If there was ever a sign that Chippewa was growing up, it may be the upcoming conversion of SoHo from nightclub into gourmet burger bar. Proprietor’s Jay Manno and Frank Parisi have been thinking long and hard about the transformation – a move that will see the complete remodel of the operation’s first floor into a 70 seat (including patio), family friendly, concept burger joint. “When we first opened SoHo we originally intended on featuring a food concept,” Jay told me. “It was called SoHo Bar and Grill. The bar business took off and we never looked back. Now I’ve got a kid… and another one on the way. My age bracket is not going to [strictly] bars that often. We’re looking for places where we can get something to eat… some place where we can take our families before a Sabres game. Don’t get me wrong… SoHo will transform back into a nightclub after dinner is over, but we’re banking on the food concept to take off. And grow.”
When the owners decided that it was time to revisit the concept of a restaurant, it was Frank who suggested the idea of gourmet burgers. “So I took a trip to Vegas,” Jay said. “I ate at ten of the best burger places I could find. I came back to Buffalo with a lot of ideas, but the first thing that I did was pay a visit to Johnny’s Meat Market on Hertel. We have teamed up with Johnny’s to create an original special blend burger recipe that will be exclusive to SoHo. Once we had the meat blend taken care of, we enlisted Paul LaMorticella to design the interior of the restaurant. We’re installing a kitchen right now – customers will be able to eat at the bar (with craft draughts and bottles) or in the dining area. There will be beer, bourbon and Scotch pairings for adults with a late night menu, and a kid’s menu with mini corn dogs and mini sliders. This is going to be a game changer for us and for Chippewa. We might have a couple of non-burger items (like fish tacos and salads), though we’re primarily sticking with the gourmet burger theme. If you’re in the mood for steak, then you can order the steakhouse burger. We’ll have all sorts of different burgers, buns, cheeses, toppings, dipping sauces and ingredients to choose from. Almost everything will be locally sourced and made in-house.”
In recent years I’ve started heading back to Chippewa – not for the bars, but for the food. I’m a big fan of Papaya, and still find myself meeting up with people at Spot Coffee. I’ve also had dinner at Bacchus a few times and it never lets me down. Gone are the days of Third Room and La Luna – bars that, once closed, will never reopen without some sort of food or retail concept attached. As a matter of fact, it looks as if Bacchus is absorbing the Third Room space to accommodate private dining capabilities. “We still have a few popular nightclubs like Pure and Noir,” said Jay. “But there are other options than just drinking. I’m happy with the direction that Chippewa is going. We’re hoping that the City redoes the streets this summer… and it would be nice to see ornamental crosswalks added. If you want to see changes happen around you, then you need to show that you’re willing to change yourself.”
When it comes to food, Chippewa also features Jack Devine’s, Salsarita’s and Chocolate Bar to whet the different appetites. In addition to food, there’s even a theater – Buffalo United Artists Theater. For the first time, we’re seeing a maturation that many thought would never happen. The time is ‘now’ for The City to make a key investment in the infrastructure, as there is great potential to reinvent the image of the street yet again. On one hand, the ornamental lamp standards look great. On the other hand, some of the business signage on the street looks deplorable – 4Play has a tattered banner hanging in front of the club with no permanent sign. We’re not talking about significant investment here. “I’m President of the Buffalo Entertainment District,” Jay told me. “One of our goals is to see this district turn into a ‘seven days a week’ destination. We’re starting to see that happen.” Hopefully Buffalo starts to take notice.
SoHo Burger Bar is scheduled to reopen end of May or early June.