The old folks, a generation ahead of me, love to reminisce about the famous old Buffalo nightspots and hangouts of yore. They talk with glowing memories of places like the Town Casino, Delwood Ballroom and Laub's Old Spain. It's the kind of nostalgic romancing that drives frequent BRO commenter Dan up a wall. Well, I recently found myself doing the same thing. Oh no! - I am not talking about my nostalgia for those places from Buffalo's golden era of big bands and prosperity. I am talking about a famous night spot of my younger days which might be described as the complete opposite, days in which Buffalo was just coming to terms with its non-stop decline. I am talking about remembering the Continental Restaurant (or Bar, or Lounge - I have heard the name used several ways) since hearing of plans for its demolition in favor of a hotel drive through. My history! My past! How can it be disappearing?
The Continental was not golden; it was more like black. The place seemed to have no color, and although there were some dark red walls, they were more like what black would look like if it was a color. The Continental hit the height of its popularity in the early to mid-1980s as Buffalo's only Punk/New Wave bar. It was dark and grungy, and had leftover early 70s decor from a former iteration as a restaurant or supper club or lounge. You can picture the style.
I think the Continental probably got its name from that former business on the site because they just used the sign that was there. It seemed like they just left everything the way it was. The effect was an ironic take on a post-apocalypse, a popular theme at a fearful time prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The floors were sticky and partially made of a no longer discernible material, a material that--horrifyingly--may have been carpet. Downstairs was the live music venue, often with many bands per night, ranging from locally grown to up-and-coming national groups, that would play in the very small room.
The music was usually quite hardcore and very loud. The speakers were at ear level, and the stage (if you could call it that) was a raised area in a nook. Out back you could step away for a brief rest from the throbbing and jam-packed indoor scene. The back alley was a raw urban courtyard, formed by tall brick walls slathered with graffiti. A rusty fire escape led to the second floor. The upper level was the DJ's floor. The latest punk and new wave dance music played from vinyl discs kept this floor full of electronic energy. The dance floor was crammed between the stair and a front wall of mirrors. The ceiling was a grid of colored lights (think Saturday Night Fever except on the ceiling). When a popular song came on, the floor would pulse with bodies and light and driving electronic music. I doubt the building was designed to handle this many people moving in rhythm together. It is a wonder that the place did not become the center of a major disaster story. It was all very exciting and all very underground feeling.
When I was there, I was not an insider to this scene. I was more of an appreciator and observer. I could have never maneuvered into the inner sanctum of black clothes, crazy spiked hair, and early knowledge of the latest new music (music that seemed so hard-edged and underground at the time, but now sounds a bit bubble-gummy). I would observe and think how unimaginable and incomprehensible this wild scene would be to generations past. I loved every minute of it and was glad to be a experiencing a portion of the modern industrial world gone over the edge.
Now, looking back, the New Wave music era seems a bit quaint with its rudimentary digital technology and growing, but still minimal, piercing levels. This current-day view of the Continental brings a melancholy to my thoughts. Much of its decorative facade has been striped away. However, one very interesting stone piece depicting an image of Henry Hudson, the early explorer of New York, remains at the keystone position. What was this stone about? Most likely it had some relationship to the original owner or business that occupied this building. Looking up at Henry on the wall I can't help but wonder what he would have thought of the Continental on a Friday night in 1983. He might have had a heart attack. Goodbye, Continental. I shall wax on about you and the good old (bad) days long past your demise. Likely, grandchildren will roll their eyes at my silliness.
The current-day image is by me. The others are from the Continental Facebook page.