The crackling warmth of a fire is a treat as old as time.
And while it is great to have a fireplace at home, there is something especially heartwarming about gathering with friends and strangers in a room with a roaring fire. You would think that Buffalo would offer a lot of opportunity to do this, but unfortunate circumstances – regulations, logistics, legal and safety concerns – make it a rare pleasure. Still, they exist, fireplaces that are open to all and invite us to bask together in their heat. And winter is the time to seek them out.
Here are five fireplaces that invite you to come in from the cold.
Chestnut Ridge Casino, Chestnut Ridge Park
6121 Chestnut Ridge Road, Orchard Park (662-3290).
What makes it easier to take those sleds down from their hooks in the garage? What makes you want to get that toboggan out of storage? What gives you incentive to strike out into the vast snowy tundra that is the Southtowns in winter? Here’s one thing that can work that magic: the big roaring fireplace in the Chestnut Ridge Casino.
This is one of the great fireplaces of Western New York, if not the world. It seems to be always burning, its flames warming generations of sledders and skiers, big and little. Toboggan chutes are operated from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends and holidays, and from 4 to 8 p.m. Fridays, weather permitting. The sled hill is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Call 858-8513 for weekday winter sports and activities updates.
The Scotch ’n’ Sirloin
3999 Maple Road, Amherst (837-4900).
Walk into the Scotch and Sirloin, and as the heavy doors close behind you, you would swear you were in a ski lodge in Aspen instead of in the heart of suburbia right next to the Boulevard Mall. There are no windows, so it’s like a casino – you could easily lose track of the season and the time of day. The lighting is low, there are wooden floors and tables, and in the bar area, peanut shells crunch beneath your feet. Casting a warm glow over everything is a big, hearty fireplace.
The fireplace has no tables directly in front of it, and so you can walk over and warm your hands. You can sit on the wide hearth so your back gets toasty. Finally, when you are ready, it could be time for a big frosty mug of beer. Fire and ice are nice.
The Lancaster Public Library
5466 Broadway, Lancaster (683-1120)
This lavish branch library was built well past the Victorian age – in the 1970s, to be more specific. And yet the institution retains the sensibilities of the era when the world was heated by fireplaces. Central to the library is a big fireplace with a massive copper hood. It looks like something out of the Alps, but here it is, right in your own backyard.
Librarians said they build a fire a couple of times a week. Maybe you can call in advance. When the fire’s roaring, find a good book and curl up. Literature feels better by firelight.
The Hamburg Brewing Company
6553 Boston State Road, Hamburg (649-3249, www.hamburgbrewing.com)
“Gemuetlichkeit” is the word the Germans have for good feeling, good fellowship and camaraderie. And seeing that Hamburg was named for Hamburg, Germany, it is only right that Old Country priorities be honored.
It is a big, rustic hall with lots of wood and, in the middle of it all, a commanding stone fireplace. Gather round! Pub fare, pretzels and a variety of ales add to the Teutonic comforts. There also are TVs so sports-minded folks can watch games. Comfort-minded folks can just watch the fire.
In the Lafayette Hotel, 391 Washington St. (856-0062).
What is it about beer and fire? That is something to ponder as, seated before this massive fireplace, you gaze into the flames. This fireplace is located on the southernmost side of the large, rambling Pan-American Grill and Brewery in the Lafayette Hotel. That is, it is in the back of the area formerly known as the Lafayette Tap Room. Enter on the Washington Street side and head straight back.
What’s wonderful about this fireplace is that it has its own domain – a parlorlike room with dark woodwork and a few tables. It’s part of the bar area, so you are free just to park yourself. It’s a gas fire, but it’s big enough so it feels like a wood-burning fire. The fireplace looks even bigger because it is surrounded by animal heads – a buffalo, a deer. You are welcome to take your beer and sit here, or just linger a few minutes in passing and warm yourself. Hey, it’s a hotel, and you are a chilly traveler.
Other flaming hearths:
800 Maple has a cozy gas fireplace in its lounge area. Do they keep it lit most of the time? “We certainly do,” said the woman who answered the phone. (800 Maple Road, Williamsville, 688-5800)
In Allentown, Gabriel’s Gate has all the ingredients for a warming dinner: thick soups, windows that look out on the glistening sidewalks, those stunning torches out front and multiple fireplaces. (145 Allen St., 886-0602)
In another ancient Allentown building, Founding Fathers completes its colonial ambience with an atmospheric fireplace. The informal atmosphere allows you to take your wet boots off and warm your feet. (75 Edward St., 855-8944)
The Eagle House has been going strong since the John Quincy Adams administration by offering such simple pleasures as a fireplace and a mug of ale. Sit by the fireplace in the bar area and drink a toast to all the folks who did this before you. (5578 Main St., Williamsville, 632-7669)
It was reported that Sergei Rachmaninoff stayed in the Lenox Hotel, and what’s warm enough for a Czarist Russian is warm enough for us. Find a fireplace in the Lenox Grill, the cozy restaurant on the ground floor. There is a table directly in front of it that could be yours. The kitchen stays open until 3 a.m., so consider this on subzero nights. (140 North St., 884-1700)
The Bistro at the Old Fort Inn is now the Jaguar at the Bistro – a less warming name, perhaps, but the fireplace is the same. So is the stone and wood ambience. And we hear there’s a baby grand piano. (110 Main St., Youngstown, 745-7141)