Canada has given us much to be thankful for – Leonard Cohen, “SCTV,” Molson, that sauce they had at Swiss Chalet, Feist, Timmy Ho’s, David Cronenberg – and also much to abhor. (I hate to be obvious, but yes, Nickelback, I’m talking about you.)
Jack Astor’s at the Walden Galleria? If you’d asked me whether it should be slotted on the “thankful” or “abhor” side, I’d have said , “Who cares?” Sure, I’d walked by it at the mall, and eaten there a handful of times. But I considered it no better or worse than any other mall eatery.
That was then. Following some 2012 remodeling, today’s Jack Astor’s looks quite different, and its bar can be called very, very pleasing, even a bit adventurous.
Now, perhaps a Canadian chain restaurant residing in the Walden Galleria – which is almost a biosphere of neighbors-to-the-north every weekend – is not particularly bold. (Buffalo is its only American outpost, incidentally.)
But the bar offers a beer list that rivals most pubs in Western New York, a long (31), varied group of selections that I found positively exciting.
The top three, for me, were from Hershey’s Troegs Brewing Co.: Hopback (on cask), Perpetual IPA and Mad Elf. I ordered the Hopback and IPA and thoroughly enjoyed both.
Other highlights of the frequently changing list included the oddly titled Oskar Blue’s Old Chub, Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout (my companion ordered two), and the French-Canadian Unibroue Éphémère Apple. Prices veer between $6 and $8, and I was happy to see Flying Bison’s Aviator Red on the menu. (Community Beer Works and Ellicottville have apparently made the list with regularity.)
If you are craft averse, don’t fret; your Blue, Bud and Coors are on tap, too. But it’s fun to dive into some unknown suds, and our bartender was a knowledgeable guide.
The beer would not taste as sweet if the atmosphere was deadening. (It would still be pretty good, but it’s true.) Happily, this was not the case.
It was a Tuesday evening, and the Sabres were taking on the Toronto Maple Leafs. My friend and I nabbed the final two seats at the crowded bar, and it’s a good thing we did. Late-arrivals were soon eyeing us greedily, and it was not because of our pleasant appearances.
There are plenty of tables in the bar area, too, but the folks who parked themselves there seemed to have done so after we arrived, and didn’t leave until game’s end. This was a hockey crowd, to be sure, and a pleasant reminder how enjoyable it can be to watch the Sabres with an audience of like-minded boozers.
The centerpiece of the bar is a giant nine-screen TV, a startlingly clear way to watch the game. More TVs line the side, and it was humorous to hear the sound of the this-one-again? commercials that accompany Sabres games positively blasting into the high-ceilinged space. (One, in particular, a Geico ad in which Washington Capital Nicklas Backstrom shoots 15 pucks into an empty net in 15 seconds, was so loud that its god-awful soundtrack resembled a Kidz Bop cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer.”)
One negative of watching a Sabres-Leafs game with a gaggle of mostly dudes is that some expletives are sure to be uttered, often far too loudly. Doesn’t bother me, but there were some kiddies around …
But that was also part of the Tuesday night fun. Everyone was friendly, from the Jerry Sandusky look-alike (eek!) and a rejected “Real Housewives” applicant to the college kids diving into their burgers.
Sure, the mood dipped every time Toronto scored, and the crowd thinned as the game went on. But with a beer list so epic and a vibe so pleasant, it was easy to forget that, yes, I’m sitting in a mall bar. That’s a real compliment.
And yes, poutine is on the menu.
Walden Galleria (second floor), 2000 Walden Ave., Cheektowaga (684-7693)
Scene: Friendly and happily noisy, with lots of TVs, lots of beer selections and the mall seemingly far away.
Specials: Happy hour starts at 4 p.m. and features $3.50 drafts and $1 off craft selections. Sabres game specials include buckets of Molson and Coors bottles for $10, and domestic drafts for $3.75.
On tap: The craft beer list changes frequently, but a recent visit featured 31 diverse selections, along with the usuals (Bud, Blue, Coors, Guinness).
Music: Visiting on a hockey game night, barely noticed music was played only during intermissions.
Hours: (bar) 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.