When I walked into the magnificently restored Pan-American Grill & Brewery on a recent Friday evening, I felt like a tourist in my hometown. My husband, Dan, and I had taken a quick walk-through of the Pan-Am, located inside the Hotel @ the Lafayette, in July shortly after it opened. Duly impressed, we made a note to drop in for a few cocktails and check out one of the new destinations in our ever-changing downtown landscape.
To say the place is massive is an understatement. The long bar area and dining room that extends to the back of the building into the "Mural Room," was once the former Lafayette Tap Room. There is a rustic-elegant design, surrounded everywhere by incredibly shiny rich wood with tastefully inlaid designs on the wall and a fabulous historic ambience recalling Buffalo's history. To the side is a restaurant that extends into the lower and upper mezzanine. Upstairs, are two banquet areas, each with its own courtyard.
Maybe it was the intoxicating aroma of the freshly made popcorn when we walked in that prompted us to pick a couple of chairs at the long rustic bar. I hung my purse on the hooks underneath and settled in. A pair of flat-screens featured the Bills preseason game, sloppy gridiron action that offered yet another reason to tip a few. Mirrored shelving behind the gleaming bar reflected a wonderful selection of spirits: whiskeys, rums, scotch, bourbon, gin, you name it.
As you would expect, given the name, a full brewery is on the premises. The Draught Board menu features Roosevelt Red, the Pan-Am's signature brew that delivers "rich malty flavor with a mild toasted nut presence." The "Lake Effect," light and coppery, is a popular pale ale, while the "Street Brawler" offers a kick of roasted barley flavor and Irish-style Oatmeal Stout. "Wild Ox Wheat," a traditional German beer and rotating seasonal and specialty brews are also available; drinking vessels range from 10 ounces to 100!
Since neither Dan nor I would ever be mistaken as big beer drinkers, I opted for something with legs instead of a head. Our lovely and youthful bartender, Kristy, as efficient as she was friendly, teed up a sampling of Pinot Noir and a spicy Malbec. For just $7, I chose the slightly smoother Pinot.
Dan was tipped off that Kristy made a mean Mint Julep. Before he returned with a bowl of that free popcorn, she had presented him with some muddled magic, a Mint Julep made with Buffalo Trace bourbon ($8). "No wonder they're always smiling at the Kentucky Derby," he said. I always thought it was the hats!
Our hunger pangs needed to be addressed, so we ordered the Bay Scallop Appetizer, a nice change of pace from the ubiquitous crab cakes seen on so many menus. Kristy delivered two hand pressed large scallop discs drizzled with red chili aioli and wasabi mayo ($9.25). Even the plates had a Pan-Am theme: 10 different photos are imprinted from the 1901 exposition in our fair city.
As we marveled at the gorgeous restored surroundings, featuring that gleaming wood and period lamps and accessories, we chatted up a young couple, Marissa and Steve, celebrating their upcoming wedding. They were enjoying some vintage cocktails along with an enormous pepperoni pizza. We were still hungry so I tried the Sweet Beet Salad ($9.25), and Dan plowed into a brown sugar marinated sirloin dinner ($18). Both dishes were satisfying and filling.
While we discussed the virtues of marriage with the young couple, Dan had decaf coffee and I enjoyed a twist on an after-dinner libation. Kristy mixed Grand Marnier, Sambuca and Creme de Cacao over ice. Shaken, not stirred, it was icy and delicious.
Our fun evening became even more memorable when we discovered that Marissa and Steve's upcoming nuptials are on Sept. 29, the same day we celebrate 22 years of mostly wedded bliss!
> PAN-AMERICAN GRILL & BREWERY
Where: (inside the Hotel @ the Lafayette)?391 Washington St. (856-0062)
Scene: Newly restored, massive bar and multilevel lounge that pays homage to Teddy Roosevelt. Lively atmosphere, loud in some rooms; young, accommodating, friendly staff.
Drinks: All the standard wine, spirits and liqueurs, including an emphasis on pre-Prohibition drinks; well drinks, $4; call drinks, $4.75.
Dress code: Lots of business casual, loosened ties and shirtsleeves; some jeans and T's.Entertainment: Jazz bands and live music in adjoining rooms.