On a hot and steamy Friday, we escaped the heat and walked into the beautifully restored downtown Buffalo icon now rechristened as Statler City. Relief from the oppressive humidity came in more ways than one: While it was refreshingly air-conditioned throughout the lobby and the downstairs disco, the cool factor started the moment we heard cocktail piano jazz, the kind of atmosphere music that is culled from the Great American Songbook - Cole Porter, George Gershwin, movie themes that recall Fred Astaire dancing on the silver screen.
Pianist Howard Goldman, looking dapper in his dark suit and matching eyeglasses, clearly enjoys what he's doing as he kibitzes with guests entering the Statler. Some are dressed to the nines as they head to wedding receptions, others are there to sit around Goldman's piano and chat him up, while others make a beeline to the nearby Lobby Bar and downstairs Rendezvous disco.
While my husband, Dan, headed to the Lobby Bar for a refreshing Tanqueray and tonic, I sat with Jim and Ryan, who enjoyed a "front row seat" encircling the piano. Jim and his wife come to the Statler from Tonawanda every Friday to enjoy the relaxed vibe. "This place puts me in a different mood," said Jim, cradling a gin and tonic. "I love the style here, the way it makes you feel like you're transported to a different time. In fact, it's the only time I wear a tie."
Next to Jim sat Ryan, a self-proclaimed beer enthusiast from the city who has become a big fan of Goldman's and the Lobby Bar since it opened earlier this year. As he quaffed a $5 Sam Adams Octoberfest, Ryan said he especially enjoys the food, local craft beer selection and timeless feel of the place.
Inside the spacious, luxurious Lobby Bar, we were greeted by Michael, a competent and friendly barkeep who has been serving customers since it opened on New Year's Eve. When asked what a typical crowd is like, he said it is an "amazing mix of 21- to 71-year-old folks who have a discerning palate." Among the more popular drinks is a Muddled Old Fashioned for $8. While Dan worked on his second T & T, I enjoyed a luscious pinot noir. Everywhere we looked, we noticed interesting and classic touches, ranging from dimly lit areas, leather chairs and sofa, a shiny shuffle board that runs down the middle of the back of the bar, and monkey lamps adorning the bar. Michael said the "Ellsworth's Special" is a popular lighter fare bar menu selection. For just $2.50, one can have a choice of beef on weck, chicken tenders or a basket of tater tots.
As we were perusing the menu, I heard someone call my name. My friend, Maureen, and her husband, Vince, were enjoying drinks a few seats down at the bar. Maureen had a Rusty Chain microbrew; Vince was quickly downing a Pyramid beer. We decided to join them downstairs at the Rendezvous, especially after we heard there was a free 40-foot buffet during Friday happy hour that includes carving stations, pasta and salads made from the folks at the Buffalo Chophouse, another of Statler owner Mark Croce's properties.
Disco classics blared loudly, the dance floor was filling up and the high-energy nightclub was getting busy. As we polished off our food and had another round of drinks, the four of us marveled at the fabulous renovations of this legendary building. Maureen noted how she and Vince, West Seneca residents, have been advocates of the city's entertainment venues for a long time. "We've been downtown fans before it was cool," she said.
I'll drink to that!