Name: The Ale House
Location: 3744 Vestal Parkway E., Vestal, NY 13850
Phone: (607) 729-9053
Cuisine: Bar snacks, sandwiches, pizza
Price: Expensive for beer, inexpensive for food
The Ale House is located near Binghamton University on the Vestal Parkway and offers an alternative to the Bud-and-Coors infested bar scene of downtown Binghamton. At Ale House you can find a good selection of microbrews and European beers, and the clientele is usually comprised of older people (townies and grad students) instead of undergrads, making for a welcome change of pace. They also have decent food, including sandwiches, pizza, and an allegedly famous cheese/cracker/onion appetizer. So is The Ale House "The Beer Joint of Your Dreams" as promised on the sign out front? Not exactly, but it's not bad for the occasional pint or two.
The beer selection is among the best in the area with 36 taps and a regular rotation of quality microbrews. You can regularly find offerings from the likes of Rogue, Ithaca, Southern Tier, Cooperstown, Middle Ages, Great Lakes, Erie, and Brooklyn. Good microbreweries no doubt, but very rarely do they get in anything too rare or too amazing. Compare this with Cyber Cafe West, where they usually have at least one tap with something truly awesome and hard-to-find. A beer nerd like me, I'm looking for something I can't get at Wegman's or Sam the Beer Man.
The Ale House does have the Passport system where you can get your name engraved on the wall if you drink 60 different brews with at least one from each country they offer. A good gimmick and a built-in way to guarantee people will make return visits.
Food is standard bar fare with a couple twists. They have this "famous" cheese and crackers appetizer served with onions and mustard. I'm not sure exactly what makes this famous, but it's passable. The pizza is not bad, though it certainly won't win any awards. Sandwiches are a little hit and miss. I would recommend the steak sandwich. They don't have a fryer, so staples like wings and fries are not a possibility, if you like that sort of thing.
If you're going to go to The Ale House, make sure to go early before the crowds hit. The place is very small, and totally understaffed. When busy, sometimes the simple task of ordering a beer becomes nearly impossible, and the bartenders can be on the snippy side. When it's not busy, the bartenders are pretty helpful and have been known to give good recommendations. I wouldn't classify them as "beer connoisseurs" or anything, but they're knowledgeable about what they serve. Prices also tend to run high, with most beers costing $5 or more per pint. Granted, the quality of what you're getting is much better here than most places in the area, so it's hard to complain too much.
Overall, The Ale House is a decent hangout for beer snobs in the Binghamton area, and can be a nice little place to hang out when it's not too crowded. The beer selection is good, but not mindblowing. Cyber Cafe West's selection is not as extensive, but is better in overall quality. Service is very good at times and very poor at others. The food is better than expected, but not great. It might not be the beer joint of my dreams, but The Ale House is worth the occasional stop if you're in the area.
Update (7/31/10): I stopped in the Ale House a couple days ago for a drink and found it better than I remembered it. Service was excellent and the bartender, Donna, remembered me and the people I was with by name, even though we hadn't been there in a year! Troeg's JavaHead Stout and Oskar Blues' Old Chub Scotch Ale on draft were worth the $6 apiece. Since we were there early in the evening, it was a nice, relaxed atmosphere that I found highly enjoyable.