you’re unruly, unresponsive or unconscious, it just might not be any fun for anyone. Most of us go out to a bar to socialize. Admit it, we could all save a lot of money if we stayed home to drink, but we sometimes crave that interaction with others and the mystery of what we might encounter. Whether you live in the area or are just visiting, going to a nearby pub can bring about new friendships, new experiences and even an overall feeling that the world is still a good place and people are generally kind.
If you want to get drunk, stay home and get drunk! Even if you aren’t driving, drinking too much seldom leads to a good time for anyone. Even if you think you had a great time, chances are you won’t remember all the stupid s#!t you did. Drunken people put the bartender and the bar at risk and tend to become annoying in one way or another for those around them. You can go out and have a good time without getting drunk. If you start to feel buzzed, order something to eat. And, fer chrissakes, damn the diet! You need fatty foods to absorb the alcohol, so enjoy some delicious wings or mozzarella sticks and exercise it off tomorrow. If you’re someone who has to have a drink in your hand, order a water or non-alcoholic beverage between alcoholic drinks to prolong your stay.
1) Bartender/Staff – The bartender will often make the biggest impression on your view of a bar. A good bartender will improve your experience, never spoil it. If you happen upon a surly bartender or one with little personality, AND you aren’t the cause of the surliness, turn to the patrons around you or any comrades who accompanied you and expect no more than service from the bartender. You can still have a good time, and hope for a shift change during your visit. On the other hand, an energetic, conversational and attentive bartender can make a good experience great. We have come upon some who are sensational; sometimes in the most unexpected places. There are some very small towns in the Adirondacks, with limited populations. These bar owners are fortunate to have found such professional bartenders in some very remote areas. For more insight on good bartenders, see Part I – What Makes a Good Bartender.
2) Other Patrons – We have met so many nice people in these Adirondack pubs! With very few exceptions, most people are eager to make your acquaintance. Remember, they are there for the social experience too. Even if you are with a group of people, meeting someone new is part of the charm of your bar attending experience. As long as you avoid politics, religion and APA-related conversations, you’re likely to get a positive response to any opening remark. If you get the feeling the person next to you is a local, ask something about the area or offer a compliment about it; but always be sincere. Sorry, we aren’t going to get into helping you pick up men or women; you’re on your own there. For more helpful hints on meeting people, see Part II – What Makes a Good Bar Attender.
3) Atmosphere – Now that’s a very broad topic, covering everything from décor to cleanliness. Our point of view is that atmosphere isn’t everything, but it is something. If a bar has good staff and friendly patrons, the atmosphere matters a whole lot less. On the other hand, we’ve encountered great-looking bars with unfriendly staff and patrons. They didn’t make the 46-ers or even merit mention in our book. The diversity of atmosphere from one bar to another is immense, but each has its place. One bar on Lake Champlain has a Caribbean feel to it. Some have an Adirondack Great Camp appeal, while others are more hunting camp style. There are old inns, both authentic and remodeled. Many bars are nostalgic, seemingly locked in one era or another. Some have a theme, like sports or hunting or skiing. Many of them seem unable to stick to one theme, trying to please everyone who enters. If you’re going to have a theme, you should pick ONE. As Pam always says, “A coat of paint goes a long way”. If your entrance door or bathroom door is riddled with black handprints, throw a coat of paint on it. Maybe even add some color. If you have so much stuff collecting dust throughout your bar, maybe it’s time for a yard sale. If your bathroom doors don’t lock, fix them today! If you have duct tape on your barstools, maybe it’s time to invest in new stools. If you’re open seven days a week, 365 days a year, close for a week and spruce up the place. Reinvest, if not money, then time, in your business – it will improve your bottom line. For the bar attender, you know what you like, but be open-minded about atmosphere. Sometimes different just feels good and you can’t even say why.
4) Drinks – In the grand scheme, drink choices don’t matter. Craft beers are a crowd pleaser these days, but most people won’t walk out if a bar doesn’t have them. Happy Hour is nice to have, but it won’t make a bad bar good. Signature drinks are fun for all, as long as the bartender has the time to prepare. Some bars offer over-sized mixed drinks, a win-win situation. More mixer means more sobriety and the patron feels they’re getting more for their money. Many draft beer venues only offer pints. Not everyone wants that big of a drink, especially if they are trying new flavors. Offer choices. A bar that displays a large number of new flavored vodkas should have some recipe ideas on hand. Overall, like everything else, good value, or a perception of good value, does make a difference.
5) Food – We don’t review food, but we do have an opinion about it. Food is necessary to curtail the absorption of alcohol. The minimum pub menu is sufficient. There is at least one bar on our 46-er list that doesn’t offer food. We will note that in our book and suggest that you eat before you go there, or don’t stay very long. A tiny bag of peanuts, potato chips or a pickled egg isn’t going to be enough to deter inebriation, especially if the drink prices are low.
6) Entertainment – In the form of games, entertainment is a good aid in limiting drink consumption. It also acts to keep you more focused and alert. New friends can be made over a pool table. Quick Draw might be taxing to the bartender, but the added income to the bar and activity for patrons may offset the distraction. Musical entertainment, despite added cost, is still very popular in Adirondack bars.
Like any adventure into the unknown, attitude is everything. As we often say, “You get out of a bar what you put into it.” No matter where you end up, there is always potential for a good time. Read the bartender and clientele first, sit back and observe, then gradually expand your interaction and make it more about “them” than about “you”. We guarantee that with a cautious approach, you’ll be making friends and having fun in no time!