old-Albany scene can still be found at lunchtime at one of
the city’s oldest eateries
of the first things you no- tice as you walk in to Jack’s
is the palpable sense of nostalgia that hangs in the air.
That, and a framed mid-1980s Esquire spread about the
restaurant suspended above the hostess desk, written by local
author William Kennedy. The prominent display of the magazine
feature reinforces the impression that you have just entered
an important place, a place with substantial history.
Jack’s Oyster House, located at the bottom of State Street
in downtown Albany, was established in 1913 by oyster shucker
Jack Rosenstein. The restaurant has remained operated by the
same family all of these years (in fact, it’s the oldest restaurant
in Albany continuously run by one family, according to albany.com),
and now is under the direction of Jack’s grandson, Brad (who
eventually will pass it on to his son, Jack).
The décor of the place is very old-Albany: black-and-white
tiled floor, dark wood, leather-upholstered booths. The tables
are covered in white linen, the glasses sparkle, and the silverware
is polished. One can just imagine Roaring ’20s-era politicos
meeting in the then-smoky dining room, sipping olive-adorned
martinis, making backroom deals over plates of clams casino.
The nostalgic sensation is definitely not an accident: the
walls are hung with large black-and-white photographs of Albany
from the early 20th century, and Brad Rosenstein has been
quoted as saying, “We try to re-create the way things were
in the 1800s.”
On a weekday I decide to grab lunch at Jack’s to see if the
restaurant’s midday mealtime still smacked of the lunching
days of yore. My colleague and I walk into the full, buzzing
dining room and are quickly seated at a table along the right-hand
wall. Servers, efficient and cordial, abound. They’re everywhere!
In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people working
the floor of a restaurant at once. I figure this is probably
how Jack’s is able to boast impeccable service—just fill your
floor with staff and every request can be filled in an instant.
And it’s a good thing, as the regular clientele know what
to look for in service. Jack’s has long been known to cater
to politicos and businessmen. With their prime downtown location
(within walking distance to most of the state offices and
downtown businesses) and menu of classic meals, it’s easily
a top destination spot for these professionals to lunch.
The noise level of the restaurant is loud—the floor
is tile and the ceiling is very high, and all the discussion
occurring at once makes for a downright racket. However, here
and there, some blips of conversation escape over the din.
Phrases of political and business jargon float in the air
like cartoon bubbles above the heads of middle-aged, well-dressed
men and women.
how I would present this marketing plan to you.”
is a drag on the business!”
Men in blue shirts shuffle through briefcases and produce
official-looking documents filled with tables and pie charts,
which they pass to each other and pore over assiduously.
You get the feeling, sitting there, that very important things
are being decided all around you, and that you should feel
honored to be privy to the bits of banter that land in your
ears, like “If you do your business right, you can
make a profit,” and “It’s all about strategy.”
My companion and I exchange amused glances every now and then
as we hear overly enthusiastic chitchat accompanied by fists
thumping tables: “It’s not market strategy!” and “It’s
all the red states’ fault!”
There’s a table close by with four men sitting, leaning in
so their heads are close together, discussing critical things
and looking at each other meaningfully. “The average company
runs at 25 to 30 percent of that!” one of the men asserts.
A friendly waitress named Sarah tells me that she estimates
about three-quarters of her lunch customers work for the state
in some capacity. Though she acknowledges that she gets some
well-known customers at her tables once in a while, she says
that she’s usually unable to identify many since she’s not
from the area, and she doesn’t know many local political figures.
And though iced tea is the most popular lunchtime beverage,
Sarah confides that some judges who frequent the restaurant
very much enjoy their midday martinis—as it should be, and
as it always has been.
Jack’s Oyster House is located at 42 State St., Albany. For
more information about Jack’s, call 465-8854 or visit www.jacks