The 2013-14 Sabres might not be quite as dull and lifeless under Ted Nolan as they were under Ron Rolston, but watching the games on TV is still a frustrating experience, like playing Jenga or visiting the DMV.
However, the proprietors and staff of Amherst Pizza and Ale House still see game time as something worth celebrating. The establishment has gone all-in on Sabres euphoria, and believe it or not, it works.
They call it “Hockey Night in Amherst,” and it has led to large crowds at the intimate (if not exactly small) Ale House, located at a strip mall near the I-990. A sign on the wall trumpets the “Hockey Night” specials: half-price Molson pitchers and half-price medium pepperoni pizzas.
I love the line that accompanies the deal breakdown: “This special valid until the Sabres win the Stanley Cup.”
Hockey is definitely the decorating theme, with Sabres jerseys on every wall, and signs stating, for example, “Thank you Terry Pegula! YOU saved OUR team!” Other knick-knacks include pro football player Rob Gronkowski jerseys and Baby Joe Mesi’s trunks.
We visited during an especially dreary Sabres game, but the atmosphere was light and fun. If we had been lucky enough to see a goal, we could have watched red goal lights go off.
Servers are clad in hockey shirts, the menu is a mix of bar food and take-out options, and the beer, well, it’s certainly Ovechkin-level. (I mean that as a compliment.)
This is especially good news. Before visiting the Ale House, I asked a beer-geek friend for his thoughts. He had not visited in years, having been a bit turned off by the strip-mall aesthetic and, more specifically, a beer list he felt just did not compete.
However, the Ale House of today has a “what’s on tap” lineup that compares favorably to any Western New York bar. It’s lengthy and diverse, and in a very cool twist, they offer growlers to go.
The usuals are on tap (Molson, Coors, Blue Moon, Guinness). But there also is Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout, Wells Banana Bread, Green Flash West Coast IPA, Ellicottville Chocolate Cherry Bomb Stout, Shiner Bock and Weyerbacher Merry Monks’ Ale.
I opted for a Southern Tier Live Pale Ale to start, and ordered wings, which were quite good, but whose sauce seemed to consist only of Franks Hot Sauce. (I did order them hot, so that was my doing.)
The beer list and the atmosphere make for a pretty stellar venue for watching a game. I counted 14 TVs, and even with the noise level of the patrons, the play-by-play was blasting at a level that meant it was easy to hear.
A note for families: My wife and I brought our 3½-year-old, and he was pretty wound up after a busy Saturday. But the noise level of the restaurant/bar was ideal, allowing him to make as much noise as he wanted without disturbing any fellow diners and drinkers. I think.
Amherst Pizza and Ale House, then, ranks high on the local sports bar list. Just imagine how exciting “Hockey Night in Amherst” would be if the Sabres were actually good.
Amherst Pizza and Ale House
Where: 55 Crosspoint Parkway, Amherst (625-7100; www.amherstpizzaandalehouse.com)
Scene: An intimate, friendly sports bar that is especially hopping during Sabres games.
On tap: A lengthy list that changes often; recent selections included Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout, Wells Banana Bread, Green Flash West Coast IPA, Ellicottville Chocolate Cherry Bomb Stout and Southern Tier Live Pale Ale.
Music: Play-by-play is blasted during Sabres’ games, but during the intermission we heard songs like the Beatles’ “Michelle” (yay!) and the Eagles’ “Desperado” (no!).
Hours: Food service from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Late-night menu from 11 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; bar service open later every night.