I recently had the opportunity to spend a weekend in Buffalo, New York – home of the Sabres, Bills, outlet malls, and cheap booze. I also discovered a whole other side to this city that is currently undergoing a development boom – art, theatre, music, architecture, antique shops, independent retailers, and …cheap booze.
Getting there - living across the border in nearby Toronto, I chose to catch the double-decker Megabus from downtown to downtown in about three hours. It’s a bit longer than driving, but a lot more relaxing, and once you’re in Buffalo there’s no real need for a vehicle as pretty much everything is within easy reach by foot, transit, or a short cab ride. Seats are comfortable and spacious, and there's complimentary WIFI to help pass away the time.It's also a perfect opportunity to catch up on some reading, some sleep, or some daydreaming staring out the window.
Checking In – the newest hotel in the city is the centrally located Embassy Suites, a luxurious property that offers an onsite restaurant, great lobby bar with live entertainment on weekends, a good size pool with views of the magnificent city hall, and complimentary full made-to-order breakfast and afternoon reception with snacks and cocktails.
Checking It Out – a fun spot to hit up to begin a night on the town is Sample Restaurant in the Allentown district. It’s an easy 15 minute walk from the hotel, and is nearby a couple cool live music venues, pubs, and gay bars. As the name indicates the menu is comprised of bite-size sampling items prepared for sharing. Many people drop by just to hang at the bar and sample the fabulous list of cocktails as well. While in the area be sure to check out Allen Street Hardwood for live jazz or Nietszche’s for more indie rock.
Late Night – Buffalo bars close at 4am, so heading out after midnight is not uncommon, especially along the college-aged crowd that rams bar heavy Chippewa Street on weekends. The street unofficially becomes closed to vehicles around 2am as the masses criss-cross back and forth between drinking establishments.
Rise and Shine – for those who choose to get up at sunrise as opposed to going to bed then, the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers Market is a great start to the weekend. It’s a producer-only market, meaning that all our vendors grow or produce what they sell themselves. The open-air market is open every Saturday from mid-May until mid-December from 8am to 1pm. There are also occasional events ranging from musical entertainment to cooking demonstrations scheduled throughout the year. Take the local bus straight up Elmwood to North Street. If you didn’t grab breakfast at the hotel, get your fill at Ambrosia, serving breakfast with a Greek twist.
Afternoon Delight – after exploring the market, start walking back down Elmwood toward the downtown core. This 5 km stretch is filled with surprises, from pubs, restaurants, and clothing shops, to boutiques and antiques of all sorts. Taking Leaves Books is Buffalo’s oldest independent book store established in 1971, and recently held a Banned Books Week event. Everything Elmwood is a bit of everything, from home décor to curios and one-of-a-kind finds – the perfect holiday season shopping spot. Pop into Urban Threads for unisex clothing and accessory fashions, and Shoefly for exclusive footwear designs. After working up a thirst with all the walking and shopping, The Blue Monk is a favourite watering hole with a focus on Belgian brews and upscale pub grub. For a more intimate blunch stop try Betty’s, located on Virginia Street in a historic building within a residential area just off of Elmwood, where you’ll find hearty home-cooked means with vegan options on the menu. I also popped my head into Everything Beauty, a hairstyle and spa salon, and chatted with Toronto ex-pat Karen who owns this beautifully decorated boutique offering a full range of services, including outdoor massages in an enclosed gazebo in her back yard.
If time allows, two up and coming new areas to explore are Amherst Street between Delaware and Elmwood and Hertel Avenue between Delaware and Colvin. This area of Amherst Street is referred to locally as Black Rock, where places like Black Rock Kitchen and Bar and Sportsmen Tavern are leading the revitalization. The strip along Hertel Avenue is known as Little Italy, which is where you’ll find great eateries, bakeries, and espresso shops.
Darkness Descends – try to coordinate your time back at the hotel to coincide with the Manager’s Reception between 5pm and 7pm each evening. For dinner there’s the scrumptious northern Italian cuisine served at Della Terra right on the premises, or saunter over to Seabar Restaurant on Ellicott Street, serving up nouveau sushi creations, fresh seafood, and artisan sakes. It’s a popular early evening dining and cocktail stop for theatre goers taking in shows at the nearby historic Shea’s Performing Arts Theater on Main Street. Many of the Broadway productions make their way here, as well as a variety of musical and comedy acts, and it’s well worth attending something for the beauty of the Neo-Spanish Baroque designed interior itself. Regular tours are offered to the public providing a great opportunity to learn more, and ongoing restorations are ensuring this 1926 structure remains a Buffalo landmark.
