WILLIAMSTOWN -- Since spring has sprung, my work and social calendars have flung me all over creation.
Recently, there was a five-weekend streak of me being on the road. All of it was good fun, but I've missed the home I pay rent to live in, and just chilling in my own neighborhood.
So last Friday, when my friend Danielle asked if I wanted to meet up for drinks and some nosh at the Williams Inn, I was delighted by the invite to hang out in my own zip code.
If you're heading north, the Williams Inn is located on the green at the rotary of Route 7, at the start of the campus stretch of Williams College. It's the building with the white exterior and the rectangular columns in front.
It was previously owned and managed by Carl and Marilyn Faulkner, who retired in May, having sold the 124-room inn to Williams College. According to my research, the current inn was built in 1974, with the building's history dating back to 1912.
I've been by it countless times, but I haven't been there in years. In fact, it was 2007 when I last popped in there to review the inn's Tavern Lounge.
The inn's management has been taken over by the Stockbridge-based Main Street Hospitality Group. Formed by the Fitzpatrick family, it's the same group that manages The Red Lion Inn, The Porches in North Adams, and will head the new boutique hotel known as Hotel on North in Pittsfield.
Danielle, a seriously sharp foodie, told me that when the group took over in May, The Red Lion Inn's executive chef, Brian Alberg, took on the task of revamping the menu for the Williams Inn dining room and Tavern Lounge, which are open to the public. She said she's been following Alberg's posts on Instagram -- also posted on Twitter using the handle @ChefBrianAlberg and the hashtag, #billtown -- to see the changes and progress.
For those of you who have never been, there are two ways to get to the lounge. From the front, you walk through the lobby and almost straight back into the tavern, which has an open front. I parked around the back, where there is an ample number of spaces. It was somewhat busy, and then I heard some giggles and chatter of teenagers. Last Friday also happened to coincide with Hoosac Valley Regional Middle and High School's spring prom.
So I made my way past a small group of well groomed tuxedoes and gowns, and walked up the back steps, into the lobby, noted the "Great Gatsby" backdrop to my left and proceeded into the bar on my right.
It was just after 7:30 p.m., and the Tavern Lounge was primarily vacant, less the bartender and a guy (who could have been a stand-in for someone on "Duck Dynasty" Danielle and I later agreed) chatting over at one end of the bar. Danielle was sitting at the other end, enjoying a glass of red at the end of a busy Friday.
The room and layout was pretty much the same as I'd remembered it: A 1970s wood paneled floor; about 15 darker wood tavern tables and chairs spread across the floor; a piano in the corner, a television above the bar, and New England decor like wagon wheels and framed scenes hanging on the walls.
The big change was the bar itself. Seven years ago, I would've described it as being dated and rickety. Now, it has a bit of a more modern, yet still rustic feel. I couldn't quite pick up on why at first, so I referred to Alberg's Instagram photos, which confirmed it was the re-stocking of the liquor on newly refinished salvaged wood shelves. The bar has also been repainted, brightening up the place.
Another big change is the menu. Alberg has been working with Executive Chef Tim Manthei and the rest of the kitchen crew to give it a new look and flavor. There's a huge presence of locally sourced ingredients and hat tips to the area's farms and producers. I thought I was just going to enjoy chatting over my neat pour of Maker's Mark, but once the bartender (a super nice guy, whose name, I believe, was Mike), put the menu's in front of us we took several minutes to narrow down our choices.
Ultimately, we ordered a range of shareable plates. The roasted mushroom tart, was less a tart and more like a flatbread, with grilled naan bread serving as its base and a roasted tomato vinaigrette, and came with some greens. We also got the "Braised Lila's Mountain Lamb," which seeped into and flavored the white polenta and roasted parsnips it was served on. The dry-cured salami and Cricket Creek cheese plate (you can swap fruit for the meat if you're a vegan or vegetarian), also came with olives and crostini. These were all nicely plated and flavorful.
The fourth plate was, in my opinion, the most anticipated, but least impressive. It was billed as "mini housemade corn dogs with sweet pickle relish and mustard." I was picturing cute cocktail sausages dipped in corn batter, but they came out looking like one large hot dog that had been cut up, battered and fried and garnished with toothpicks. The sweet pickle relish was just a small pile of sweet pickle chips -- really tangy and tasty, but not a dipping relish. Instead, I took the mustard, a nice, spicy brown, and spread it on the crostini to eat with the salami and cheese. Good stuff.
It was a quiet night, which gave Danielle and I ample time for girl talk and relaxing. We watched the high school kids dash in and out of the lobby and listened to piano man Howard Levitz combat the Lady Gaga music with his take on a range of jazz standards, show tunes and some songs from the Beatles.
A few families and couples had popped in sometime after 9, and we left just before 10:30.
The Tavern Lounge still hasn't completely won me over as a hot spot, but its transition and promise is noted. The next time I head there, I'll be sure to check out the restored outdoor terrace for a cocktail among the gardens, and to try that Earl Grey Creme Brulee. It's nice to have the option and a new farm-to-table menu in my neck of the woods.
If you go to the Tavern Lounge ...
Tavern Lounge at Williams Inn , On-The Green, Williamstown, (413) 458-9371, www.williamsinn.com.
Dress: Business to clean-cut casual. Expect to see lots khakis and button-down shirts or sweaters paired with pressed jeans.
Food: Full bar and tavern menu available.
Entertainment: Singer-guitarist Jim Bayliss plays every Friday night around 8:30, a jazz or small acoustic act can be found on Saturday nights.
Our rating: 3 mugs
1 mug, Run away; 2 mugs, Yawn; 3 mugs, Cheers; 4 mugs, "I'll be back"; 5 mugs, "Round's on me!"
Your rating: You can rate the Tavern Lounge at Williams Inn at www.berkshireeagle.com/The413