Once you find Cook’s Bar & Grill the first time, it just may become a regular haunt if you are a fan of homey neighborhood taverns. Located in Buffalo’s Old First Ward (an urban blend of tidy homes, small industry and natural beauty), Cook’s does not boast eye-catching signs. There are no clues (save for one small sign in a window) to indicate its woody and sprawling interior.
The pale gray building sits at the corner of Katherine Street and an access road that is labeled with a small “This is not a street” sign. Train tracks are across from the bar’s parking area; off in the distance is a lovely view of some elegant grain elevators. McCarthy’s and the Buffalo River are a scant few hundred feet away.
Behind the bar are hosts and owners Roger and Sally Cook, who purchased the place in 2001. The building has been a bar, according to savvy Old First Ward regulars on a recent visit, since the 1940s. Hardwood floors are in each of Cook’s three distinctive areas: the smallish dining room with several tables and chairs (and an extra-large mural of a sunny and snow-topped mountain), the gaming area with shuffle bowling and darts, and the wooden horseshoe bar ringed with comfortable stools.
The bar’s top is découpaged with several snapshots of regulars. Strung overhead are shotgun shell lights in alternating green and red, lending an edgy, rustic charm. Drinks are reasonably priced. The liquor and beer choices are not extensive, but Cook’s does offer all varieties of Genesee beer. There are other bottled beers, but Cook’s does not serve tap beer. All beers are priced at either $2.50 or $2.75, and the list of offerings includes Bud, Michelob, Miller, Killian’s and Coors. Guinness is a splurge at $4 a bottle. Jell-O shots are sold daily in numerous flavors for a buck each.
If hunger should strike while at Cook’s, food is available. A Friday fish fry is served with traditional sides, including locally made rye bread. The menu is largely fried fare such as french fries, pizza logs and wings (ask for their signature garlic-butter sauce), plus hot dogs, burgers and steak sandwiches.
The horseshoe shape of the bar lends itself perfectly to socializing. There is much happy bantering cross-bar among the clientele, and the large television is usually tuned to a sporting event. While I was there, Cook’s was about to be visited by revelers aboard a Forgotten Buffalo tour bus, Sally Cook said. They were notified – and ready. I include Cook’s on an annual O.F.W. Pub Stroll that happens in November, a walking tour through the peaceful streets showing off this neighborhood.
Cook’s always is decorated fully for the season. Shamrocks were everywhere around St. Patrick’s Day; around Halloween, Sally Cook and other members of the bar’s Ladies’ Club transformed the dining room into an impressive haunted house, replete with various creepy rooms teeming with scary sounds and props.
The jukebox, always the vibe-setter for any sipping venue, is packed with an excellent assortment of classic rock, nostalgic albums and a smattering of country-western. Dancing about the gaming area on the well-worn floor is possible – and welcomed, if not entirely encouraged.
Cook’s Bar & Grill
Where: 222 Katherine St. (855-8444)
Atmosphere: Casual, country-feeling, a classic First Ward tavern
Hours: Opens at noon daily. Closing can be anywhere between 1 and 4 a.m.
Drinks: Jell-O shots; four types of Genesee beer; other bottled, but not draft, beers
Extras: Bar games – shuffle bowling, darts
Wheelchair Access: No