For a neighborhood bar to thrive, it needs to meet a certain number of patron-desired criteria.
Does it deliver as much comfort as your couch and a fleece blanket? Does it serve beers you can’t pour in your kitchen without a kegerator? And does it act as a veritable oasis when weather’s at its worst – and a polar vortex has turned your city into a scene from “The Empire Strikes Back”?
Well, good news for those within walking distance of Papa Jake’s Saloon on Elmwood Avenue: If you can just unwrap that insulating fleece from your torso, you’re mere steps away from one of Buffalo’s best tap houses.
Open since 1993, Papa Jake’s has lured locals to its corner by not only adhering to the above benchmarks, but also by offering some of the best barroom seafood in Western New York. Fresh scallops, fried haddock and banana pepper pasta with shrimp are all for the taking inside warm, polished wood interiors. But with sports on the bar’s flat-screen TVs, a rotating list of 25 hard-to-find beers on draft and another 50 available in bottles, it would be understandable if you showed up to the bar without your lobster bib.
And if you were simply looking to toast sweet freedom after Buffalo’s current arctic escapades, it would be acceptable if you saddled up to a bar stool to raise a pint to the departed blizzard. On a recent Saturday, I found Papa Jake’s for just this purpose. After spending the middle of a week shackled indoors and resembling a disheveled Michael Keaton in “Mr. Mom,” I welcomed the weekend, as well as the chance to celebrate survival in a room not referred to as “my kitchen.”
Enter Papa Jake’s welcoming front barroom and you’ll find a lively clientele, enjoying all the comforts you wish you had in your Buffalo-themed basement bar. Hand-carved eagles at the entrance of oversized wooden booths? Done. A giant Molson Canadian hockey mask over the bar? Absolutely. A large mural featuring Bob Dylan and Steve Martin amid such local sports icons as Randy Smith, Gilbert Perreault and the original Buffalo Stallions logo? Of course.
The saloon’s décor is a mere appetizer for the main course: the beer.
I enjoyed a Harpoon Chocolate Stout as patrons ranging in age from early 20s to late 50s enjoyed pints of such snowbound favorites as Wolaver’s Coffee Porter, Smuttynose Winter and Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale under rotating iPod offerings from Otis Redding, Led Zeppelin and Bob Seger. For IPA devotees, Papa Jake’s had such Beer Advocate-approved selections as Dogfish Head 90 Minute and Founder’s Centennial, both perfectly suitable to sip with a half ($2.99) or full ($3.99) order of the bar’s famous hand-cut french fries. If all these long, exotic beer names frighten you, no problem: Labatt and Miller Lite ($2 every day) also are available.
After all, Papa Jake’s is an all-access neighborhood bar, and its neighborhood is growing. Down abutting Grote Street are the new Houk Lofts, complete with exposed duct work, its own tattoo parlor (Ink Inc.) and a beauty shop (Salon in the City). Just down Elmwood are the under-construction Distillery Lofts, future home to Buffalo Spree magazine and residents who will need draft beer, fresh oysters and a comfortable saloon to call their own. Sooner or later, these new residents are going to flee the comforts of their converted warehouse space and find their new home away from loft at Papa Jake’s.
I suggest you get off your couch, bundle up and do the same – while bar stools are still available.
Papa Jake’s Saloon
Where: 1672 Elmwood Ave. (874-3878, www.papajakessaloon.com)
When to go: Weeknights, weekends, Saturday lunches, Sabres games, for any televised game, or when you simply want to escape your kitchen.
Dress: Casual. Jeans, wool sweaters, North Face fleeces or Canisius College-loyal clothing encouraged.
On Tap: A continuously rotating list of 25. Recent featured beers include Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo, St. Benedict’s Winter, Pyramid Outburst and Miller Lite (for $2 a pop).
Price range: Drinks are $2 to $6 for beers (bottle or draft), $3.25 to $6.50 for mixed drinks and shots, and $6 to $9 for wine. Appetizers are $3 to $12; sandwiches, entrees and specials, $6 to $19.
How to pay: Cash, credit or debit.
Parking: Small lot behind building; limited spaces on Grote Street; and plenty of spots on Great Arrow Avenue.