Another one of Western New York’s iconic, family-owned taverns is turning out its lights, but it won’t be dark for long.
The Deerhead Inn, a fixture in West Seneca for 52 years, served its last fish fry Friday.
But it will return to life again next month, when another storied Buffalo establishment – Scharf’s Schiller Park German restaurant, relocates from its longtime South Crossman Street home in Buffalo to 2683 Clinton St. in West Seneca.
With his children living around the globe with careers of their own, Deerhead Inn owner Chuck Miller had no successor to take over the family business.
“It just wasn’t in the cards for the next Miller generation to manage the Deerhead,” said Miller, who took over operations with brother Gary from his parents in 1980.
But this passing of the torch seems an even better fit.
Scharf’s is of the same endangered species of business as the Deerhead – one of the few remaining corner taverns that once filled Western New York, where blue-collar workers grabbed a beer between shifts, families met for meals, and the community gathered for holidays, special occasions and bereavement brunches.
With Scharf’s – which itself almost closed after 45 years in 2012 – looking for a new home, owner Jerry Scharf thought the nostalgic Deerhead, with its similar, old-timey magic, was a perfect fit.
“Our customers are used to coming into a place that feels like a second home, and that’s the same feeling you get when you go to the Deerhead,” Scharf said. “That’s what I’ve been looking for.”
Scharf plans to reopen at the new location in mid-June, serving his mother’s authentic German recipes and eventually opening an outdoor beer garden in the back.
The Deerhead Inn will be closed today through Monday, but will host one last hurrah Tuesday, going out with its popular Cruise Car Show and food grilled on the patio.
The Deerhead Inn was born out of Miller’s Genesee Tavern, which Miller’s father, Jack, and grandmother, Eleanor, opened on Genesee Street in 1941. The only food on the menu then was a shrimp cocktail served in a beer glass.
In 1962, Jack and his wife Sarah opened the original Deerhead Inn on Union Road before moving to its current Clinton Street location in 1974. Sarah worked in the kitchen there, making homemade pies, beef on weck, liver and onions, and turkey dinners with homemade gravy and potatoes. When she retired at age 90, the staff took over, using Sarah’s mother’s hand-written recipes.
But the Deerhead’s food, which was served on 40-year-old Buffalo China plates, was not as much of a draw as the tavern’s atmosphere.
The building is a time capsule of bygone Buffalo relics and revery. It is known for its eclectic, vintage decor; especially its 1930s-era taxidermied deer and bears, which Chuck’s wife, Joan, decorated and dressed up for various occasions. Those animals – by famed Buffalo taxidermist Herman Grieb – and other showcased antiques are in the process of being appraised. An anonymous buyer has expressed interest in purchasing some of them for historic preservation.
While Chuck Miller said he adores the Deerhead, it’s time to let it go. His family is glad to see him retire after so many years of putting in long hours.
“My father is the hardest working guy in the world, with the biggest heart,” said Cindy Miller Morris, his daughter. “He deserves to enjoy the great work and relationships he’s built up and enjoy what he has given to the people of Western New York.”