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Allentown’s Black Swan

When I heard that the former Cozumel restaurant might be heading in the direction of offices, I thought to myself, “There goes one of the best patio opportunities in Allentown and the city.” After all, I spent my fair share of time soaking up late afternoon rays along with a couple of beers back in the day.

When I heard that a young newly married couple had set their eyes on leasing the building, in order to bring it back to life as an upscale supper lounge, I was thrilled. Monique Fortunato-Lester and Bryan Lester will basically be gutting the place in order to create a candle-lit, sultry, low conversation, atmospheric getaway for those who have been looking for something a bit more sophisticated in Allentown. The two have literally traveled the world (together and apart) in search of inspiration for their combined dream establishment that might be reminiscent of a cozy library in a nearby mansion found on Delaware Avenue.

Bryan moved to Buffalo from Chicago for a senior risk manager position at HSBC Bank in 2004. When HSBC downsized, and then pulled out of the city, Bryan felt that he needed to diversify his talents and became a partner in what is today Vera Pizzeria on Lexington. That’s when he met Monique who had moved back to Buffalo from the Congo, where she was a biological anthropologist. The two were immediately smitten with each other, and discovered that they both had a passion for the city that had brought them together. “Black Swan is a dedication to the people of Buffalo who stuck it out all these years,” Bryan told me. “It’s a tribute to the big thinkers and the ass kickers. The name “Black Swan” refers to the cultural and economic renaissance that we are experiencing. Similar to a ‘black swan event‘, the rebirth of Buffalo is a big surprise to many people, and in the end there are some who would say that it was inevitable… well, we want to create a place where people will feel that they are experiencing something special when they arrive, from the time they step off the Elmwood sidewalk to the time they relax inside, sitting on a comfy lounge chair with a craft cocktail in hand.”

The interior of the Black Swan will be part upscale lounge, part bar crowd, part high bistro table setting, and part patio (lots of patio). “We love this neighborhood,” Monique said. “This is where we wanted to be. My family hails from Allentown and was involved in the restaurant business on the city’s West Side. When we wrote the proposal for the lounge I kept in mind that I wanted to help create something that was special for Buffalo, as my family had done so in the past. We are going to create one of the most beautiful patios around – something that will complement the interior decor. Have you ever been to Gilt Bar in Chicago? Or Apotheke and Gin Palace in NYC? Have you ever been to Brassai’s patio in Toronto? We are going to refer to design ideas that we have fallen in love with from our travels, and we’re going to incorporate them into Black Swan. We want this to be the perfect setting for a girls’ night out or a place for co-workers to mingle for happy hour. We’re paying attention to the details – lighting, acoustics, cocktail servers, delicious small plates of food, custom made couches with pillow dividers that can be moved about, outdoor heating elements, greenery and trellises. We want to make this a special place for people who appreciate a more upscale social experience, without being stodgy.”

Black Swan will be quite a change from what people were used to when the building was a party bar. This sort of elevated drinking and dining experience is a welcome addition to the neighborhood, and appears to be heading in the same direction as a few other up and coming establishments in the area and in Buffalo in general. The Black Swan will be an intimate getaway for those looking to chill in a cozy and comfy setting, on the sunny side of the street, in a part of the city that looks to have fresh inspiration being infused into more than just the cocktails.


Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at The Hotel @ The Lafayette, and the Madd Tiki Winter Luau. Other projects: Navigetter.

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  • nubflo

    Cool story! I hope it is a success.

  • texpat

    Cool idea just one clarification; HSBC did not pull out of Buffalo.  While they closed their retail branches, they still have thousands of employees in the area.

  • jessicahr73

    Congratulations Monique & Brian! Can’t wait to come home and try it out!

  • townline

    So – a risk management professional opening a restaurant?!  Seems a little counter-intuitive…
    Jokes aside, good news and good luck to them.

  • TanyaMarie1

    The fact that there is some relation to the minds behind Vera Pizzeria bodes well (at least where cocktails & decor are concerned)!  When Cozumel first closed, I hoped that Pizza Plant would go into this spot — lots of great beers and lots of vegan  and gluten free menu options.  I hope that Black Swan, like Pizza Plant, keeps in mind the various diets & culinary choices of Buffalonians! Even Vera could improve on this front.  I wish them luck!

  • townline

    TanyaMarie1 I think that various diets are accommodated by having various restaurants.  Restaurants should serve what they do well, not try to be everything to everyone.  I often find a direct relation between the size of a menu and the quality of food.  I’d take a menu with 4 options that are all done well over one that has 30 options any day.

  • elmdog

    This location has been screaming for a great owner for years…Has potential to be one of the best patio locations on the westside and seems now it will be…Something that Cozumel never thought was important will probably be the link to the success of this place…It seems like these 2 get it and know a great inviting, social patio with atmosphere brings people in the doors and will probably keep them there…I cant wait to see …Congrats and good luck…I like everything about this project…The name is okay, ” hey, lets go to the Black Swan” is a little hard to swallow but ….WIN WIN

  • mwwood22

    love it. I was just at Vera two nights ago and it’s a new favorite.Theyve created a lot of character with that space and cannot wait to see what they can do with this location. Best of luck, this is welcome news to all of us in the area.

  • robins36

    As longs as they keep hours that are conducive to the folks living on this street like Savoy does (they close no later than 2 on Fridays/Saturdays), this should be a welcome addition.

  • TanyaMarie1

    townline TanyaMarie1  Townline: In some ways I agree with you (and I was in the restaurant biz for over a decade).  But a restaurant can have a small menu  — say only 4 main course offerings — and still keep ONE  of the four vegan. The same people who eat chicken will often eat steak or mussels.  So a restauranteur brings in no “new” clients by having more and more various meat options.  But put ONE vegan option on the menu, and you potentially bring in an entirely new set of customers.  And the vegan population in Buffalo is growing.

