Your favorite restaurant is going to close.
The only question is when.
Recently, I invited Buffalo News readers to send in memories of favorite eating places lost to time, prompted by Forest Lawn’s upcoming speaker series on the best restaurants of Buffalo’s past. The program starts Sunday.
An entire generation of diners has grown up without ever wearing a tie or skirt to a fancy place. They’ve never had their Caesar salad prepared tableside by a deft waiter, or asked the pianist for a melody as they waited for their table.
The good old days weren’t all good, to be sure. Kids these days also have never looked at a menu unchanged for a decade, much less seasonally.
Still, reading the responses from readers, I could not help wishing myself back to mid-20th century Buffalo, warmed by a blaze in the huge, hand-carved fireplace dominating the Park Lane’s grand hall, or having its famous manager, Peter Gust, treat my little girl like a princess.
Perhaps one day I can find a restaurant that is so consistently endearing that I insist on taking my family’s picture with our favorite waiter, and presenting him with the photograph, like one regular of the Cloister.
In the stories that follow, local diners share some of their best times and most cherished places. They all wish they could have one more visit.
Janice Schlau, chef-owner of Prosit in Williamsville, recalled her time at the Park Lane in the 1970s, where she was hired as the first female sommelier. “Wine stewards are a figure of dining days gone by. As pricey as wines get at [local luxury restaurants], not one server is educated enough to properly suggest, present, and/or serve a bottle of wine at the table! What a shame.”
At the Park Lane, Schlau and Edward Dudek, the wine stewards, were “required to wear monk’s robes, sandals, and a tastevin, or tasting cup, on a thick chain around our necks. Every bottle chosen from the colorful captain’s list, which included labels of the wines available, was carefully tasted and corks examined to ensure that it was fit for service. Proper temperatures of course!”
My personal best memories, stories, anecdotes of a past Buffalo restaurant gem always bring me to dining at Bailo’s Restaurant on Bailey/Lovejoy! The standards that Bailo’s set with their roast beef sandwich, open-face beef platter or even their shrimp cocktail were what other restaurants tried to emulate.
– Randy Philipps, Town of Tonawanda
The year was 1946. I had just finished my senior year at Buffalo State Teachers College. Our sorority was going to the beautiful Park Lane restaurant on Gates Circle and Delaware to celebrate. My date’s name was Benny G.
My sorority “sister” was talking to a young man named Joe that I thought was the most handsome man out of the dozens I had dated. She introduced me and we both said, “How do you do.” That was it. I did not see him the rest of the evening.
Upon returning home at 2 a.m., I woke my mother up and said, “I met your future son-in-law at the party tonight.” She asked if I danced with him or if he asked me for a date. I replied, “We just said, How do you do.” With a deadpan expression, Mom said, “knowing what a determined girl you are, you will figure out a way to get him” as she went back to sleep.
But it took me four years to make that happen. Joe was very shy.
– Honey Snitzer, Buffalo
At Laube’s Old Spain, located near the old Greyhound bus station on Main Street, there was a balcony with seating. On that balcony was an organist who played during dinner. He took requests from customers, which the waitresses brought to him – pretty unique.
– Joe Suszczynski, Grand Island
My father, Jerry Bello, was the headwaiter at the Park Lane in the late 1940s, early ’50s. He passed away in 1959. My mother, Candy Bello, worked there after that as a cashier in the kitchen, until about 1966.
Back then, people went out to dinner as an event. It wasn’t something you did every night or even every week. People got dressed up, no slacks, no casual attire. Women wore dresses and heels and sometimes even hats. Men were always in suits and ties. The atmosphere was elegant, the ambience matched. Always linen tablecloths and napkins.
At the Park Lane there were all waiters in tuxes and bow ties. My father inspected every waiter’s hands and nails before they went on the floor. Reservations were always taken and no one waited at the bar for their table. A lot of the dishes were prepared tableside. My dad always prepared the Steak Diane and the Caesar salad with a flourish and was often discreetly slipped a tip for his services. They also served Chateaubriand for two on a flaming sword. Sometimes he would wear white gloves if there was a special party or a banquet.
I remember being invited to a birthday party in the Rose Room when I was about 4 years old. We all had party dresses on and were served our lunch on a white linen tablecloth by waiters in formal attire. No Chuck E. Cheese for that lucky little girl!
