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Local bars off the beaten path

Drinking our way through Binghamton, one obscure pub at a time

For Binghamton University students, nightlife usually means going to the bars, waiting on lines and mildly enjoying yourself. We wanted to see if there is something more. Release’s own Darian Lusk and Erin Rosenblum decided to venture beyond the familiarity of State Street into “the path less traveled”: Binghamton’s lesser-known bars.

Emily Elizabeth Studios The Old Union Hotel

The mission: six bars in two hours.

The rules: After pleading with our car-owning friends to no avail, we decided to charter a taxi for our tour. Our driver, Goran, was less than keen on the idea. Even though we were paying a generous $70, he allotted us five minutes in each bar. For every minute over the five, we were to be charged an extra 50 cents. Game on, Goran. Game on.

Mad Monk’s Tavern: 138 Henry St.

Our tour of greater Binghamton began at 9 p.m. at Mad Monk’s Tavern, just blocks away from the all too familiar State Street. As we walked in, stares from locals quickly turned to vague indifference and we sat down at the bar.

Our bartender, Trevor, began dishing out the facts: Monk’s has been around for 20 years and is located on Henry Street, where the Parade Day parade begins.

This dive is popular during baseball season because of its proximity to the B-Mets Stadium, and hosts a fantasy football league that, according to Trevor, gets “pretty out of control.” The most popular drink at Monk’s is the Trevor Bomb, a drink named after our bartender, who had the idea to start putting vodka into cherry bombs.

With two dart boards in the front and a convenient location, Monk’s may be the perfect place to start your Parade Day or even a night Downtown.

What we drank: Two Trevor Bombs, on the house. Thanks, Trevor.

Relief Pitcher: 197 Conklin Ave.

The second stop on our Binghamton odyssey brought us down the road to Relief Pitcher, a sports bar that felt even more local than the one before it. The large front space held four circular tables, three of which were occupied by local residents in their 40s and 50s.

According to Kristen, a waitress, Relief Pitcher has been around for 30 years, and has a “different vibe than the Downtown bars.” With ample flat-screen TVs and a full menu that includes wings, Philly cheesesteaks and burgers, this is the bar to go to if you have a game to watch. But if that game is “How drunk can I get in one night?” then stay on the bench for this one.

What we drank: Two draft beers.

Abel’s Pub: 65 Rotary Ave.

Since we went five minutes over our allotted time at Relief Pitcher, we made sure to keep an eye on our watch at the third stop to escape the wrath of Goran. This previously lighthearted excursion took a turn when we walked into Abel’s, a darker side of Binghamton. The Westside dive was nearly empty, except for a few assumed regulars, and the walls were nearly void of decoration aside from an Abel’s T-shirt that really struck a chord, reading, “Alcohol, sometimes it is the solution.” This is a bar for alcoholics.

According to the bartender, Abel’s is a “Westside staple.” The bar serves no food aside from city chicken, and while they do not have a signature drink, the bartender assured us that they sell “a lot of Jameson.”

What we drank: Two shots of Jameson, naturally.

The Old Union Hotel: 246 Clinton St.

Now drunk off Jameson, we felt like we were fitting in more as we stumbled into the Old Union Hotel, a perfectly crowded piece of Binghamton history.

We were immediately welcomed into the crowd of local 20- or 30-somethings who congregated around the large central bar and the local band playing in the back. We squeezed our way to the front where Adam Kipp, the bar’s owner, gave us the scoop.

Established in 1888 and newly renovated in 2012, the Old Union Hotel boasts an extensive draught beer selection of trendy microbrews. Kipp assured us that students come in often for the wings that just claimed the crown at this year’s Wingfest.

According to Kipp, we came on the right day of the week. Every other Tuesday, bar-goers can sip on $2 cans of beer while enjoying live music, which is also offered on Fridays and every first Saturday of the month.

“It’s an awesome crowd, never any fights, great people,” Kipp said.

What we drank: Two draft beers.

What we should have eaten: 10 wings, one pizza, one pitcher for $20. What a deal.

Nip’s: 135 Park Ave.

At the recommendation of a local from the Old Union Hotel, we decided to venture to the Southside to Nip’s.

According to bartender Cathy Jackson, Nip’s has been a neighborhood spot for 40 years, boasting a full menu and weekly open mics and bands. Despite the seemingly provocative name, nothing set Nip’s apart for us. With a decent-sized space and an average number of locals, Nip’s is only a worthy spot if you live on the Southside.

What we drank: Jager bombs.

What we ate: Microwaved Nirchi’s, because it was the only thing we could order without going over the five minutes.

Shagunda’s: 73 CFJ Blvd.

As we drove away from the lights of Downtown Binghamton, our plans began to change. According to the always cooperative Goran, we were starting to take away from business as 11 p.m. rolled around. Goran had a pickup at the Greater Binghamton Airport, so to accommodate, we decided to ditch the Ale House on Vestal Parkway and change route.

While Goran picked up and dropped off his air travelers, we would wait at Shagunda’s in Johnson City. But as we pulled up, Goran asked for $50 before we exited the vehicle. Even in our current state, we realized that if we gave him the money, we were chancing never seeing Goran again and being stranded in Johnson City. So we told Goran to stay patient and honor the pact as we walked into our final destination.

Shagunda’s was almost completely empty, aside from an elderly intoxicated man named Scooter, who sat grandly at the end of the bar. Despite whispers from the bartenders to not listen to anything Scooter had to say, we gave him the chance to speak his mind. Scooter told us about the bar (“It’s a little more one-on-one”) and about his knowledge of BU from working maintenance, from what we could understand. If for no other reason, go to Shagunda’s for Scooter.

Owner Ricky Ray informed us that Wednesday night was the most popular with students, who came in for the wings, which won second place in this year’s Wingfest. “If the bar’s open, the kitchen’s open,” he assured us.

What we drank: $1 PBR cans (a special on Tuesdays).

What we ate: House wings, which were delicious.

Closing thoughts:

After Goran dropped us off back Downtown, we felt way too drunk for a Tuesday, but also enlightened about the bars Binghamton has to offer. Some of the places we saw on our journey were just too neighborhood-y for the average college student, but most are easily worth the visit. Just as some students think that Downtown cuisine stops at Lost Dog, many see Downtown bars as nothing more than State Street or even The Belmar. These dives are waiting for students to enjoy them, and many offer incredible wings and a more authentic Binghamton drinking experience. State Street only turns up at 1 a.m. anyway, so take the extra couple of hours to try something new.

The verdict: There are great bars beyond State Street. It’s time to put down the scorpion bowl, grab the Jameson and get drinking.