Certain establishments just feel like the town, city, or neighborhood in which they are located. Founding Fathers feels like Buffalo. The Old Pink feels like Allentown. And Otto's Restaurant & Bar feels like Cheektowaga.
Don't take that the wrong way – I'm being totally positive. Cheektowaga and Depew are often the butt of jokes, and that's too bad, since like just about every local community, they are unique, historic and welcoming to locals.
Otto's, located at the uber-busy intersection of Union Road and George Urban Boulevard, is welcoming to the 10th power. It's the opposite of some other bars that greet you with a hard stare and discontented sneer.
It's simple and comfortable, a modest place with a good-natured vibe. Sometimes that's exactly what you're looking for, especially since the Galleria Mall area is surrounded with gaudy chain businesses.
My friend and I visited on a weekday afternoon when we both were off from work, since I'd heard Otto's offered some happy hour deals. And while we entered to a completely empty bar — seriously! — by the time we left, the after-work crowd was streaming in.
There's a surprising amount of dead space in the pub area, with stools around the wooden bar, a pool table in the middle, and then chairs lined up looking out at the parking lot. (Not the most exceptional view.) But I'd imagine this dead space is welcome on a busy Friday or Saturday night, allowing plenty of room for standing and chatting.
On this day, I was less focused on the crowd, more focused on the deals. We arrived early enough for a pre-happy hour offer — $2 domestics from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (The very pleasant bartender implied that this was only a current offer.) Happy hour is held from 4 to 7 p.m., and features $2.75 domestic drafts. (I noticed a sign heralding $2 pints during Bills games, too.)
Selection-wise, there's nothing special; Otto's is not your craft beer destination. But it has a solid draft selection, one I would call above-average: Sam Adams, Sam Adams Oktoberfest, Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors Light, Molson, Stella Artois, Guinness, Killian's, Yuengling, Labatt Blue and Blue Light.
No alarms and no surprises, as Radiohead would put it.
Gazing around the room, I saw what I expected: Lotto, darts, the pool table. But there were a few unique touches, such as a wee awning over the bar decorated with colored lights, a George Urban Blvd. street sign, some booze swag (a giant Michelob wrist watch, a Smirnoff mirror ball) and some stairs to nowhere. (Well, they probably lead somewhere, but I never asked.)
It's worth noting that my friend and I were the only folks in the bar under the age of, say, 55 for most of our visit; it was mostly bearded men and post-work women, one of whom startled me by ordering a glass of chardonnay. (Later, some younger folks arrived, including an Andrew W.K. look-alike, minus the hard-partying.)
One moment seemed to summarize the Otto's vibe. An older gent sat down and noticed Ricki Lake's new talk show on the TV. "Can you change this?" he sensibly asked. "ESPN … anything."
Yes, that's Otto's. More ESPN than Ricki Lake, more Blue Light than IPA. I can't explain the chardonnay, but it didn't draw any sideways glances except for my own, so consider Otto's a place to order with confidence.
Otto's Restaurant & Bar
Where: 3972 Union Road, Cheektowaga (632-2035)
Scene: Simple and welcoming; a friendly "Cheektowaga/Depew" vibe.
Happy hour: $2.75 domestic drafts from 4 to 7 p.m.
On tap: Newcastle, Bass, Stella Artois, Southern Tier IPA, Guinness and Sam Adams Oktoberfest.
Music: None on my visit, only the sounds of ESPN.Hours: Opens at 11 a.m.; closing times vary depending on crowd.