Beyond the “VT”: The Nail Creek Pub

By Scott Blosser ’12

It is easy to spend your entire Hamilton experience without ever exploring the unappreciated treasures of Utica. The convenience of having our own on-campus pub, along with a jitney to shuttle students ‘downtown’ to the VT or the Rok, provides few incentives for venturing too far from the Hill. This tired routine is both easy and comforting, but those willing to drive a little further down the road can find not only a superior bar experience, but a connection to the greater community outside of our cozy Hamilton bubble.

I set out to write an article about “better bars” in the area for students seeking more of a choice than just the VT or the Rok, but I found that one bar stood above the rest for its old fashioned pub feel and its commitment to serving great beer. The Nail Creek Pub & Brewery, named for the wandering creek that now flows beneath the Matt Brewery, stands alone as a place where owners and patrons take pride in the beer they drink and the sense of community that binds them all together.

Owners Chris and Tracey opened the Nail Creek Pub in 2008 and have sought to be a positive and revitalizing influence on the surrounding area ever since. The pub occupies a now charming space on Varick Street that was formerly a dilapidated apartment building. After five years of renovations and numerous construction headaches, the bar finally opened and served its first beer, fittingly, a Utica Club. The aged brick and carefully sculpted wood interior lend a timeless feel to the bar, and the spacious front porch is perfect for lounging with a drink on a cool fall night.

The most distinguishing features of the Nail Creek Pub are the commitment to serving the best-tasting beer and the down-to-earth atmosphere that welcomes all visitors. The bar advertises that it has the “largest selection of beer between Syracuse and Albany,” and one look at the beer menu confirms it. After sampling a Sixpoint Righteous Ale--a copper colored beer with a hoppy, rye taste--and a local Saranac Wet Hop IPA, I knew my search for a better bar was over. The impeccable service only enhanced the experience, and the affable bartenders at the Nail Creek Pub are quick to help recommend a beer to less discerning drinkers. Their passion for beer is evident, and they talk about beer with the sort of reverent admiration usually reserved for wine snobs, but without the pretentiousness or self-serving attitude.

Indeed the Nail Creek Pub is about as laid back as they come. It’s the kind of place where everyone takes care of each other and where friends gather to relax and enjoy their favorite libations while some forgotten classic rock song rolls along in the background. One patron described Chris and Tracey as “real people, just like the people who come to the bar.” They are extremely receptive to clientele and host regular events that include Traditional Irish Sessions on the first Tuesday of the month and $12 gourmet dinners every Wednesday night. Above all is an emphasis on community, and Chris and Tracey are set to open a new restaurant in Utica that will feature a seasonal menu of locally grown produce.

On a lucky night at the Nail Creek Pub you may run into Peanut, a neighbor of the bar who helped do the interior woodwork, swapping stories and sipping on either Utica Club or his second favorite beer, Utica Club Light. Other nights you might excitedly chat with Dave and Beth about the newest local initiatives in Utica while Dave pursues his quest to drink at least 100 Guinnesses and have his name engraved in the bar. Regardless of who you find at the Nail Creek Pub, you are bound to make some new friends while enjoying your favorite beer.

Sure the VT and the Rok may be the easy options, but what was ever worth having that didn’t require a little bit of effort? Our time at Hamilton is fleeting, so change things up on your next night out and try something different, because a community of great people and great service is waiting just down the road.