There’s been a lot of excitement on Amherst Street with Mark Goldman’s announcement of a second Hardware Cafe and Marcus Wise’s decision to open a second gallery called Blink. The street is coming alive. While these are great projects, there is another that will soon be underway that will transform the street in ways that are hard to imagine. I met with Dwane Hall, owner of Sportsmen’s Tavern (photo right, standing with longtime friend Jeff Benjamin – owner of Viking Lobster Company), to learn about the establishment’s up and coming, super-sized expansion that will turn an iconic Black Rock music lovers’ pub into a 325-seat, multi-level, Americana, country, blues and folk music destination.
Sounds like a lot to ask doesn’t it? Well, just wait until you see the plans. “We’re going to build a deck that will run along the front of both houses,” said Dwane. “Then we’re going to run a 70′ deck in-between the houses (up the driveway), with four garage doors that will open up so that people can look inside and watch the performances. We’re building dormers on the third floor with a mezzanine overlooking where the bands play. There will be two rows of load seating in order to get fans up close to the bands – that will provide intimacy for those who want it. All together there will be twelve levels from which to view the musicians, and two bars – one upstairs and one downstairs.”
In order to pull off this incredible fete, it was necessary for Dwane to call upon Councilman Joe Golombek to work some magic down at City Hall. This is where it gets real interesting. The only way to make the design work was to create an 8′ bump-out into the street in order to accommodate the 13′ deck overhang supports. Huh? The City is rewriting the rulebook to allow for this incredible build-out to take place. “It’s also a form of traffic calming,” Dwane pointed out, as I stood there with a look of amazement in my eyes. “This is unprecedented. Public Works is even looking into changing the speed limit on the street (Did you hear that Mark Goldman?) The City and the neighborhood have been our biggest supporters so far… now we’ll be able to attract the bigger music acts and the cost of the tickets will go down because of the number of people we can bring in.”
A bump-out? Buffalo is getting a bump-out? Are you listening The Stip? Dwane told me that The City is very interested in potentially replicating the bump-out (sans The Sportsmen’s Tavern of course) in other parts of the city. I never thought that I would see the day… here’s a big “Thank You” to whoever broke the mold down there. Another person that inspired Dwane to move forward with the build-out is project investor and consultant Earl Ketry (of Pearl Street Grill and Brewery). “We sell more Pearl Street beer than any other beer on tap,” said Dwane. “Thanks to talent agent Seamus Gallivan we have been able to successfully showcase The Sportsmen’s at The Pearl concert series. We’ve been working closely with Earl, and our business is already up because of it. I’m glad that I hung in there all of these years and stayed true to the music. I owe a great deal to the local bands that also allowed me to get to this point. When we celebrate the grand opening (work begins this week) towards the end of the summer, it will be a three-day celebration of local bands.”
It appears that Earl and Dwane have made quite a team. While talking to Dwane he told me that they are formulating plans that go well beyond the build-out of The Sportsmen’s. The two are interested in the future construction of an 800-seat amphitheater in Black Rock and a park/playground for neighborhood kids. But that’s another story for another time… the Sportsmen’s Tavern overhaul is moving forward now. As I look at the plans before me, I am in awe of what is about to take place on Amherst Street. While Sue ‘Frenchy’ Cholewa and her team reenergizes Amherst Street to the east, there is another team taking shape to the west. Last night at the Artvoice awards, Grant Street snagged the award for the next up-and-coming neighborhood. If the voters only knew what was about to take place on Amherst Street, there might have been a different outcome!