If you’re looking to take a stroll past beacons of Buffalo’s ongoing resurgence, there may be no better route than downtown’s Washington Street. Start at the front doors of the First Niagara Center, and you’ll find such dynamic developments as HarborCenter, One Canalside and the Hotel @ the Lafayette – all within a few short blocks.
But, nestled within this burgeoning stretch sits the Washington Square Bar and Grill, a discreet, Labatt-lovers gem that showcases Buffalo classics amid an ever-changing menu of diversified fare.
Stand outside its front doors, and you’ll see its weathered maroon exterior in the shadows of the luminous Ellicott Square Building. Step inside and you’ll find a welcoming barroom patronized by Buffalonians and visiting Canadians since 1866 (and under its current ownership since 1985). Polished wood interiors and an intricately detailed brick fireplace provide a welcoming winter vibe, the kind that calls for a pint of Guinness ($4.25) or glass of Redwood Creek Red Zinfandel ($4.50). The shingled and string lights-lit roof over the bartop mimics a summertime backdrop – albeit without the Jimmy Buffett cover band. Days and nights are instead scored by the bar’s jukebox, stacked with flip pages full of Beatles, Journey and Bon Jovi tunes.
Washington Square’s lunches have always been dominated by the surrounding business community, with M&T Bank, Ellicott Development and Erie Community College employees mere steps from the restaurant’s waiting tables. But the dinners and happy hour drinks belong to Bisons and Sabres fans, ones who enjoy domestic pregame pints ($2.50) within blocks of their teams’ home locker rooms. If they want to discuss Jim Negrych’s ballpark potential or Steve Ott’s on-ice leadership, they can do it within the bar’s comfortable confines.
When seats and stools are full, patrons can be tightly packed inside walls that host a variety of legendary faces: boxing standard Muhammad Ali; Toronto Maple Leafs legend Johnny Bower; Boston Red Sox great Luis Tiant. Find the right spot next to the bar’s still-functioning phone booth, and you could toast beside framed photos of some of Buffalo’s greatest sports moments. The opening of Pilot Field. Jim Kelly’s first home game. Robert Redford on the set of “The Natural.” All three provide critical reference to the city’s past, but also a nod to the bar’s true-to-region menu favorites.
Beef on weck ($6.95)? Sure. A cheese-coated crock of French onion soup ($4.75)? Of course. And, for a curveball, how about some pizza logs ($5.95)? You got it. But, no Queen City bar, tavern or fryer-operating draft dive can stay open for a month without good chicken wings. Washington Square is no different. After I found a table behind a family of visiting Toronto Blue Jays fans, I ordered single wings ($8.95) flanked by a side of french fries with gravy ($3.25). Both city standards were served with perfection. The wings were the right size, adequately saucy and double crispy – a house specialty. The side of fries was beautifully drenched in thick beef gravy, and it was a perfect complement to the wings.
For those bored with customary Buffalo bar cuisine, there are plenty of options on Washington Square’s menu. Featured daily salads include exotic favorites such as Caribbean grilled chicken over mixed field greens with dried cranberries, Mandarin oranges, walnuts and Asiago-Riviera dressing ($7.75), and their inventive variety of daily specials include such patron favorites as the nap-inducing Tom Turkey sandwich, smothered in mashed potatoes, corn, cranberry sauce and gravy ($7.25).
Whatever you order, you’re sure to enjoy moments inside a locale emblematic of Buffalo’s traditions – and ready to serve amid Washington Street’s developing trends.