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Brews and blues Wide selection of beers to tap your toes to in Alternative Brews

The folks at Alternative Brews have plenty of purpose for pride. They have a ridiculous selection of bottled beers and stand on a lonely list of public establishments in the area in which you can smoke legally.

If you're a staunch smoker, you'll be welcomed here with open arms as a freedom fighter. Upon arrival, my sister asked the forcefully friendly barkeep, "Can you smoke cigarettes in here?"

"Please do!" he beamed, and quickly set an ashtray on the bar in front of us. He seemed disappointed when neither of us lit one up, a deed that set us in the minority in the place. If you're a fan of the ban, this place will remind you why.

Opened in 1995 as a licensed cigar bar, Alternative Brews was grandfathered in to allow smoking when the ban arrived, though it cost them the ability to prepare food in-house. Though not their only claim to fame, it makes for a great point of pride, and honestly, could they have been making anything better than the Bocce's pizza that they dish out for free during "Monday Night Football"?

The big draw here is the bevy of beers they boast, with a solid draft selection that includes two delicious custom brews -- Gargoyle Pale Ale and Hazelnut Brown -- and a double-sided menu of bottles that would take months for even a regular to get through.

This is a place to sip, not slug, so if $4 a bottle scares you off, go mess with mid-card beers somewhere else. They reach far for the finest and feature the hometown heroes, from Abita and Anchor Steam to Southern Tier and Syracuse, and the sight of so many Saranacs for $3.25 -- somehow among the mass-produced also-rans as the cheapest bottles -- provides a rare moment for your wallet and taste buds to two-step together.

The walls of the modestly sized, low-roofed, rectangular room celebrate beer and those who celebrate with it with posters, plaques, enough empty bottles to feed a family of four with the deposits and a wall of fame that includes such distinguished groups as Survivor Series, Around the World and the likely dangerous On the Clock Club.

Live blues is also an honored tradition here, but the scene breeds the set-to-shuffle booze bands that homogenize the form into toe-tapping party music. The musicians are typically solid if not spectacular, but if you're sitting in Amherst with a cigar and a $4 beer, B.B. King might ask, "How Blue Can You Get?"

Beer tastings are frequent and fun, and they offer a nice deal for weekend private parties with pizza and wings from Amherst Ale House. With the Sabres surging, this and every other Buffalo bar could do well to come up with a deal to watch games there.

On second thought, keep the focus on the Bills -- it helps sell the blues theme.


Alternative Brews

3488 Sheridan Drive, Amherst

Scene: Casual confines catered to connoisseurs and cloaked in smoke.

Music: Shuffle-heavy booze bands on weekends, blues pro-jam on Wednesday.

Dress code: Suit yourself.

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