For people in Buffalo who like to go out, downtown is leading the area in a trend: more glitz, less grunge.
A few recent happenings suggest what has been going on. Mohawk Place, a beloved venue for alternative music, shut its doors. So did Club Diablo, which used to play host to blues, rock and goth bands.
Meanwhile, downtown has welcomed the resurgence this year of the Hotel Lafayette, now reopened in new splendor under the name of the Hotel @ the Lafayette. Both the Lafayette and the similarly reborn Statler cater to an upscale crowd, offering plush spaces where downtown workers can enjoy a happy hour cocktail.
Chippewa Street remains the preferred hangout for scantily clad 20-somethings. But Chippewa has continued to see problems associated with violence and underage drinking. One Chippewa bar, Big Bad Wolf, closed last fall under a cloud of complaints.
People in their 30s and up, for reasons of safety and personal taste, are driving a demand for more luxurious, sophisticated surroundings.
Buffalo’s downtown hotels typify this trend. The dazzling Hotel @ the Lafayette, which opened in spring, plays host regularly to upscale parties and events. It is home to Mike A’s, a lavish steakhouse, and the Art Deco Lounge, an atmospheric, glossy bar area. The huge hotel also features Butterwood Sweet & Savory, a palatial lower-level restaurant that also offers cocktails and desserts, and the Pan-Am Grill and Brewery which, although it occupies the space of the old Lafayette Tap Room, is a historic-themed restaurant and not a blues bar.
If the Lafayette embodies the gilded grace of the 1901 Pan-American Exhibition, the Statler recalls the grander Roaring ’20s. The Lobby Bar, with its dark wood and leather couches, is an elegant happy hour destination. The Rendezvous, a cavernous downstairs space with a big dance floor, caters to the dance crowd, offering party-minded folks an alternative to Chippewa.
Other downtown hotels add their own style. The Avant adds to the scene with Della Terra. On summer nights, jazz performers often serenade its terrace, an informal space with chairs surrounding fire pits. At the Hyatt, the legendary Jackie Jocko plays piano in the lounge of E.B. Green’s four nights a week.
It could be said that Buffalo will never completely embrace elegance. Dress codes, in the rare event they are proposed, are usually quickly abandoned. On the Lafayette’s website, a photo of the Art Deco Lounge clearly shows a guy at the bar in shorts and flip-flops.
Still, our city is following a national tilt in the direction of gentility. A recent issue of Saveur magazine devoted a big spread to flaming cocktails – drinks that are flambeed. They happen to be a specialty of the Hotel @ the Lafayette’s Art Deco Lounge.
The atmosphere in the heart of the city appears to be setting the beat for the rest of the region.
The popularity of Hertel Avenue and the Elmwood strip continues, but the most successful venues cater to drinkers of discriminating tastes. Rare is the beer drinker who does not expect a world of brews from which to choose.
The rebirth of Amherst Street in Black Rock, noted last year, continues. The street is home to Rohall’s Corner, specializing in Czech, Polish and Austrian beers, as well as Black Rock Kitchen and Bar, the newest creation of imaginative Mark Goldman. The expanded Sportsmen’s Tavern is bringing in an ever-growing host of entertainers of national reputation.
The University District’s Main Street strip mourns the loss of old UB bars. More upscale places, though, are doing well. On Main Street, a crowd can usually be found in the New Orleans-themed Shango’s. The Steer, nearby, boasts an imaginative menu and a diverse clientele. Tucker Curtin, who owns the Steer, scored a new success with Dug’s Dive down on the waterfront. It’s no dive.
Suburbs are following the city’s lead. In North Tonawanda, the new Remington Lofts is anchored by the posh Remington Tavern. The restored Riviera Theatre has upped its range of entertainers, giving a boost to a dozen or so nearby bars and restaurants.
Buffalo has a rich music scene. Though Mohawk Place and the Lafayette Tap Room are no more, other venues, including the Sportsmen’s Tavern, are picking up the slack when it comes to showcasing local music.
Stability appears to be returning to the Tralf, which over the decades has had some close calls. The Tralf changed owners again and celebrated its 30th anniversary this fall under happy stars.
First Friday events help keep things hopping in Allentown, and the dimly lighted, defiantly beatnik Nietzsche’s retains its supremacy on Allen Street. The back room of the Allen Street Hardware Co., across from Nietzsche’s, is gaining respect as a music venue.
In North Buffalo, the age-old Central Park Grill has new owners, which could breathe new life into this venerable music club, which was once a stop on the Pony Express.
One other factor, uniquely Buffalo, affects the local club scene.
A wide range of watering holes, from chic hotel lounges to mom-and-pop corner bars, get a shot in the arm thanks to local pride, and what must be a record level of interest in local history. Tim Tielman’s Campaign For Greater Buffalo, which also values the past, takes people to diverse neighborhoods, introducing them to such time-honored places as Voelker’s Bowling, Ulrich’s and the Colored Musicians Club.
Forgotten Buffalo, in its popular bus tours, acquaints people with old “joints” such as Arty’s by the Central Terminal and the R&L Lounge by the Broadway Market. Special tours focus on private clubs like the Ukrainian Club and the Polish Cadets.
Singlehandedly, Forgotten Buffalo could be said to be bucking the trend toward elegance.
“Some of the best gin joints in town are the seediest. The places where a cold beer is more important than some fancy fruity drink with a little umbrella stickin’ out,” reads the promotion for a tour set for February.
The tour is called “Places to Go And Not Be Seen.”