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Where to Get the Best (Mostly) Free Food When Buying Drinks in the Capital Region

From "Cuomo Chips" to free pizza, these local bars and restaurants have made the most of Governor Cuomo's executive order.

Albany Pump Station's $1 "Bar Bites." (C.H. Evans Brewing Albany Pump Station/Facebook)

If you’ve gone out for drinks in New York any time since mid-July, you know the drill: You can’t get an alcoholic beverage without also ordering a food item. The rule was put in place by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo in an attempt to dissuade restaurant and bar customers from getting up from their table without a mask on or mingling with other customers. The thinking is that if customers have food to eat at their table, they’ll be more likely to stay seated at said table, preventing the potential spread of COVID-19.

The July 17 executive order was met with not so much backlash as mild exasperation from bar and restaurant owners, who, by that point, had become used to constantly adjusting their policies to meet the state and national governments’ ever-changing regulations. The day after the no-drinks-without-food rule was enacted, Bailey’s in Saratoga wrote a tongue-in-cheek message on their blackboard that read “Does the salt on my Margarita count as food? –Asking for the State of New York.” Slidin’ Dirty in Troy, on the other hand, posted a photo of a Bloody Mary loaded with a variety of fried toppings with the caption “Don’t mean to brag, but we were serving food with cocktails before it was required.”

The new rule has obviously put a strain on bars around the state, especially those that don’t normally serve a full menu of food, or that typically have many customers who come in for drinks only. But some bars have made lemonade out of lemons and are offering a variety of dishes for free or next-to-free for customers who purchase a drink. So, if you’re in the mood for a glass of something a little stronger than lemonade, but don’t want to break the bank on food, check out these eight establishments:

The photo of a Harvey’s receipt for “Cuomo Chips” that went viral this July.

Harvey’s Restaurant & Bar
Pretty much everyone in Saratoga—and the rest of the state, for that matter—has heard about Harvey’s Restaurant & Bar’s infamous $1 “Cuomo Chips.” Almost immediately after the executive order was put in place, a photo of a receipt that listed the dish, which is described on the Harvey’s menu as “a heaping portion of compliance” went viral, with national websites such as CNN, Fox News and the New York Post picking up the story. The state later revealed that chips don’t “count” as a meal, so the restaurant added salsa to the dish to make it one. You can now pick up a plate of Cuomo Chips and salsa for $2 at the Phila Street pub.

Albany Pump Station
In similar fashion, on July 18 the Albany Pump Station debuted its “Bar Bites,” a collection of $1 snacks customers can order when they’re at the restaurant/brewery for a pint. On the menu is fried mac & cheese with marinara, mozzarella sticks with marinara, pigs in a blanket mini corn dogs with cheese sauce, fried plantains with avocado aioli and fried ravioli with marinara.

The Night Owl
Slightly less glamorous than fried plantains with avocado aioli is The Night Owl’s house cheese sandwich, which comes free with every drink purchase. If you’re looking for something a little more filling and don’t care about dropping a few bucks, go with its authentic Cuban sandwich offered up by Alexander Gonzalez and Jorge Gomez of Altahavana Cuban Sandwiches on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Pint Sized
Speaking of free, simple food, Pint Sized has been offering customers free bowls of canned “delicacies” like chili and SpaghettiOs with the purchase of your first round of brews.

Wolff’s Biergarten
Breakfast is on Biergarten—that is, if you order a drink at the chain’s Albany or Troy locations (the Schenectady location is currently closed following the suspension of its liquor license on September 11 due to COVID-related violations). With the purchase of a beverage (mimosa, please!) on Saturdays and Sundays between 9am–1pm, customers will receive a complimentary Belgian waffle.

Putnam Place
Just because summer’s officially over doesn’t mean grilling season has to end. Stop by Saratoga’s Putnam Place for a boozy beverage, and get a hot dog for just $1 extra.

City Beer Hall
Did someone say free pizza? Albany’s City Beer Hall was ready for Executive Order 202.52 long before Cuomo made it a law. Since 2011, the gastropub has been offering free personal pizzas with the purchase of a draft beer or cocktail. The promotion was temporarily suspended when the Beer Hall reopened in May but was reinstated this July.

The Cellar
Pretzels, please! At The Cellar, one of Saratoga’s newer Caroline Street establishments, customers can order The Snack Pack: sourdough pretzel nuggets served with peanut butter, honey mustard, stone-ground mustard or chipotle sauce, for just $2. Three dollars will get you a shareable portion, or a Petite Cheese Board, which comes with assorted cheeses, mixed olives and pretzels.

Natalie Moore
Natalie Moore

Natalie Moore is the managing editor at saratoga living.

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