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A Proper Lunch

An old-Albany scene can still be found at lunchtime at one of the city’s oldest eateries

 

One 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.

“Here’s how I would present this marketing plan to you.”

“This 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.

—Kathryn Lurie

klurie@metroland.net

Jack’s Oyster House is located at 42 State St., Albany. For more information about Jack’s, call 465-8854 or visit www.jacks oysterhouse.com.


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