From a distance, it appears to be nothing more than a hole in the wall of a plaza in the Delaware/Sheridan shopping district of the Town of Tonawanda, but given a chance, it turns out to be a pleasant surprise.
Gray’s Place at 3682 Delaware Ave. has been around for 35 years, offering a dive bar/neighborhood tavern oasis to the thousands who zip and zoom down the thoroughfare daily.
A glance around outside gives you the sense that you’re about to enter a cramped store, but once inside, the bar stretches back for seemingly a block.
A dozen patrons could comfortably grab a stool, while five circular tables along the opposite wall could fit another 20 people.
The atmosphere on a recent Friday was dark but inviting. Six Tiffany-style overhead lamps and the glow of an Internet jukebox lit the room. The gray, red and white carpeting lining the walls added to the warmth. On a cold and windy winter night, the carpeting gave the impression of walking into an oversized, cozy sweater.
Two small televisions over the bar flickered with sporting events, while a larger TV above the entrance featured Daytona 500 coverage.
The cheerful bartender mothered regulars and newcomers alike by making sure everyone had proper ID and drinks were full. She even shared kettle corn from her nephew’s Cub Scout fundraiser, microwaving pack after pack and placing paper plates full in front of each couple, making sure we were fed.
People from their late 20s to early 40s alternated between playing on their cellphones and chatting about their long days at the office or running around with the kids. The quiet hum of the jukebox and chatter was humorously interrupted by a man mockingly screeching to Pink’s “Learn to Love Again” as his girl attempted to serenade him.
We were all shown up when an older gentleman popped in for a quick beer on his way home from the Great Guinness Toast at the Buffalo Irish Center. In his 70s, but moving more like a man in his 50s, he offered a friendly sláinte to all, energetically pulled up a stool and ordered a Killian’s Irish Red. His excitement about the toast was evident as he shared his night with us, from the Guinness to the whiskey shots to the dancing. He was in and out in 15 minutes, but a little of his excitement remained in the air as those left behind admired his spunk.
The choices for draft beer ($2.75 pints) were surprising for a dive – alongside Killian’s was Sam Adams Seasonal (Cold Snap), Blue Moon and Coors Light. Usually, it’s a victory if Labatt is on tap. For Labatt fans, this can be found in bottles (around $3, varies by brand), along with Corona Light, Bud, Miller, Molson, Michelob and Yuengling.
Well drinks (around $3 depending on alcohol used) also were poured generously. You know you’re getting your money’s worth when that vodka taste kicks right through the cran. A limited but unique bar menu featured Limburger and onions along with other sandwiches ($4.50 to $6) and hard-boiled eggs (25 cents each).
The crowd reached about 20 patrons around midnight, which is perfect when looking for a hangout to enjoy a laugh with friends and strangers while still being able to carry on a conversation. For a break from the hustle and bustle and a true dive bar experience, Gray’s is the place.
Where: 3682 Delaware Ave., Town of Tonawanda (877-9120).
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 a.m. daily.
Price range: $2.75 pints of beer, $4 glasses of Sutter Home wine, around $3 bottles of beer (varies by brand) and around $3 well drinks (varies by alcohol involved).
Parking: Lot is full length of plaza.
Wheelchair accessible: No.