When Darryl Howe and Mike Lundeen first tried going for a drink after work, nothing seemed to fit. The bars they found were too noisy, too crowded or didn’t have enough interesting kinds of beer to choose from.
“There was always just something lacking with the places that we went,” said Howe, 33. “Most bars, you can hardly have a conversation.”
Fisher-Price toy and baby gear designers by profession, the two solved their problem by inventing a solution. Their Aurora Brew Works hybrid bar-and-beer-store captures a hipster zeitgeist. It’s not so much a bar, but a beer café. There are no giant HD screens and no scantily clad bartenders slinging shots.
Here, sunny storefront windows let aficionados hold up a glass of beer to study the color in the light. Moms roll in strollers for an organic brew without feeling out of place.
As craft breweries have sprung up across the region and Buffalo develops a taste for high-brow beers, at least five watering holes dedicated to craft beer have opened or are getting ready to open – from Flying Bison’s new brewery under construction in Larkinville to newcomers such as Resurgence’s beer garden in a former engine factory in Black Rock and Big Ditch Brewing downtown near the Electric Tower.
While it’s been a few decades since the 1990s, when artisan beer first started to take off, the boom has been growing in Buffalo in just the last year or so.
“Western New York’s been slow on everything. So we’re left with the good stuff,” said Dave Johnson, the brewer working to open the Rusty Nickel Brewing Co. brewery and tasting room in West Seneca by summer’s end.
To Matt Kresconko, there’s enough interest in making and drinking artisan-style beer to sustain loud crowded bars and offbeat havens for those like to sip, not chug, their beer.
“Both places are going to survive,” said Kresconko, content manager for the blog WNYcraftbeer.com, which will debut as a print magazine in June.
“Craft beer lovers are spreading like wildfire,” he said. There are, he added, “people from all demographics who don’t necessarily want to go to a loud college bar.”
While there’s no danger of traditional TV-filled barrooms going away in a sports-obsessed place like Buffalo, craft beer geeks do try to pare down the screens. At the Resurgence beer-garden-style brewery set to open next month on Niagara Street, owner Jeff Ware will have long communal tables inside and out. People will choose from 10 kinds of beer. One TV will be on hand just for big Sabres and Bills games.
“Craft beer is center stage,” he said. “Your experience is based around the beer. It’s more the focal point than the accessory to your good time.”
At Flying Bison’s Larkinville brewery and tasting room, set to open this summer, there will be tables on a concrete floor and views of beer tanks. No TVs.
Craft beer fans like to sit down and consider their drink, said Tim Herzog, one of the principals.
“Instead of going and buying a six pack and going home,” he said, “I think they’re coming to the brewery to look around and have a pint.”
In East Aurora, the passion for artisanal beer is spreading on the west end of Main Street. Right next door to Aurora Brew Works, another brew pub should be open by the June 7 weekend of the East Aurora Music Fest.
John Crook, 25, plans to open a small-batch brewery with live music and a restaurant that will be known by its street number, “189.” It is being built inside the gutted brick walls of a former health food store between Brew Works and Bar Bill, the restaurant and bar his parents bought from his uncle.
In a neighborly style that seems to embody the craft beer ethos, the Crooks and Aurora Brew Works see themselves more as beer complements than competitors.
“It’s going to be good for everybody,” said Howe, of Aurora Brew Works.
One afternoon last week, he looked the part of congenial brewmaster. In a plaid shirt that might fit in a scene from “Portlandia,” his easy smile invited conversation.
“Craft beer is about more of a family atmosphere,” he said.
It’s been almost two years since Brew Works opened. While Howe kept his day job at Fisher-Price, Lundeen is now managing the place full time. The modest store at 191 Main has been so popular that the pair plan to expand into the basement.
“Everyone’s friendly with each other. It’s kind of like ‘Cheers,’ ” said Lundeen. “It’s very welcoming.”
Old and young clientele choose beer from a chalkboard list above a photo of Howe’s newborn. The coffee table has a copy of Brewing News and games such as “Beeropoly” and “Battleship.”
The shop in the back, beyond the bar, stretches down a wood plank floor with shelves and displays of 650 kinds of beer, from sour-tasting pale ales to rich porters that hint of chocolate or vanilla.
Kayleigh Martin, who works at the nearby Prima Oliva olive oil shop, usually goes for something fruity. “If a bottle looks fun,” she said, “I tend to grab it.”
She heads over to the shop at the end of the week, when the Lloyd Taco Truck is parked out front. She has sat on the patio with her dogs and celebrated a friend’s birthday there.
“You don’t have to yell over music or sports,” she said. “If you want to talk and hang out with friends, I think it’s better to go to Brew Works.”