When any tavern opens, its operations and occupants can join to carve out a nice little life together. Beers are served, laughs are shared and softball teams are sponsored. Nothing extraordinary, but a stable survival.
But the great taverns? Those cacophonic draft dens that own their corner through generations? The locales whose barstools comfort like BarcaLoungers; whose owners welcome clientele as an extension of their own family? Those are the ones that not only augment their existence but attach their address to others’ history as well.
Find South Park Avenue in South Buffalo. Enter Talty’s Tavern on the first Monday of the month, and meet the members of the Charlie O’Neill Unplugged Club. The two are now inextricably linked, and together, they’re enhancing each other’s legacy with every twang of a Taylor guitar string.
Walk through Talty’s front door in December and you’ll feel the embrace of a Celtic ski lodge – albeit decorated for Christmas. Holiday lights line the ceiling’s wooden beams and twist around colored garland, Santa faces and Rudolph lawn ornaments hovering over the barroom’s high tops. But, continue past owner Dennis Talty’s bartop and you’ll find the nearly 30-year-old tavern’s Wall of Fame, featuring pictures of area musicians like Joe Head and Billy McEwen who have found the underrated live venue – one that currently hosts acts three nights a week – just as accommodating as the late O’Neill did.
The Seneca Street native and 2011 Buffalo Music Hall of Fame inductee thrilled on guitar around the Queen City for more than 30 years, part of such outfits as the Stone Bridge Band, Rocket 88 and the Thirds. In his later years, O’Neill transitioned from blues virtuoso to formative teacher, serving lessons on the six-string to school-aged and middle-aged students across Western New York. In 2007, he formed the adult education collective that would eventually feature his name – and claim Talty’s once a month to carry on his memory.
On the first Monday of December, I found a bottle of Budweiser and the baby boomers of the Charlie O’Neill Unplugged Club unloading their guitar cases atop Talty’s back pool table just after 7:30 p.m. O’Neill’s former Thirds bandmate and Berklee College of Music-trained Jim Brucato now instructs the club members’ practices and coordinates their performances. Surrounded by the bar’s brick and wood-paneled walls, he gathered with his students-turned-fledgling musicians to discuss the night’s planned song choices.
This is the way it’s gone for the last two years, ever since Unplugged members took over Talty’s Monday open mic night in the fall of 2011. And, as it’s gone over months past, O’Neill’s former pupils toiled through classic rock and folk favorites. Retired high school teachers teamed for a sublime version of Neil Young’s “Long May You Run.” A bespectacled financial adviser stepped to the forefront and led a backing trio through Bob Dylan’s “Positively Fourth Street.” Covers of Arlo Guthrie, Gordon Lightfoot and Eric Clapton favorites followed as gathered patrons sipped draft Smithwick’s and Yuengling amid the tavern’s twinkling lights and comfortable, winter-in-Ireland decor.
As every new sound filled the barroom, each gave evidence of why Talty’s has become an under-the-radar clubhouse for Buffalo musicians. And, when the night’s performers manned the bar’s makeshift stage corner, each took turns at advancing through chord progressions once instructed by their club’s namesake.
Before O’Neill died in February 2011, he asked a favor of his acoustic students: to keep the music going. Thanks to Talty’s and its Monday night occupants, the band plays on – and class remains in session.
Where: 2056 South Park Ave. (825-9279, also found on Facebook).
When to go: Try to catch the Charlie O’Neill Unplugged Club on the first Monday of every month. If you can’t make it, stop in any other night for live music and a few pints inside one of South Buffalo’s most welcoming locales.
Dress: Casual, with jeans, union sweatshirts, or an old, long-sleeved Shamrock Run race T-shirt suggested.
On Tap: Smithwick’s, Yuengling, Guinness, Labatt Blue, Blue Light, and the almighty Genesee.
Price range: Never a cover for live music. Drink prices, $3 to $4 for beers (bottle or draft), mixed drinks and shots.
How to pay: Cash. There’s an ATM machine in the bar, as well as a Bank of America down the street.
Parking: Small lot behind building, and plenty of spots on the street.