For all Buffalo’s trumpeting of its cultural institutions, most basketball fans were looking for a different type of fun during the tournament’s off day Friday.
“We’re here for basketball, beer and food,” said Greg Deerhake of Marblehead, Ohio, who was eating chicken wings with friends at the Anchor Bar Friday afternoon. “This is a guys’ weekend.”
Some began their partying early Friday.
“I’m dealing with a hangover,” David McClintick said in the Hyatt Regency Buffalo lounge late Friday morning, joined by several other celebrating Villanova University fans who also lasted until the 4 a.m. bar closing time that morning.
Someone asked where to go for wings, before McClintick pointed out that “pretty much any food is good just to absorb the alcohol,” eliciting laughs around the table.
While they planned their day, Villanova’s cheerleaders and band members were on a sightseeing excursion to see Niagara Falls.
The natural wonder also offered an exciting diversion to Jamie Hamilton of Springville, Ohio and son Zavier.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been to New York, and we’re really enjoying it. He got out of school a few days, so he’s happy,” Hamilton said, gesturing to his son.
“It’s pretty cool,” Zavier, 11, said as he stood close to where the American Falls drops down. “It’s one of the awesomest things I’ve ever seen, probably.”
At nearby Seneca Niagara Casino, Mark Koskie, a Syracuse University fan who came from Toronto with his father for the tournament, lost a few dollars playing slot machines and poker. He decided to take a break at the casino’s Slip lounge to watch games being shown on four giant split-screens.
Koskie said they planned to go to the Walden Galleria later for “some cross-border shopping.”
Over at Buffalo’s new Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, a business that began in Syracuse, Orangemen fans held court.
“Dinosaur is a great place, and I wanted to come here because it’s brand new, and to have a couple of beers, watch the game, have some food and get ready for tomorrow’s games,” said Jamie Putnam, who lives in Liverpool, north of Syracuse.
Putnam’s friend, Howell O’Garro of Buffalo, said the tournament was a good thing for Buffalo.
“The city definitely needs exposure, and it’s a good thing every time it gets that,” O’Garro said.
Nearby, four Syracuse alums sat at a table, eating from platters full of ribs, wings, mac ‘n’ cheese, appetizers and mashed potatoes with gravy.
The Mercer Bears were on their way to an upset victory over Duke on screens above the bar, but the Syracuse fans’ minds were still on their team’s commanding victory the day before over Western Michigan.
“They put the tournament on notice yesterday,” Luke Urtz said.
Rob Rush, Dinosaur’s general manager, said the restaurant’s loyal Syracuse fan base translated into a big uptick in business.
“The response has been enormous from Syracuse fans. Yesterday, we opened the bar up at 9:30, and had 25 to 30 Syracuse fans at the bar. We’ve even fired up an extra smoker to keep up with demand.”
Outside on Franklin Street, a Guercio & Sons delivery truck was busier than usual.
“Everybody just ordered more. My truck was loaded from the front to the back,” said driver Joe Scandurra.
Joe Coxen of Waterford, Mich., “a car guy,” was glad to come upon the Buffalo Motorama inside the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.
“At the Autorama in Detroit, there are people who have a lot of money who can fix these cars up. These are common people here who are spending their own money, and doing their own work. It has a lot more meaning,” Coxen said.
The Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, which purposely opened a week early to cater to hoops fans, had only 12 visitors by Friday afternoon.
“Not as many as we had hoped,” said John Branning, superintendent of ships at the naval park.
The turnout was better at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, where basketball fans made up perhaps one-third of the attendance on a busier-than-usual day, according to Gretchen Grobe at the guest services desk.
“We’ve had a lot of fans today – from Syracuse, from Dayton, from Cleveland, even two gentleman from Montreal,” Grobe said.
But art museums were definitely not for everyone in town for the tournament.
“The cultural stuff, the art galleries, that’s stuff to do when you’re with the wife and kids,” said Greg Perkowski, who was entertaining college friends in from Syracuse. “When the guys get together, we want to have fun. If it was nicer out, we’d golf.”
Instead, they hit up New Era Cap Co. and spent some time at Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino before settling in at Cole’s on Elmwood Avenue to have a few beers and watch the games on TV.
Over on Delaware Avenue, a group of eight men from Albany wandered down the street, leaving Colter Bay Grill and headed “for the next bar we find,” said John White. They said they were having a good time in Buffalo, but were surprised there wasn’t more of a party atmosphere planned for the off day between games.
Brian Smith of Albany was in town with a group of 16 men celebrating his bachelor party weekend, which he timed to coincide with the NCAA games. They sat at the bar in the Adam’s Mark Hotel watching basketball and drinking beer in the afternoon, with plans to hit the Chippewa district Friday night.
It was Smith’s fourth time attending the games in Buffalo. He said the construction around the arena was impressive, but the party atmosphere seemed more subdued.
“Last time we were here, they had the mascots running around the hotel giving high fives, they had projection screens showing the games, now it’s just, kind of, nothing really going on,” Smith said.
One place that promised to be “on and popping,” according to one employee, was Pharoah’s Gentlemen’s Club in Cheektowaga.
“We see a huge increase in business,” said Peter Gerace, the club’s manager. “When guys come in from out of town, that’s what they want to do.
“The last time we hosted, it was so busy you couldn’t even move in here,” Gerace said. “We saw lots of cabs, lots of limo buses. It brings a lot of people into the club.”
Buffalo received many positive reviews for out-of-towners, with some raving about the changes they saw under way.
“Buffalo looks completely different than the last time we were here. It looks like a brand-new city,” said Pat Dittoe of Cleveland, one of 14 family members headed to Prima Pizza & Pasta on Chippewa Street before moving on to the Anchor Bar for wings.
“I‘m fired up to be here. You can feel an energy in Buffalo right now,” Dittoe said.
Coxen, from Michigan, also liked how Buffalo, the city his mother grew up in, is looking.
“Downtown Buffalo is coming back. I hope Detroit comes back like this,” he said.