Columbia County’s Oldest Bars Still Have A Lot to Offer, Even Good Grub!
By Jamie Larson
An old Columbia County bar can be a thing of great beauty if you look at it from the right angle. The squeaking door, the dim glow of red-brown light over a long plank of wood, worn-in patches from the thousands of familiar forearms and perspiring tumblers. Holdouts from the days of the county’s blue collar heritage, some of these old bars (and there are quite a few) seem to still capture the soul of the rural county.
While some of these great watering holes survive primarily on their bountiful nostalgic charm and loyal regulars alone, others have also been able to remain relevant and, it may come as a bit of a surprise, serve up some really great pub grub.
The Main Street Public House
12 Main Street
If you hear people in Columbia County say they’re going to “The Pub,” they’re talking about The Main Street Pub in Philmont. For 80 years, the little town’s bar has resided at 12 Main Street. In 2005, The Pub was bought and renovated by owners Elizabeth Angello and Matt Herman. The Northern California transplants have somehow managed to bring their own flair to the joint while maintaining the spirit of the building’s history, which dates back to 1898.
“Someone said that they liked that we didn’t ‘take the funk out of it,’” says Angello with a laugh (pictured above). “And the guys that used to come and drink Coors Light really like the micro brews.”
Along with the higher-quality, and often local, micro-brewed beers, Angello has also smoothly bridged the gap between old-school Columbia County charm and the modern food movement with a deceptively simple menu of food elevated by meat and produce sourced locally and responsibly.
The Main Street Pub has also become a great venue for live music and an integral part of Philmont’s vibrant town revitalization projects. Its rebirth is a great example of how a local institution can modernize while still honoring the past that made it a legend in the first place.
What to drink: Great micro brews and mixed drink specials. It’s been said The Pub has the best margaritas in the county.
What to eat: seasonally inspired specials, burgers, complex salads of super-fresh local produce, and don’t forget Sunday brunch.
Jackson’s Old Chatham House
646 Albany Turnpike
Old Chatham, NY
“You’ve got to serve good food if you want people to come out here,” says Leya Jackson of the out-of-the-way bar she runs with her husband Barry Jackson.
The restaurant/tavern has been in the Jackson Family for 70 years and the history is on the walls and in the dark wood beams that span the ceiling. There’s a hunting lodge aspect to Jackson’s, which is fitting since every October in front of the Old Chatham House a priest comes for a traditional blessing of the hounds. The scene looks little different than it would have on the same spot 150 years ago, hunting dogs barking beside mounted men and boys in tails and top hats.
What to Drink: Genesee is the regular’s choice, but they also carry local beers and a full bar accommodates. After dinner, try a Billson: White Crème De Menthe and a splash of Red Velvet.
What to eat: The menu for the tavern, as well as the large dining room in back, ranges from $7 burgers and barbecue to sophisticated seafood and French cuisine. Regulars say you have to try the stuffed mushrooms.
Peint O Gwrw
36 Main Street
Pronounced “Pint O Groo,” this strange quasi-traditional Welsh pub is the youngest bar included on the list. Established in 2001 by Thomas Hope, its shear old-world strangeness and the camaraderie that’s built up amongst the pub’s clientele begs its inclusion. Peint O Gwrw might have well been in Chatham for a thousand years rather than a dozen. The walls are dark wood, every inch festooned with artifacts, coats of arms, signs, paintings and… taxidermy… lots and lots of taxidermy of all sizes, animal types, and craftsmanship. Kind of strange, yes, but vital to the entrancing nature.
The menu is fitting as well, blending traditional Welsh pub fair like fish and chips (they even make haggis on special occasions) with well-crafted staples and inventive specials that jump all over the culinary map.
What to drink: Guinness, or whiskey, or both.
What to eat: By far the most inventive menu item, that just works, is the Kimchi Burger. East meets West at a Welsh tavern surrounded by taxidermy. Just give up and enjoy yourself.
The Turnpike Inn
1440 Route 66
It’s easy to miss The Turnpike Inn flying down 66 between Hudson and Chatham. But you’re missing something ripped from time. The weathered bar, with its pool tables and legal smoking lounge in the back, has become less patronized over the years as Chatham has become more developed, but there are plenty of reasons to stop at the bar that Madeline Blasko bought with her late Husband Donald in 1977 when they moved up from the Bronx.
Beside its well-worn charm, what keeps the Turnpike going is Blasko’s food. Pizza, wings, burgers, all the usual greasy stuff, but for some reason better out of Blasko’s kitchen. She says it’s so good because she learned to cook as a housewife, not in a commercial kitchen.
What to drink: Genesee Cream Ale on tap. Where else do you see that? Nowhere.
What to eat: Pizza, some of the best around, or the Big Bad Don Burger with pepperoni and tiger sauce.
The Iron Horse*
20 S. 7th Street
It was the dead of a cold winter in 1994, when scenes for the Paul Newman film Nobody’s Fool were shot at The Iron Horse on South 7th Street in Hudson. The production needed a real workingman’s bar, and they found one in an old gray and green hole-in-the wall beside some freight tracks, which, since the 1800s was known as the Stage Inn. (The bar’s owner, Frank Martino, and his regulars liked the Iron Horse sign that was put up for the movie so much that they kept it.)
The bar was originally an inexpensive inn for farmers when they’d make their monthly shopping trip into Hudson. The old stable is still attached to the back of the bar off the alley. Martino says he doesn’t believe the bar closed for prohibition but that was well before his father bought the bar in 1954. Inside the Iron Horse, the bar itself is a finished slab of natural wood, knotted and wavy, and the walls are shingled and dotted with photos and posters from the film. Other films have shot scenes there as well, including Ironweed and the more recent Cake Eaters.
The movies always came to Martino. He never sought them out. There’s something iconic about the Iron Horse that anyone can see as easily as a Hollywood location scout. At the Iron Horse there’s no pretension and no irony. You can drink in cathartic silence or dive into the histories and fish tales told by the Hudson regulars elbowed to the bar after another game of pool.
What to drink: a split of Budweiser. The small, seven-ounce bottles are a great throwback and two cost only $4. That’s 14 ounces for less then most bars charge for 12. There’s a full bar, too, but don’t get too fancy.
What to eat: Nothing. There are chips and pretzels, but drinking and history are what bring you here. Eat with your ears.