"A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous."
So said Coco Chanel, the iconic French fashion designer, who was also known for her support of artists and their work in the last century.
That same sensibility can be found at Coco, a large, comfortably appointed restaurant and bar on Main Street in downtown Buffalo, near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
Coco is divided into a lounge/bar and a separate dining room. The bar features an impressive array of spirits and liqueurs. Softly lit, columns of shiny rich wood are offset by blue and red walls, with industrial piping along the side of the main room. An enormous Coco Chanel mural dominates the back wall. Sofas and chairs warm the back lounge area; the living room setting was filled with a group of women off work from a nearby hospital.
On the Friday that Dan and I stopped in to decompress from work, the long bar was lined with an eclectic group of young professionals and couples, a group of sisters chatting with Coco owner Maura Crawford, and a few solo guests.
We settled in and talked with Kristie, the efficient and friendly bartender who was unflappable even though she was handling the entire busy bar herself. Dan quickly ordered a gin and tonic, a popular choice at Coco. "We're going through a lot of gin these days," noted Kristie, adding that Hendricks, a Scottish brand, is the biggest seller. One of the signature cocktails, the Chanel Martini, features Hendricks Gin, St. Germaine and triple sec.
Other interesting libations include the Crystal Beach Cocktail (made with raspberry vodka, loganberry and triple sec) and La Paris (champagne, Chambord, raspberry vodka and pineapple juice). For caffeine lovers, the Cappuccino Martini might wake you up; it includes Van Gogh espresso vodka, vanilla vodka, Bailey's, white chocolate and espresso beans.
Tempting as the cocktails sounded, I opted for a glass of Pylon Rhone Valley Red (2010), a lovely, full-bodied dry red, and a bargain at $8.
When I discovered that we could order anything off the menu, including full dinners, at the bar, I decided to try a few things. Inspired by the European feel of the place, I ordered a bucket of Moules Frite, a pound of fresh mussels accompanied by crispy rosemary salted french fries ($14).
Crawford said that when she lived in Europe, she discovered the combo and declared it great bar fare. No disagreements from us as we scooped up every last mussel and fry. We also shared a fresh and filling Candy Apple Salad ($8) replete with greens, goat cheese, walnuts, the title fruit and a fiery dressing.
Dan spotted a business acquaintance, Larry, who works in Allentown and has become a Coco regular since it opened over the summer. Although Larry lives in North Tonawanda, he routinely stops at Coco because of its sophistication, the reasonably priced drinks "and the fact that people come here to talk to each other." Larry, working on a Ketel One martini with olives ($8), pointed out that the only television in the bar area was not on.
As the stress of the week melted away, we made plans to meet friends in the next couple of weeks at Coco. It's like stepping into a scene from "Midnight in Paris," without Woody Allen's angst. As Coco herself might say to Crawford: This girl's place is classy and fabulous!
Where: 888 Main St. (332-1885)
Scene: Sophisticated but comfortable vibe, accented by mellow jazz music playing in the background; crowd varies from top Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus staffers to neighborhood residents, theatergoers, blue- and white-collar professionals.
Drinks: The standard wine, spirits and liqueurs, with a focus on "Coco Cocktails," featuring many Parisian-inspired creative concoctions.
Dress code: Runs the gamut from casual to business to flamboyant.
Entertainment: Live jazz weekly.Bonus points: Spotless bathroom and purse hooks under the bar.