Night Crawling – if big productions are not your thing, there’s no shortage of theatre happening in Buffalo. In fact, there are over two dozen fringe and alternative performance spaces vying for your attention. The intimate quarters housed by Buffalo United Artists has been presenting showcases of theatre, music, and other endeavours for the past 20 years. Roxy’s on Main Street is where you’ll find the girls partying, with titillating burlesque, vixen karaoke, live music, and bartenders dancing on the bar on any given night. As well, the Brazen-Faced Varlets is a Buffalo based Theatre Company dedicated to providing strong roles for women. Finally, Ani DiFranco’s Babeville is located within a renovated church, and is now a mid-size concert hall where you can catch up and coming acts of various genres. For more alternative productions, check out what’s going on at either Alt Theatre or the Subversive Theatre Collective, both located just a few minutes north of the city centre on Great Arrow Avenue in a building filled with artist studios and galleries as well. I was also tipped off by man-in-the-know Ron Ehmke about the Buffalo Infringement Festival, an all-encompassing, multi-disciplinary arts festival that takes over the city streets for a couple weeks every summer.
A New Dawn – today is all about discovering the great architecture throughout Buffalo, and taking in some of the high-calibre museums. The Albright-Know Museum is among the country's oldest public arts institutions, specializing in modern and contemporary art split between two separate wings, the towering Greek revival from the beginning of the 20th century and the newer 1960’s John J. Albright funded corridors. Many pieces were acquired during this same period, reflecting a large pop-culture influenced gallery of works. Rotating exhibitions complement the permanent collection perfectly. There’s also a café on site if you get the munchies, or you can pop into Sweet_ness 7 Cafe over on nearby Grant Street.
Across the street is the Burchfield Penny Art Center, celebrating the works of Charles E. Burchfield, in addition to showcasing a variety of Western New York State and Ontario artists. In addition to its visual arts offerings, the gallery regularly presents concerts, literary readings, lectures, symposiums, workshops, and special events. Directly behind is one of the most amazing pieces of architecture in Buffalo, if not the whole country. The H.H. Richardson Complex is the abandoned site of the former Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, a large Medina red sandstone and brick building that stretches several city blocks and stands on the grounds of the present day Buffalo Psychiatric Center.. There are current plans to develop the space into a mixed use arts centre and boutique hotel.
Other similar neglected architectural gems are seeing rebirth as well. The early 1900’s red brick and white terra cotta French Renaissance style Lafayette Hotel at Washington and Clinton is currently under construction to be reopened as a mixed use residential and boutique hotel property. Also, the infamous Statler Hotel at Swan and Washington will have its interior makeover completed as a boutique style hotel as well. The building was once sold to Conrad Hilton in 1954 for $111,000,000, in what was then the world's largest real estate transaction.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House, built in 1905, is also a unique architectural gem that’s open to the public to explore. In addition to this public building, there are also two other private residence Lloyd Wright homes in the city. If time permits, the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society is worth a visit for those wanting to learn more about the variety of buildings that can be spotted throughout the city. Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center presents several queer themed art exhibitions and film screenings, and can be found in the back area of Babeville.
Checking Out – before ending your Buffalo weekend of discovery, a visit to Delaware Park and the newly developed waterfront area are great places to relax and unwind. Be sure to pick up snacks and get your caffeine at the locally owned SPoT Coffee on Chippewa, or the more alternative Café Taza on Elmwood. The bus ride back to Toronto gave me time to reflect on all that I was pleasantly pleased to discover in this city that many know little about. I’ll definitely be back for a second helping!
- The current multi-million dollar waterfront revitalization project is the first such venture in 50 years, and will create over a mile of accessible public access.
- Buffalo City Hall offers free weekday tours that allow you to climb to the top tier and get magnificent 360 degree views of the horizon.
- Labatt Breweries has their US headquarters located in Buffalo, and for good reason as the city has the highest consumption of Labatt’s Blue than anywhere else in the country.
- The Elliott Square Building was once the largest office building in the world at the time of its completion in 1896.
- At the turn of the century Buffalo had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the country. Some of the private residences of that time period can be found along Delaware Ave, referred to as “Millionaires Row”.
Contact Buffalo Tourism for any information you need
Visitor Center: 800.283.3256
Market Arcade Building
617 Main Street, 1st Floor
Buffalo, New York 14203-1496
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Freelance journalist based in Toronto (Canada), with a focus on adventure, ecotourism, lifestyle, entertainment and historical angles. He has been writing for over 15 years for trade and consumer publications, both online and print. In addition he has worked with many tour operators and tourist boards to assist with marketing and promotional initiatives. He also has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. Writing style ranges from real life accounts from a personal perspective to a more professional corporate approach. Bryen welcomes the opportunity to work with publications or organizations that seek a progressive view on current topics. Available for feature destination articles, regular columnist, and contract assignments. Past travel destinations include Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, Caribbean, South Pacific and most parts of North America, including Alaska, Yukon and the North West Territories. Bryen can also be heard regularly on CIUT 89.5 FM in Toronto and Sirius Radio on the internet. www.bryendunn.com, email@example.com
Located: Toronto Canada
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