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Ready for a Buffalo flashback? The first time I walked through the doors of Loughran's Bar & Restaurant on Main Street in Amherst, it was Feb. 22, 2007, the night that saw the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators engage in a brawl for the ages that even included the goaltenders. (You can find the Martin Biron-Ray Emery smackdown on YouTube.)
A few months later, I visited again, accompanied by three friends, for a Buffalo News Club Watch, and had an enjoyable, if much quieter, experience. I didn't set foot in Loughran's again for five years.
That wasn't because I didn't like it. There are, after all, so many bar-restaurants in Buffalo that most of us have a long list of one-time visits. But with so much time passing, I had to wonder - is another visit worth my hard-earned dollars, and harder-earned time?
To see if the Loughran's of 2012 would prove worthy of not waiting another half-decade, I reconvened one of my fellow visitors from 2007 on a recent Monday night.
This, in a sense, was a test. Drive by Loughran's on a Friday or Saturday evening, and the bar is mobbed. But will the bar prove as enticing on a sleepy Monday?
The answer is yes. In fact, I came away so impressed during this visit that I'll certainly be back, and in less than five years.
We arrived just as the ultimate televised sporting tease, preseason football, fired up on the tube, and boy, it was horrendous. The Loughran's crowd was boisterous, perhaps surprisingly so for what was a rather small bunch of about 10. Except for our dynamic duo, all appeared 40-plus.
But the crowd swelled a bit as the evening wore on, and many seemed well-acquainted with the very friendly bartender. This is the kind of vet who can call my thirtysomething friend and me "men" - as in, "What can I get you men?" - and make it seem utterly charming.
Several folks were in for a beer following a game of tennis, and this post-athletic endeavor crowd likely makes up a large chunk of Loughran's regulars.
The draft selections feature the usual suspects, plus a couple of nice, less middle-of-the-road picks: Labatt Blue, Labatt Blue Light, Blue Moon, Guinness, Stella Artois, Bass, Sam Adams, Rusty Chain and Buffalo IPA.
I opted for two Flying Bison selections, Rusty Chain and Buffalo IPA, and thoroughly enjoyed both. I'm a big fan of Tim Herzog's local brewery, and seeing these two on tap was a nice surprise.
Liquor-wise, the bar appeared very well-stocked, and little details added to the charm: an always welcome TouchTunes jukebox, a giant tip glass, 18th century art on the walls, one of the most gorgeous wooden bars in Erie County, and what my friend referred to as "old people wallpaper."
We did not dine, but it should be noted that the smell of food as we left was impressive enough to make us second-guess our decision.
As our visit wound down, a casually dressed older couple, likely early 70s, came in, sat at the bar, and lingered happily over a cocktail and a glass of wine. Contented regulars, I surmised, and another indicator that Loughran's is the rare bar that can please any age. OK, any age over 21.
In other words, you can bring your wife/husband, your parents, your grandma, and your ne'er do well brother for a drink. That, friends, is a place worth visiting more than once every five years.