PITTSFIELD -- I've made my way into J. Allen's Clubhouse Grille in downtown Pittsfield several times since it opened in January. I've gone there for girls' nights, for send-offs for friends, for large group gatherings and reunions and for a nightcap with a couple of good souls.
On Tuesday night, I decided to go there for a dinner break, around 6:30, to make my official take on it.
I like J. Allen's central location, at 41 North St. As its sister establishment, Patrick's Pub on Bank Row, knows, proximity to Park Square is always helpful. I was able to walk there Tuesday from The Eagle in less than 10 minutes, enjoying the setting sun and cool evening air.
One thing that troubles me about the location is the space itself. At 6,200 square feet, it's a lot of space for any business to fill. The first business in recent years to give it a go was Bobby Hudpucker's restaurant, which relocated there from a 3,200-square-foot space on East Street in 2007. The venture only lasted a few years.
Brulees Restaurant was the next tenant to move in during the summer 2010; It closed in February 2012.
Plans for J. Allen's began formulating that spring, with Patrick's Pub co-proprietor David Powell and his wife Shauna at the helm. J. Allen's is named for Powell's late grandfather, Jack Allen Powell.
Walking in Tuesday night, I looked around and will say that the place looks the best out of the three incarnations.
There are four distinct sections, indicated by wall color: The front section, a casual area with ample bar and high top table seating is an avocado green with panoramic views of television screens. The next section back is a dining area with chair and booth seating and off-white walls decorated with artistic photo print canvases of scenes like baseball fields. The section beyond that has maroon-colored walls and has a lounge feel with a pool table as its centerpiece. In the way back is a sort of recreation room filled with a half-dozen or so arcade games, including video games, Skee-ball and one of my personal favorites -- an air hockey table -- along with bluish-gray walls.
This layout shows J. Allen's is trying to offer something for everyone, whether you're a group of friends wanting to watch a game or a couple looking to dine out with the kids. It also means the place can be at risk of looking empty, particularly if you come in from the McKay Street entrance, nearer to the game room.
On Tuesday night, the back two rooms were empty, which is not unexpected given the day of the week. I went to J. Allen's after last month's Pittsfield Third Thursday celebration, and the whole place was busy.
On this night, though, the tables along the storefront were all occupied, as were more than half the bar seats. Though I went in alone, I ended up running into two groups of friends, with ages ranging from mid-20s to early-40s. There were a few families sitting in the dining room area, ranging from kids to grandparent-types.
I ultimately ended up sitting down for dinner at the bar with my friends Jim and Lee, who were finishing up some beers. J. Allen's, by the way, has a solid range of 20 taps with a rotating list of commercial and craft draft brews. This month's chalkboard list has a seasonal flair, with offerings like the gluten-free Downeast Cider, Brooklyn Brewery's Post Road Pumpkin and Samuel Adams' OctoberFest. The seasonal sangria special has also changed up this fall, featuring a mix of merlot, brandy and darker fruits.
In light of having a long night of work still ahead of me, I went with a cup of coffee and one of my favorite menu items, the Banh Mi sandwich ($11.25 total). It's a spicy chicken salad atop layers of cucumber planks, Monterey Jack cheese, matchsticks of pickled carrots and cilantro served on a lightly toasted baguette. The sandwich comes with J. Allen's signature side, a pile of French fries and a sprinkling of fried jalapeño slices. The presentation is simple and the portions are perfect, in my book. The sandwich is filling, but neither dripping with sauce or overstuffed with filling. The fries and jalapeños have flavor and aren't too greasy.
As for other foods, people I've talked with seemed to have mixed feelings. Build-your-own pizzas, burgers and salads are favorites, while the stadium-style nachos with liquid cheese on the side seem to be a dud. I overheard one guy sitting next to me at the bar saying he'd like the chicken noodle soup to be on the menu all the time.
Whenever I'm at the bar, I find the servers to be friendly, polite and prompt. On this particular night, I had Colin, who introduced himself to everyone at the bar and also promoted J. Allen's comment card seeking ways to improve.
While paying my bill, I listed a few suggestions on the card: Table service always seems a bit off compared to the bar. In the past, I've had multiple servers working at our one table, making it a bit confusing as to who to ask for things we needed and also deciding who to tip. Lighting also seems to be an issue. During my early visits to the place, the lighting seemed too bright for a night spot. On this night, it had a nice balance of dim-but-not-dark lighting, but every time the bar dishwasher was used (which is pretty frequently), the lights would flicker.
In talking with my other group of friends, who also filled out a card, we also liked the idea of having additional pool tables that were coin-operated, versus having a lone table that has to be rented.
Other than that, I think J. Allen's is a decent place, clean and casual with a modern, laid-back feel.
If it takes the advice it's currently collecting, the third venture in this historically fickle space might work like a charm for the long run.