Yesterday I was fortunate to attend March Madness in Buffalo. In the past I’ve attended countless football and hockey games, but watching live basketball has eluded me my entire life. Thanks to an invitation by one of the tournament sponsors – Dove Men – I was able to attend the Syracuse-Dayton game, which is something that I actually had not originally planned on doing.
My interest in the game/tournament was two fold. First, I was excited to watch the match-up. Second, I wanted to see how Buffalo would perform as host city. Leading up the game there were a lot of people complaining about outrageous $40 parking fees – a stunt that surely put a bad taste in visitors’ mouths. It was Mayor Brown who finally assured people that there were city lots available that were far less costly, and to navigate away from the price gougers.
Fortunately for me and my friend (one of the relatively few Flyers fans who attended the game), we walked from the Hotel @ The Lafayette (the hotel turned out to be one of the home bases for Syracuse fans. On our walk to the arena, we passed a great deal of people holding “Ask Me” signs, which was a big relief considering past horror stories of people out-of-towners walking aimlessly around downtown Buffalo looking for bars and restaurants.
While the “Ask Me” folks were extremely helpful, there was nothing that they could do about the few jam-packed bars and restaurants in the Cobblestone District. We walked right past Iron Works (loaded to the gills) and headed around the block. The Cobbletone Bar was charging a cover charge, so we kept walking – I didn’t want my money going towards any future demolition efforts in the neighborhood.
Finally we came across Elements, a bar that at least wasn’t packed like sardines. We finally managed to make it up to the bar and get a drink, and then scooted out the enclosed patio for some breathing room. We felt lucky that we had found the place, considering that there were still a ton of Syracuse and Dayton fans roaming around looking for food and drinks.
After a couple of beers my friend and I decided to give Lagerhaus 95 a try. That was a stupid move, because the bouncer wasn’t even letting anyone else into the restaurant. So we headed back to Elements and that is where we stayed until game time.
In the end, there were some pros and cons to the pre-game experience. The cons were mostly a lack of places to get into. I would have thought that First Niagara would have put up a big tent on their concourse, filled with beer, food and bands. There were certainly enough people to go around. If only HarborCenter had been open in time to accommodate people this year… someday it’s going to be a real treat to have that complex up and operational. We also felt that the addition of food trucks would have been a good idea – we talked to a bunch of people who refused to wait two hours for a table. All they wanted was a bite to eat, and there were a lot of families with kids that would have jumped at the opportunity to grab a grilled cheese or a slice of pizza.
The pros, for the most part, was that there are more bars and restaurants in the district now compared to just a few short years ago. If you stop to think that all of the packed bars (except Cobblestone) are relatively new, we should be thankful that we’ve come as far as we have. For the people who figured out where to go (thanks to the “Ask Me” folks), there was fun to be had. There might not be a real density yet, but there are certainly signs of life thanks to the establishments that have opened a couple of streets down from the arena. If there had been just a couple more options down there I think that everyone would have been happy. In a couple of years that’s going to be a different story.