Berkshires After Dark Restaurant Review, as published in the Berkshire Eagle, September 15, 2011

My Rating: 4 “Mugs”

Warm pretzels served in the beer garden section of Hops and Vines.

Warm pretzels served in the beer garden section of Hops and Vines.

Hops and Vines Beer Garden & Brasserie is all about options. And to a twenty-something year old living in the Northern Berkshires, new nightlife options are a godsend.

My friends and I arrived around 9 p.m. on a Saturday to investigate. After taking notice of the swanky, cushioned outdoor seating area on one side of the path up to the doorway and the iron fire pit and Adirondack chairs on the other, we knew we were in for a treat.

Sure enough, as soon as we walked through the door, we had a decision to make. To our right, a casual beer garden setting, and to our left, an upscale brasserie setting which looks very similar to the restaurant that used to be housed there, Mezze Bistro & Bar.

Not being exactly dressed to impress, we quickly chose the beer garden side.

The “Hops” side of the restaurant has what I would call a “sophisticated pub” atmosphere. It’s the kind of place where you can sit with a table full of Williams psychology professors discussing new theories in their field to one side, and a group of rowdy hockey players to the other, which just so happened to be the situation we found ourselves in (being a recent graduate, I recognized both groups).

The decor is simple and fun and seems to be inspired mainly by the fact that the place sits on the edge of college campus, which is fine by me. Seating consists of long, shiny wooden tables and benches in the style of a beer hall, with a few high top tables in front of the bar. Overall there’s room for about fifty people in a very communal space. In between tables are posts covered in chalk board material, with all sorts of inspired doodles and inside jokes scribbled all over them (each table is set with a small dish of chalk for this purpose).

After leaving our own marks on the post nearest us, we set eyes on the holy grail: the beer pong table. Underneath two large flat-screen TVs to our right stood a custom-built table complete with ping pong balls and plastic Solo cups. Had it been more of a boisterous evening we would have been next in line to play. As it was, there were several older gentlemen sitting at the bar, however, and the music selection coming from the speaker in the corner was way to chilled out to be competitive to, so we vowed to come back to play soon.

Soon the waitress was over and we were faced with yet another series of options: the beer list. Hops & Vines has a small, but varied selection of brews on tap, ranging from local classics like Berkshire Brewing Company to fan favorites like Troegs.

We were giddy with the prospect of trying some brews. Our waitress, however, did not share our enthusiasm.

In fact, she wasn’t very educated on the beer selection at all. When I asked her about the BBC IPA, she described it as “Just another IPA.”

If there’s one thing I expect from a beer garden, it’s a knowledgeable staff. I’ll just leave it at that.

Waitress aside, the beer selection was high-quality and we enjoyed sampling each other’s pints.

One friend and I even opted to try the house lager (a risky decision), and were surprised to find it quite yummy, if not just a little bit bland.

What really sets Hops & Vines apart from existing pubs in the area is its bar menu, which consists of modern takes on classic comfort foods. Instead of cheap and greasy options like burgers and mushy nachos, they over small plates of well-made bar snacks and sides like homemade pretzels and Belgian ale macaroni and cheese (my personal favorite).

We ordered three plates to share, which just added to the overall community feel of the place.

Hops & Vines is a new establishment with a whole lot of potential. Come midterm time, I can just see the bar crawling with thirsty students looking for a break from studying.

I know of at least one former student who wishes it existed when she was at Williams. Perhaps now that she is part of the “real world” she will have to suck it up and venture over to the more formal “Vines” side… but for now she feels better knowing that she can play beer pong in a socially acceptable setting with quality beer not from a can. Cheers to that!

If you go…
Hops & Vines: 16 Water St., Williamstown, 01267; Tel. (413) 1372;
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 5 p.m. to midnight.

Style: Beer garden and brasserie
Dress: Casual and/or formal
Cover: None
Food: Modern takes on comfort food; American takes on French classics
Entertainment: TVs, background music, games.
Our rating: 1 mug, Run away; 2 mugs, Yawn; 3 mugs, Cheers; 4 mugs, “I’ll be back;” 5 mugs. “Round’s on me!”
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