– Rosanna Bello, Williamsville
I’m 57 and have been cooking since I was 7. I have eaten all over the country and to this day the absolute best Reuben I ever had was from the Library on Bailey. I can still taste it today.
– John Neiss, Kenmore
The old mansion was very gracious dining, but that had passed. People weren’t willing to pay for that anymore. The new Park Lane was very casual. All English Tudor inside, huge high ceilings with gas torches all along these big beams, and they would light that up every night.
– Diana Bingham, former Park Lane server, Buffalo
The Cloister was known for ambience and delicious food. Although we did experience this, what we remember most about the place was an outstanding waiter named Tony. We met him on one of our many visits to the restaurant and quickly became “friends.” After meeting him, we always insisted on having him wait on our table and made special requests to have him serve us. Each time, he went out of his way to make us feel comfortable, made us feel very special, and always made our evening complete. He was a real gem.
One evening we brought along a camera and had someone in the restaurant take a photo of our family, parents and two boys, with Tony. We had the photo enlarged and framed and presented it to him at our next outing. Needless to say, he was thrilled.
– Nick Franko, East Amherst
It was the summer of 1988, and I was 17 at the time. We went to Johnny B’s in the Maple Ridge Plaza in Amherst. My then-boyfriend, who was a huge Elvis Presley fan, dressed as the King himself in a sparkly gold leisure suit. I wore a poodle skirt. Our picture was taken and spent many months hanging up on the bulletin board for all to see.
– Wendy Schreiner, Warsaw
I worked at the Park Lane back in the 1980s. For around six years I was the maitre d’ and assistant banquet manager.
I always received my tips in my hand or in little white envelopes. Mrs. Kittinger from upstairs always tipped by envelope after she was seated in a booth and brought a bowl of peaches.
Tours were given by one of the waiters to schoolchildren. Also in the day we used to have movie stars in the restaurant, coming from Melody Fair – Peter O’Toole, Joan Rivers, David Brenner, Dale Evans, etc.
– Claudia Preve, Buffalo
My father-in-law Sid Hulse opened the Club Sheridan in Amherst in 1954. We were well-known for our Friday night family-style fish fry. We had an orchestra on Friday and Saturday nights for dancing. Also, a floor show with the Sheridaneers, MC Eddie Dale and live performers.– Phyllis Hulse, Amherst
My sister’s wedding reception was held at the Hotel Stuyvesant in 1953. It was so glamorous, to my young mind, with a curving staircase leading from the banquet room down to the bar, recessed lighting, a grand piano – and my first taste of caviar!
– Zona Shreves, Akron
In 1982, at 16, I was invited by my then-music teacher, Sam Falzone, to show up for the Sunday night open mic sessions at the Cloister. To my surprise, my father was open to the idea once he heard the great Al Tinney was the quartet’s pianist. That year changed me forever.
I brought my Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts-issued baritone sax with me and was greeted warmly by the staff, other musicians and the crowd. I was nervous and maybe didn’t bring my best, but Al, Sam and the gang didn’t care. Week by week, I got better and more comfortable with them and singer Jeri Peters.
A large black man with a knit cap whose name I forget was always asking me to stand by him when I lost my musical way, and follow his walking stand-up bass lines and I’d be fine. Al Tinney would use some of my solo lines in his solos and smile at me knowingly. I felt validated!
The food was good, I guess. The scene and the music were awe-inspiring. – Robert B. Maloney, accountant, West Seneca
We were overwhelmed by readers’ restaurant memories, and don’t have room for all of them here. However, we want to give these favorites one more mention, with a thank you to all the “rememberers.”
R.I.P.: In Buffalo, the outdoor clam shacks of Niagara Street, George and Eddie’s, 300 Parkridge, Gillitzer’s, Sargent’s, Roy’s, Wick’s Ice Cream Shop, MacDole’s Drum Bar, Rotisserie, Carl Meyers Restaurant, Manny’s, Pranzo, Eduardo’s, Mulligans, Wurzburger Hof, Maxl’s and the Versailles Lounge.
Also missed: Dan Montgomery, the Gilded Surrey, Fairfax House, Murphy’s Omega, Billy Ogden’s Lovejoy Grill, the Normandie, Leonardo’s, Tiger Lily and Wing.
In Amherst, Cousin Tony’s, Augie’s Bar Fiesta, Cavalier, Pine Lodge, Romanello’s Prime Rib, Gandy’s; in Snyder, McMahon’s; in Williamsville, Hackney House, the Pierce Arrow.