It started with Nietzsche's, unquestionably.
The venerable Allen Street nightclub booked live music seven nights a week from the moment it opened its doors more than 30 years ago. In the decades since, it has never modified its initial manifesto. Nietzsche's fostered a hippie/beatnik/artist/poet/musician vibe, and with the Old Pink Flamingo just a hop, skip and a jump away, this little corner on Allen Street became a central spot for the Buffalo music scene.
But Allentown has grown considerably over the past few years, taking the original Nietzsche's ethic and running with it. With the recent closing of Mohawk Place, the area's significance as a live-music hub increased tenfold. These days, you can head to Allentown at dinnertime and stay through the night, catching a diverse array of musical performances without having to move your car. (Parking is still an issue, it must be admitted. Street parking is at a premium in the area surrounding the Elmwood/Allen junction, perhaps now more than ever. A paid public parking lot in the neighborhood would not be a terrible idea.)
There are five clubs regularly featuring live music most nights within a one-block stretch of Allen Street near Elmwood Avenue. Together, Nietzsche's, Duke's Bohemian Grove Bar, Allen Street Hardware Cafe, the Bend on Allen and the new Pausa Art House form the hub of the live music community in our town.
That's not to suggest that these are the only vibrant music clubs in Buffalo – there are in fact many including the Town Ballroom, Tralf Music Hall, the Ninth Ward at Babeville and the newly launched Waiting Room. But the concentration of music venues within this single block form a Bohemian arts/music district that speaks of an incredibly healthy broader arts culture in Buffalo.
An open, accommodating and eclectic atmosphere pervades, and that is a significant part of the area's charm. Whatever your musical taste, you are likely to find something that compels you – from nationally touring bands to Buffalo born-and-bred artists – in one of these five clubs on any given night. Significantly, you can wander from club to club and sample the wares on offer rather freely – shows at Pausa Art House, for example, start early and end by 10 p.m., so catching a late show at one of the other venues is more than doable.
Calling Allentown our own little version of, say, Greenwich Village during its heyday might be gilding the lily a little bit. But it can't be denied that Allentown is buzzing these days, and the musical diversity on display rivals that offered by many cities five times our size.
Here's a musical guide to Allentown, the live music mecca right in our own backyard.
248 Allen St. (886-8539)
The vibe: This is the granddaddy of live music, not just in Allentown, but in Buffalo as a whole. A long, deep room, with the tarnished elegance of a true Bohemian nightspot.
The tunes: From roots music to jam bands, blues to progressive rock, world beat to jazz, Nietzsche's hosts 'em all.
The hot night: For what seems like forever, Nietzsche's has been presenting live music seven nights a week. For the late-night crowd, Thursday through the early hours of Sunday are the must-go nights. Folks who like to get home a bit earlier can enjoy happy hour shows on Fridays and matinees on Saturdays.
Upcoming: The B-Side Dubs, Cosmic Shakedown and Chasing Moira team to present an evening of spacey psychedelia, tripped-out reggae and Rust Belt rock at 10 p.m. Friday; Conehead Buddah, Slip Madigan and Groove Force get their jam-band on beginning at 9 p.m. Saturday.
Duke's Bohemian Grove Bar
253 Allen St. (240-9539)
The vibe: Urban Bohemian – our own version of New York City's fabled CBGB's.
The tunes: Diversity is the key to the success of the Duke's lineup. Hip-hop, neo-soul, dance, jam bands, DJs, soul-jazz outfits, techno – you name it, and if you can dance to it, Duke's is likely to book it. And you can make a night of it by coming early for dinner and staying put.
The hot night: You'd have to work very hard to avoid having a good hang at Duke's on any given Thursday, Friday or Saturday night. Very hard.
Upcoming: Chicago indie-rock outfit Archie Powell & the Exports will be joined by the Screaming Jeans and Made Violent at 9 p.m. Sunday; Neo-Soul Tuesdays with Verse is at 8:30 p.m. every Tuesday.
The Bend on Allen
256 Allen St. (884-1030)
The vibe: Casual atmosphere, darts and billiards in the house, and a craft beer-lover's nirvana.
The tunes: An eclectic mix – blues, rock, R&B, jam, soul-jazz and acid-jazz make regular showings at the Bend.
The hot night: Live music is booked on select nights, so check the schedule in the Gusto listings section, or visit the club's website.
Upcoming: Michael Hund and Alison Janet of Widowmaker host an open mic night at 11 p.m. Tuesday; Saturday finds DJs handling the late-night music until 4 a.m.
Pausa Art House
19 Wadsworth St. at Allen (697-9069)
The vibe: Authentic art house ambience. Intimate, casual but elegant, with the boundary between audience and performer all but obliterated. Intermingling between audience and performers encouraged.
The tunes: All over the map, and all presented in a chamber music format – from contemporary percussion pieces to world beat, jazz to modern free-form improv.
The hot night: Pick one.
Upcoming: Saxophonist Kelly Bucheger brings his What Would Mingus Do? to Pausa at 8 p.m. May 2. The Young/Keen Philharmonic finds Jon Nelson leading the newest version of his Genkin Philharmonic at 9 p.m. May 4.
Allen Street Hardware Cafe
245 Allen St. (882-8843)
The vibe: Casual, hip, elegant, arty, but most assuredly not pretentious. Serves dinner, good beer on tap. Owners Mark and Charlie Goldman brought us the sorely missed Calumet Arts Café, and Hardware continues that club's urban hipster theme.
The tunes: Wonderfully eclectic. Jazz, roots music, elite DJs, jam bands, spoken word, alternative and indie rock abound.
The hot night: One is tempted to say “Any night that Doug Yeomans and Down to the Roots, or What Would Mingus Do? is playing,” but that's only part of the story. Thursdays through Saturdays are always hopping, whoever happens to be on stage.
Upcoming: Doug Yeomans and Down to the Roots bring their virtuosity to bear on American roots music at 9 tonight; Hip Hop Saturdays with DJ Daringer & Scott Down spinning starts at 11 p.m. weekly.