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photo:Joe Putrock

Pretty People, Fancy Cocktails, and Corndogs
By Kathryn Lurie

In more ways than one, Noche isn’t your typical Albany bar scene

From the outside, the old firehouse at 895 Broadway in the warehouse district in Albany is unassuming and dark, and passersby might not even notice it but for the velvet rope in front and the small sign with its stylish typeface proclaiming that this is the new nightspot everyone’s been talking about: Noche.

The showpiece of the room, a 32-foot-long walnut bar, runs along the left wall. Large custom-made taupe-colored lanterns hang above the bar; red ones hang low over a row of horseshoe-shaped leather sofas, complete with centered tables, on the right. Walk across the concrete floor, past the fire-truck door mounted on the wall, past the large planted palms (on wheels, by the way—don’t lean on them) and past the bar, and you’re in the back of the room, in another seating area with more leather couches and a shag rug. A huge centerpiece work of art by local artist Tommy Watkins hangs on the back wall; red lanterns hang randomly from this section of ceiling.

Beautiful, svelte waitresses move gracefully around small clusters of people, taking orders and delivering delectable-looking drinks here and there. The clientele are refined and streamlined, dressed in elegant concert-black suits and stylish jeans-and-jacket ensembles.

Practically everyone wears black. The servers and bartenders sport the color from head to toe; the servers with the exception of black-and-white vertical-striped knee-length aprons.

Patrons are laughing and talking politely, sipping from highball glasses of colorful drinks and flutes of champagne. Bartenders chat amicably with their customers while taking their time to prepare delicate mixes of rum and lime or champagne and fresh strawberry purees, and then finishing the cocktails with just a smidgeon of grated coconut or a fresh slice of fruit.

Owner Matt Baumgartner (well-known among locals for his Lark Street establishment, Bombers Burrito Bar), is there. He moves swiftly from server to patron, from the bar to the DJ booth, back and forth, as if conducting his own private, subtle symphony to make sure everything runs perfectly. He greets his guests warmly and thanks them as they congratulate him on the beautiful new bar.

It is not an accident that the lounge has an exclusive air about it. There is a semi-strict dress code (trendy jeans are OK; sneakers are not), and its location is purposefully off the beaten downtown-Albany-bar paths of Lark Street and North Pearl Street.

Baumgartner saw a need among 30-somethings that wasn’t being met in Albany. “I wanted a place where adults could go party,” he says. “As somebody in their 30s, I felt like there weren’t a lot of places for me to go out that weren’t restaurants.”

Noche’s drink menu, while more expensive than many bars in Albany, is not exorbitant if you don’t choose to drink, say, Dom Perignon ($325). There are costly bottles and cocktails, but there are also $5 drafts and $8 martinis—prices that are fairly typical among restaurants in the area.

“I’m looking for a crowd that’s in their 30s and 40s and 50s and preferably people who are celebrating something, or who just want to relax and have a bottle of champagne or a glass of wine,” says Baumgartner. “People who are typically a little more upscale, who appreciate interior design and style. It’s not like a jeans-and-T-shirt and baseball-cap type of crowd, but everyone’s welcome. There are a lot of two-for-one specials and stuff like that. But it’s more of an upper-class type of setting.”

Feedback for Noche, which opened in December, has been mostly positive, Baumgartner reports. “The one comment that I hear a lot is that [patrons] feel like they’re in Manhattan, which is the best compliment you can give me.

“You see a lot of people [at Noche] who I feel had no place to go before that wasn’t a restaurant. There are tons of beautiful restaurants but there was no place where you could just go dance as an adult without being surrounded by kids.”

One woman in her late 20s says she chooses to go to Noche because it’s “a more mature bar. There aren’t annoying college kids here.”

Another woman wondered how often she’d be able to get to Noche. “They need a shuttle bus or something from Pearl Street.”

Baumgartner says that he’s heard a few similar complaints. “I hear people questioning the location,” he says. “If you don’t think that driving that little bit farther down the road is worth the time, then it’s not for you.” Plus, he points out, there are many perks of the location as well. For example, there are no neighbors to complain about noise, and there is plenty of parking.

A Spanish-influenced tapas menu is tucked into the drink menu. There are items designed to sate light hunger pangs, like baked brie with caramel and apples, and marinated olives. There are also some fun, kitschy items, like corndogs and deviled eggs. Corndogs? Yes, a “bouquet” of corndogs, from a holiday recipe courtesy of Baumgartner’s mother.

“It’s all in the presentation,” Baumgartner grins.


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