Syracuse, NY (and surrounding suburbs)
Syracuse is a city in central New York, an area of New York also described as the more general "Upstate New York" by New York City-centric people who consider everything North of Manhattan to be "upstate." Located right off of I-90, the city is a fairly decent beer pit stop. Most of the city's beer destinations are located in or around an area of downtown Syracuse known as Armory Square, which is the nightlife area of the city located far enough away from Syracuse University to avoid getting too much of a college crowd.
- Empire Brewing Company (map): Empire Brewing Company, located in Armory Square, serves food that is a couple steps above regular pub fare, has roughly 10 house-made beers on tap at any given time, and is pretty cheap all around. Typical entrees run you $10-$12 and all regular strength beers are $5 a pint. Most of the beer is currently brewed in-house with the exception of a few guest taps. However, they've recently started contract brewing in Brooklyn. They've talked about bottling their beer for years now, but have yet to start actually doing it. Servers and bartenders are generally very attentive and knowledgeable and even though the place can easily get packed, the location is large enough that wait times are usually pretty reasonable.
You'll notice when you walk in that there are GABF awards for their beers plastered all over the walls. You'll also notice, if you look closely, that not a single one of these awards is from any point after 2002. It was around this time that the owner attempted to expand out with a location in neighboring Rochester, NY which was apparently such a disaster that the entire company went under. They resurfaced and reopened several years later with worse beers. None of their offerings are particularly bad, but nothing is especially great, either. It's hard to complain too much about the beer when it's as cheap as it is.
The food itself is usually quite good, however in the last 6 months or so I lived in Syracuse, I noticed a significant decline in the quality. I'm not ready to write off the entire food experience mainly because I feel like I could have just gotten unlucky the last couple times I went there. Overall, definitely somewhere you'll want to visit
- Syracuse Suds Factory (map): Another brew pub located in Armory Square, literally two doors down from Empire Brewing Company. I've never heard even remotely good things about this place. Everything I've heard about the food and beer has ranged from god awful to terrible. Around a year ago their brew master left and was replaced by the head of the local Syracuse homebrew club, but I never heard any good things about the beer even after he took over. I'd avoid this brewpub.
- Middles Ages Brewing (map): Middle Ages Brewing is located just outside of Armory Square and almost entirely brews English style beers. I've personally never had anything from them that I thought was worth the money. Their Wit is fairly ubiquitous throughout the city, despite the fact that it tastes like straight up water. I'd honestly drink a Blue Moon or Shock Top before I ever drank that again. They do, however, give tours if you're still interested in trying them out.
- Alto Cinco: (map) Alto Cinco is an American-Mexican restaurant located on Westcott Street, which is about a mile east of Syracuse University. In my opinion, Alto Cinco is not only the best food destination in Syracuse, but also the best beer destination. It's an extremely small location - only seating about 25 people at tables and an additional 8 or so at the bar - but whoever owns the place is extremely devoted to constantly getting interesting beers rotating through their 5 taps. Prices on beer and food are extremely reasonable and the bartenders usually know what is on tap pretty well. The food - mostly huge fucking burritos you need to eat with a knife and fork - aren't traditional Mexican food by any stretch of the imagination. The place is run by a bunch of hippies, so expect a lot of vegan options, but you can swap out most tofu with chicken or beef. I really can't sell this place hard enough, a definite must visit.
- Dinosaur Bar-B-Que: A true Syracuse classic, Dinosaur BBQ is fairly well known around New England and the Mid-Atlantic. Located just outside of Armory Squre, if you're visiting Syracuse for the first time and don't expect to ever return, Dinosaur is a definite must-visit. Their beer selection is far above decent, but don't expect any surprises. Honestly, the food is just amazing.
- The Blue Tusk (map): The Blue Tusk is located directly across from The Empire Brewing Company in Armory Square. They have roughly 40 beers on tap and also make and serve artisan sandwiches. 40 taps sounds more impressive than it is when you consider that 90% of their beers rarely get moved out of rotation. This is by far the most expensive bar in Syracuse, do not expect to spend anything less than $7 per pint for anything that isn't a macro beer. Additionally, expect to pay $1 / oz for any Belgian style beers they might have on tap; even common ones such as Duvel or any regular Ommegang offerings. The beers themselves are rarely anything interesting and the occassional interesting beer is usually too expensive to bother purchasing.
The food, on the other hand, is actually very good. The sandwiches are made to order and are usually interesting combinations of ingredients. The Bonzai Beef in particular (only available on Fridays) is especially amazing. Overall, I'd recommend you only visit if you can do so on a Friday.
- J. Ryans (map): J Ryans is located in a section of the city known as Hanover Square, roughly 15 minutes walking distance from Armory Square. With 70 something taps, it probably boasts the largest, most diverse and unique tap list. This would all be great if the place itself wasn't such a shit hole. I've had to ask for refunds on beers I've bought there no less than half the times I've visited because they never, ever seem to clear their tap lines. The building itself used to be a MacGregor's, and the signature grossness and lack of charm carried over when J Ryan's moved in. The food they serve is below-average pub fare, and not worth your time. If you're desperate for a place to visit, you can give it a shot.
- Bryne Dairy (map - newish location, not on google): A central New York chain of convenience stores, this gas station (yes, a gas station) in the Syracuse suburb of Liverpool is without a doubt the best beer store in the city. Large inventory, quick turnover, good prices and management that very clearly loves their beer. The absolute best beer store, no doubt about it. If you plan on buying bottles, visit Bryne Diary.
- Wegmans (map): Wegmans is a chain of grocery stores based out of Rochester, NY with locations all over the north east. Until the Bryne Dairy opened up in 2011, the Dewitt Wegmans was the single best beer store in the city. If you've never been to a Wegmans before, definitely visit, since Wegmans is the single best grocery store in existence. If you're only looking to buy beer, visit Bryne Dairy.