When a national restaurant or bar chain opens at an area mall, it's usually not a big deal. But when Bailey's Pub and Grille arrived at Ballston Common in July, it took over the first floor of a former J.C. Penney department store -- a mind-boggling 17,500 square feet. The floor plan isn't the only thing that's oversized. Forty-eight televisions hang on the walls, ranging in size from 35 to 70 inches, and two huge pull-down projection screens are available for sporting events. All 38 draft beers are served in extra-tall pint-and-a-half glasses, as well as the usual 16-ounce measures. A 30-foot shuffleboard table sits in the rear, near 11 competition-size pool tables, three dart lanes and a quartet of golf video games, including two Golden Tees.
With so many distractions in such a cavernous space, Bailey's could easily have turned into a circus. But wander through the three rooms, which are decorated in classic faux-English pub style with stained wood and prints of fox-hunting scenes. Whether you're playing checkers on one of the inlaid tables near the bar or kicking back on a leather couch in the cigar-friendly "Green Room," Bailey's never feels crowded -- even when a couple of hundred people are hanging out on Saturday night. "We don't have tables jammed together," says managing partner Joe Kolegue. "That's just not us."
There is little pretension here -- Bailey's is a place to get a drink, watch the game and socialize with friends. Groups of all ages and dress codes come for after-work beers or to shoot a few games of pool. (Don't worry if you're not drinking, because designated drivers partake of free coffee and soda.) One of the few attempts at trendiness is an in-house music video channel, which provides an eclectic soundtrack; my friends and I heard (and saw) Beyonce, Los Lobos and Good Charlotte within 30 minutes.
Uncomplicated bar food and southern-style barbecue fill the menu, along with a selection of 103 draft and bottled beers, more than 20 wines and 6 full pages of cocktails and shooters. Not one of the drinks has a price next to it. Kolegue says this is because the same drink list is used for all of the chain's restaurants, and prices differ from state to state. It may be convenient for them, but I like knowing what my drinks cost before the bill arrives. (For the record, cocktails range from $4 to around $7, and beers start at $3.25 a pint for domestics and rise to more than $5 for imports and microbrews. You'll pay more for the 24-ounce drafts.) Speaking of cocktails, most mixed drinks seem weaker than elsewhere in the area, because the bartenders rigidly measure every drop of alcohol in a jigger before pouring it into your glass.
Beer it is, then, and if you want to explore the long list, stop by on Tuesdays. All pints are $2.50 from 4 to 9, and it's a great chance to try some of the more unusual brands, such as the wonderfully dark Spaten Opitmator from Germany or Sierra Nevada's malty Brown Ale, which doesn't show up at as many bars as its Pale sibling.
The waitstaff is generally helpful, despite the amount of ground they cover, but if you're not sitting in the front room, service can be a bit slow. Bailey's only has one bar, so everyone's orders go through the same bartenders, creating the occasional logjam at happy hour.
Kolegue is looking forward to football season, when Bailey's will show up to 11 games at once on its screens. He's talking to several college alumni groups about hosting game-watching parties. In the meantime, he's going to hang a broadcast schedule and map of the restaurant's televisions near the front door "so if someone comes in and says, 'I want to watch the Philly game,' they'll know where to sit," Kolegue says.
There should be plenty of room for everyone.
-- Fritz Hahn (August 8, 2003)