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.