If you are a frequent traveler of I-190 just north of the city line, you have undoubtedly spotted a red palm tree glowing in the distance and wondered, “What is that, and how do I get to it with all this concrete in my way?”
That beacon is calling you to the River Grill, a patio bar that promises to bring a Floridalike atmosphere to our often frozen little corner of the world.
The restaurant is tricky to find, but it’s well worth the hunt. Follow Sheridan Drive to its end on River Road in the Town of Tonawanda. Head straight, turn left on Aqua Lane and follow the roadway and glow of the red palm tree to the parking lot.
Once there, you’ll find a slice of paradise and forget that you’re relaxing or partying next to a freeway. The theme is tiki bar meets out to sea, with vegetation and lights lining the bar inside and more lights glowing on the patio outside. An anchor on the side of the restaurant and pirate flags on the roof are illuminated by fluorescent or natural light.
While cooler days bring in smaller crowds, warmer evenings invite so many revelers that it becomes difficult to move around inside. The crowd, however, is more mature than your usual dance club scene, so patrons handle the conditions well. Dancers stay on or near the dance floor, enjoying classic rock, blues and country favorites by daily bands. Those just hanging out politely squeeze in as others move through to retrieve drinks or head outside.
And when a waitress with a full tray says, “excuse me,” the crowd parts like the Red Sea. Such respect.
The bartenders expertly serve draft beer from Sam Adams to Blue Moon to Guinness, plus wine and mixed drinks without making anyone wait too long despite the lengthy line. Signs around the bar entertain waiting guests. A favorite: “Old fishermen never die. They just smell that way.”
While traversing the maze of bodies, it is refreshing to receive little attitude or not to be pushed upon politely asking people to “pardon me” or accidentally bumping someone’s elbow.
If it’s too crowded inside, a bar with limited choices of beer and spirits awaits outside. After ordering, head to the patio, where you can rearrange plastic tables and chairs to face the sunset over the river while listening to the music. While the view is somewhat obstructed by buildings, boat slips and docks, it’s still a worthwhile sight.
Those outside will find restrooms that are much nicer than those inside. The closet-sized facilities indoors make the outdoor building seem like the Taj Mahal.
While the River Grill staff welcomes motorcyclists, it ensures that everyone is there to have fun. Signs forbid the wearing of colors and discourage the revving of engines.
Arrive as you are, whether it’s in your leather-and-jean riding gear, capris, shorts or a summer dress. No matter where you are coming from, the refreshing river breeze, constant music and tropical atmosphere make the River Grill a pleasant escape.
Where: 70 Aqua Lane, Town of Tonawanda (873-2553).
Dress: Whether you’re in your casual summer attire or dressed to the nines from a night on the town, you’ll feel comfortable here.
Hours: Opens at 11:30 a.m. every day for lunch, closes at 4 a.m.
Parking: Around the building and along the road next to the bike path.
Extras: Full menu of seafood, burgers and other favorites; live music daily, starting between 7 and 8:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, at 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday and at 4 p.m. Sunday. Menus and bands are listed at www.rivergrilltonawanda.com.