The recent opening of Havana House Restaurant and Sangria Lounge totally flew under my radar. Not until I received a call from a friend who told me that the joint establishment had opened did I venture through the doors. When I arrived to Havana/Sangria on Saturday I found myself immediately taken with the external ambiance of the two adjoined buildings. There was something about the colors… soft greens and glowing reds drew us inside where we were met with the most unusual hostess station. The station was made out of two floor-standing bongo drums – very clever and extremely eye-catching.
Everything about the place was fascinating. I especially liked the shimmering bar… the iridescent paper looked like red scales on a vintage ’60’s dress. And on top of the bar, tall vases were displayed with large palm fronds protruding as if mimicking the palm trees found in South Beach. We then turned the back corner and found ourselves staring out onto the dimly lit Havana House dining room. Diners were sitting on rattan-looking chairs with backrests wrapped in linen bows. As we headed back to Sangria Lounge we were once again greeted with a wash of red light… very comforting… very relaxing.
It was not long after we sat down that the owner of the establishment, Lex Greason (pronounced Grayson), was standing at our table. He had just come from the kitchen where he had been preparing tapas dishes for his guests. It turns out that Lex is the type of guy who must be involved with all aspects of his business. Despite being a Class A interior designer, Lex is the head chef as well as natural host.
After spending many years traveling the world and living wherever he liked, Lex has finally found his new home in Buffalo. As if by chance, he came to this city to help a friend of his start a business, and before he knew it he had fallen in love with the city. And when I tell you he fell for Buffalo, I really mean it. “See this bottle of Bacardi rum,” he asked me holding it up so that I could see the label. “There are little medals on that label… and one of the metals is an award that has the words ‘Buffalo 1901’ just above it. This rum was awarded a medal for excellence in Buffalo and now we offer it to guests at the restaurant.” I sat there staring at the bottle and sure enough everything that he said was spelled out on the label… pretty cool.
Actually, it is downright mystifying how much Lex has already learned about the city that he now calls home. Even the art that he features in his restaurant and lounge is crafted by local artists and artisans. And if you look closely at the Sangria logo, you will see that the devilish-looking horns are actually turned inwards – now that’s Buffalo style. “I love Buffalo,” Lex expressed to me. “So I wanted to give Buffalo something it didn’t have. I was formerly in the real estate business, but I got out when the market crashed. When I came to Buffalo (from Miami) I decided (after a while) to open up a Cuban restaurant and lounge. I have been all over the world and have finally found a home in Buffalo.
“Now my sister Yeslin has moved here with her husband, and my father is looking to move close by. I want this to be a comfortable place for people – soon we will be showing black and white classic movies. Do you see the cash register over there [pointing]… that is the actual register that was featured in the movie ‘Gone with the Wind’. The pendant lamps hanging above it are from 1938. If you look around you will notice that there is no wood… I chose fabrics instead. And despite all of the work that has gone into making this an upscale restaurant and lounge, the prices are low due to the gas prices that people must face. I even try to buy as much organic food as possible to make the dining experience even more special… right down to offering a soy substitute for beef dishes.”
The Havana House and Sangria have got to be seen and experienced in order to be believed. As much as Lex has found a home in Buffalo, I truly believe that his customers will find a ‘home away from home’ at this special establishment. I highly recommend the fried green plantains topped with black beans (a vegetarian substitute for either the picadillo (ground beef) or the ropa vieja (shredded beef). Other tapas dishes range from Tostones Top Top ($6), picadillo ($5), empanadas ($5), pastelitos ($4), pan de miga ($5), ceviche ($6)… the list goes on. As far as drinks go, the mojito was one of the best that I ever tried and though limited, there are some nice wine selections as well as some standard beers. Thanks to Lex for making Buffalo his new home… the University District should be excited to have landed such a friend.
Havana House and Sangria are located at 3114 Main Street in Buffalo. 716.835-0729 (updated number)