Every pro sports franchise can boast a stadium-neighborhood bar dedicated as their fans’ point of pilgrimage.
Boston Red Sox loyalists have the Cask and Flagon. Portland Trailblazers purists have Spirit of ’77. Green Bay Packer backers have The Stadium View Inn. Furnished with memories and decorated with history, they’re places that welcome locals and visitors interested in one thing: toasting their team in the comfortable shadows of framed autographs, photographs and jerseys.
For these types of meetings, Buffalo Bills fans have the Big Tree Inn, situated a mere stroll from Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Since 1980, the football-rooted Tree has welcomed game-day patrons to its Abbott Road corner for a few Gennys before a Vince Feragamo-guided loss; a round of Crown Royal shots after a Frank Reich-led comeback; or to raise a Bud or three to another Jim Kelly-generated AFC title. And, if you walk across the barroom’s gridiron-replicated linoleum and glance at its ceiling trim of framed photos, you’ll see the bar’s recognition as Buffalo’s Bills clubhouse isn’t just a fan- or player-tabbed truth. It’s a nationally recognized fact noted by actors, wrestlers and archrivals.
“Happy Gilmore” agitator Christopher McDonald (aka Shooter McGavin) has made a few visits. WWE champion Goldberg has intimidated Labatt-sipping weaklings sidling Big Tree’s stools. Even Dan Marino – arguably the most hated adversary in Buffalo sports history – has put such degradation aside for beers near the framed uniforms of men who tormented his visits to then-Rich Stadium. Thurman Thomas. Bruce Smith. Darryl Talley. All line the walls to not only taunt the likes of Marino, but to surround patrons with reminders of Buffalo’s salad days – as well as hope that better days are blocks away.
When I stopped into the Big Tree for November’s Bills-Jets game and a single order of grilled barbecue wings ($8.75), I found the place scattered with fans left over from the morning’s 97 Rock-sponsored tailgate party held in the bar’s parking lot. After huddling around the outdoor maple sculptures of ESPN’s Chris Berman and Wall of Famer Andre Reed (as well as the real Reed, who made a cameo at the morning’s tailgate), they filed inside to find drinks near the barroom’s flat-screens.
One glance down the bar confirmed that Big Tree’s Sunday orders are for the shot-and-a-beer-chaser circuit. The Inn’s not for the craft connoisseur, so if you need to start your Sunday with a Dogfish Head or Long Trail Double Bag, crack a few in the stadium lots. Domestic bottles are the bar’s forte, with game-day offerings of Molson Canadian and Bud Light ($4.50) the most popular options. (If you’re looking for draft, the lone attraction is Stella.) The liquor selection is plentiful, with a full range of $4 vodka, rum and whiskey options for those looking to toast the memory of great Bills we’ve lost (like Tree favorite Kent Hull) or great games we’ve watched – including the day’s convincing 37-14 win over Geno Smith and Co.
But, as a Bills fan, what else do you need? These are the traditional accompaniments that have sustained locals through five decades of dizzying highs and frustrating lows. Delirious backers raised Tree beers after 1992’s improbable Wild Card win over the Houston Oilers. Devastated fans found solace in the bar’s warm bourbon after 2004’s embarrassing regular season finale loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s been host to pregame predictions, game-time decisions and postgame parties after rare millennial-era wins over the Patriots. As host of such camaraderie, the Big Tree stands as Buffalo’s mecca for Bills-related reverence.
On your next visit to the Ralph, walk down, pop in and pay homage.
The Big Tree Inn
Where: 4277 Abbott Road, Orchard Park (649-9892; also found on Facebook and Twitter @BigTreeInn.
When to go: Pregame, in-game and postgame on Sundays, as well as any other night for serious football and hockey action. Bar is open seven days and kitchen is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. for a full menu of everything from salads to sandwiches to wings.
Dress: Casual, with jeans, Bills jerseys or any novelty Buffalo t-shirt seemingly required. Caps – whether football, baseball or winter – are also strongly encouraged.
Price range: Drink prices, $3 to $5 for domestic beers, $3 to $4 for mixed drinks and shots. Wings, single $8.75, double $13.75. Sandwiches and other lunch or dinner items range from $5 to $10. Drink specials for Monday Night Football and other events.
Credit cards accepted: Yes. There’s also an ATM machine for those who’d prefer to use cash
Parking: Lot next to building.