It's hard to put a finger on why we liked Rohall's Corner so much.
It sits on the corner of Amherst and Reservation streets in Black Rock. It's nondescript. You could drive by without giving it a passing thought.
But step inside (actually up a few steps) and it's a whole different scene.
A warm wood bar is lit with tealights and surrounded by stools. A retro red leather bumper hammered with upholstery tacks covers its lower portion. Across the way is bench seating with tables and chairs. The floor is vintage red, cream and black linoleum tiles. Glass blocks create a wall by the entrance. In fact, the longer you look, you realize the whole place is real vintage, not "new-made-to-look-old" vintage.
Someone took the time to bring this old beauty back to life. We met that someone – Greg Rohall – who was standing at the corner where the helpful bartender directed us to two open stools.
Turns out Rohall has bartended throughout his life. He decided it was time to open his own place, and purchased the building from the daughter of the owner who died in 2007. The gentleman operated the tavern from the 1940s until it closed in the 1980s. He lived upstairs until his death.
With a lot of elbow grease, Rohall brought life back to the tavern. From the old wooden bar coolers (which he swears still use the original compressor, and chill the coldest bottles of beer in Buffalo) to the cigarette smoke-coated glass he scrubbed above the bar, Rohall's hard work is a labor of love. Other than replacing garish red lights that illuminated the architectural curves of the ceiling and some fresh paint, the original bones of the joint pretty much remain. Rohall added some cool vintage beer trays (Simon Pure, Becks) and memorabilia (a Utica Club bubble clock) for a unique look.
Rohall's Hungarian roots and trips to the Old World inspired a beer menu with plenty of European choices. Beers from places like Germany, Ukraine and Belgium grace the menu, as do Tyskie Lager (Poland), Stiegl Lager (Austria) and European "big bottles" including three types of Bakalar (Czech). Rohall noted once he experienced big bottles, American beers seemed like toys.
In the craft beer department Rohall's carries the likes of Flying Bison, Great Lakes Brewing, Southern Tier and Saranac. A gluten-free beer (Redbridge) is available; tap selections rotate to seasonal, but Rusty Chain, Molson Light and Utica Club are standard.
The wine list tends European, too, with whites and reds from Austria, France, Slovenia, Austria and Hungary. There's a full bar for mixed drinks. And pretzels. Did we mention the delicious pretzel nubs on the bar?
Other food selections are interesting. We kept hearing a timer go off. Turns out it was for the English Pork Pies being warmed for patrons. Rohall doesn't have a full kitchen (he hopes to serve Hungarian food some day), so he offers pork pies ($4-$8) from South Buffalo's English Pork Pie Company, mixed olives ($4), assorted cheeses ($5) and liverwurst and onions on rye ($5).
The crowd was a great mix of folks, from young to mature, including an older gentleman who called the bartender "barkeep." We loved that everyone was engaged in lively conversation. Call us old-fashioned, but nary a cellphone in sight! Just like bygone days when folks gathered at the local tavern to socialize. Imagine that!
The only signs of modern technology are flat-screen TVs and an iPod (playing great background music) hooked up to the bar's speakers.
Somehow we think the spirits of all those long-gone patrons wouldn't mind these slight upgrades one bit.
Where: 540 Amherst St. (939-2087, www.rohallscorner.com)
The Scene: Retro-righteousness and vintage hip.
Dress: Corner bar couture.
Drinks: European imports, $4; big-bottle European, $5; craft beers, $3.50; old-time favorites (Genny, PBR, Old Vienna), $2.50 ($2 Utica Club cans); regular beers (Bud, Labatt, Molson, etc.), $3; drafts pints, $2.50-$6. Wine, $4-$6. Mixed drinks start at $3.50.
Extras: Live music Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Friday happy hour from 3 to 7 p.m. with 50 cents off craft bottles and $3 Philadelphia Whiskey Manhattans. Sunday Vinyl Nights (bring your records to play). Old movies on Sundays without football (check the website). Tom & Jerry drinks for winter. Rohall's celebrates its two-year anniversary on New Year's Day.Hours: Opens at 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; noon on Saturday and Sunday. Closed Mondays.