  • townline

    TanyaMarie1 townline Sure, no problem with including a vegan option on a small menu, if its something they can and do produce well.  But if its not what they do, then they shouldn’t.  There shouldn’t be some sort of obligation to those who have selected an alternative diet, just because those folks are limited in what they eat everywhere they go.
    Years ago, I used to work at Sweet Tooth on Elmwood.  We would have people come in and tell us that we should also provide low calorie and sugar free cake options.  WE’RE SWEET TOOTH!  Good businesses realize who their core customers are and they do their best to serve them.  You get into trouble when you try to be everything to everyone and venture out of your expertise.

  • buffalovelmwood

    Great idea.  Glad they are keeping the patio because I definitely missed sitting out there in the summer.  Around happy hour the sun hits just right.  I hope the new owners gut the place from all the rats that have been living in there all of these years.

  • zamedy

    Great to hear! Not to sound cruel, but Cozumel got what it deserved. The service went downhill fast, and the bartenders and servers were often slow and rude. Yes, in a way I’m ‘glad’ it closed.
    Best of luck to this couple. We ARE seeing a renaissance in this city.. in our lifetime.. and it’s great. My only hope would be for them to somehow extend the patio all the way to the sidewalk. That huge parking lot, while convenient, destroys what is otherwise a nice urban flow in that area.

  • robins36

    zamedy There is barely enough parking for Savoy and Elmwood Beverage as it is, taking that away to expand the patio would be disastrous! That, and I believe the parking lot is part of Elmwood Beverage’s parcel anyway, so the new owners of Black Swan can’t really touch it.

  • rcgalbraith

    That’s not what a black swan event is.

  • JayDBuffalo

    robins36 zamedy and there is NO parking for Cantina Loco but it’s packed every night, so that’s a poor argument.  That huge parking lot there definitely ruins the flow. Would seem more vibrant if the building and patio were closer to the street.

  • robins36

    JayDBuffalo robins36 zamedy Guess I’m a little biased, as I live in the area and many people use the lot to park so they don’t get hit by the meter maids every morning at 7AM.
    The patio is already massive as it is, doesn’t seem like we need to deprive Elmwood Beverage customers and local residents a place to park.

  • eSlu

    texpat Thanks, I was here to post the same thing.

  • eSlu

    TanyaMarie1 I see a lot of people on this site talking about Pizza Plant, and not to single you out, but I just don’t get it.  It is nothing special and seems like nothing more than an average family friendly pizza joint to me.  I don’t know why so many are so anxious to get one in the city when there are dozens of options for pizza.  I am not sure about this new place, but I wish them the best and hope they are successful.  But even if this place is not my style, having this is a thousand times better than Pizza Plant.

  • mwwood22

    mentioned this to my wife and all she could think was an outdoor fireplace like one of our standbys back in Mass, Alma Nove. Very different vibe from the Speakeasy style places he mentions but there is alot of potential there

  • flexme

    Isn’t sweet tooth out of business? Perhaps that should have listened to the customers a little more

  • hilaritee

    TanyaMarie1 townline i agree that more vegan options are needed but please do not assume that people who eat chicken will likely also eat steak or mussels, that is simply not always the case. chicken and steak are no more interchangeable to some than vegan and vegetarian are to others.

  • Harry Buffalo

    Bon chance!  Glad to see the best patio in the city is not going to continue going to waste! Plus, Vera’s an absolute delight, so that bodes well for this endeavor!

  • TanyaMarie1

    eSlu TanyaMarie1  Pizza Plant has gluten free pizza crust, they have vegan (soy) cheese, many other vegan pizza toppings, and also vegan sausage, vegan & gluten free nachos, etc.  No other place in the city has those options.  Also, Pizza Plant has a fabulous beer list.  Nowadays, in almost any group of people or family, there is at least one vegan or vegetarian, and a person with some allergy like a gluten or nut allergy.  There are precious few restaurants in the city where a group this diverse can all find something to eat.

  • TanyaMarie1
    for what it’s worth, merge goes out of its way to accommodate special dietary needs.  dined there once with these three people in the party: a kosher jew, a standard american diet person, and a vegetarian.  we all had a great meal.

  • okay, this is a stupid though sincere question, and you can jump all over me, but how is a supper club different from a restaurant or banquet hall?

  • BuffaloLMT


  • OldFirstWard

    TanyaMarie1 eSlu 
    Talk about high maintenance.  
    I feel sorry for this generation of millennials. The things you have to do and put up with to have a meaningful relationship.  Heaven forbid if you ever leave the toilet seat up.  
    Then again, mentioning the word “Heaven” might cause great anguish.

  • TanyaMarie1

    grad94 TanyaMarie1 Yes, I like Merge quite a bit.  But if one dines out at restaurants 3, 4, or 5 times a week as we sometimes do — one doesn’t want to go to the SAME restaurant over and over.  And, by the way, Merge is often PACKED which leads me to believe that more restaurants in Buffalo need to offer vegan and  gf options. Betty’s and Amy’s Place are both packed all of the time too — and those are also places that have a couple choices for vegans.

  • ColinWGallagher

    robins36 JayDBuffalo zamedy I think they’ve got to rethink their parking laws then. Particularly in the summer – at least in the winter alternate side parking has a practical reason for existing

  • DanielSack

    Does “low conversation” mean that there should not be much conversation, or that the place will be quiet enough to carry on a conversation? Certainly Vera’s is a place, where unfortunately, the volume is so high that conversation is next to impossible. Same at many other restaurants. Restaurants should be rated in dB SPL so that people know if they will be able to eat, drink, and enjoy conversation without shouting.