Not long ago a friend of mine moved back from San Diego after being away for many years. Before leaving Buffalo he helped to bolster the progressive art and party scene in this city. It was a sad day when he packed up his bags and moved across the country. At the same time, it’s the best thing that could have happened to him, and to Buffalo. While in San Diego, he helped to create the cocktail movement there. In fact, he helped to found the San Diego chapter of the Bartender’s Guild. Essentially he had a hand in putting San Diego on the map as a craft cocktail mecca.
Eventually Tim married a gal by the name of Morgan, who shared Tim’s passion for great drinks, food and company. After making a few trips back to Buffalo to visit friends and family, the two decided that it was time to call this city “home”. It was also decided that they were going to create something incredible here – something that Buffalo has never seen. I truly believe that that is what they have accomplished.
Tim and Morgan have opened a cocktail pub called Ballyhoo, in the Cobblestone District. They have completely altered and upgraded what was once known as The Malamute. To walk inside Ballyhoo is to immediately feel welcome and comfortable, whether you know the owners or not. From the interesting choices in lighting to the prohibition-era style decor, Ballyhoo is somehow refreshing in a “it’s been around for a long time” kind of way. I suppose what I like most about the place is that it’s authentic. There are no beer signs or other breweriana hanging on the walls to hype the place up with gobs of memorabilia. Instead the focus is on the booze.
Some of the bottles are kept behind lock and key, but you can see them suggestively hinting to you through heavy wire mesh. Other bottles are displayed front and center, as if to say, “You’ll get to those other guys soon enough – Tim placed us here because he wants you to ask about us.”
If you ask Tim about any of his family of liquor bottles, he will not just tell you what’s on the surface, he will delve into the history of a particular liquor – and how the modern day selection came to be. He’ll tell you all of this, as if he was talking about a son or a daughter. I have never met anyone as passionate or as knowledgeable as this guy when it comes to liquor. He lives the industry – it’s in his veins, literally and figuratively. And it shows at Ballyhoo. From the Japanese whiskeys to jam drinks, there is a new world of tastes and flavors waiting for you, right down to the exotic cherries that taste like sumptuous candy (you must try!). “Jam drinks might sound trendy,” Tim told me. “But they have been around as long as berries have been growing and alcohol has been distilling. It’s all about respecting the product. We’re here to introduce customers to the taste of the liquor, not to [bastardize] it.”
It’s not that you can’t find a PBR at Ballyhoo, it’s just that you will be remiss to not try the super limited Sculpin Grapefruit IPA, brewed by Ballast Point in San Diego. Or a Nikka 12-year for that matter.
The underlying concept at Ballyhoo is the “common thread”, Tim stated several times. You can see it in the people, the drinks and the food.
Speaking of the food, you’re not going to believe what Chef Nathan Root (a San Diego native that Tim found living in Buffalo) has concocted. He has put together a medley of sausage hoagies that are like nothing that you have ever eaten. The “Short Round” (Korean short rib, kimchi, sambal, pickled veggies) is to die for. Nathan’s butcher of choice, JH Dodman, is located a mere 200 yards away from the restaurant The meat is brought in-house, ground, seasoned, linked, and served at the bar with old bay seasoned chips (some of the best chips in the city). The sausage melts in your mouth. The chips get gobbled up. The soup (actually a chili) is bar none the best in Buffalo (that I have tried). The side of flavorful pasta adds a perfect fulfilling balance to the meal. Tim’s mom is even in on the action – she makes the Nancy’s Ice Cream Sandwich!
In the end all you want to do is try some more… more drinks, more food, more of anything that these guys want to throw your way.
Ballyhoo also features some killer craft beers, a couple of which are so hard to find that you have to know someone in the industry to get them. “It also helps to know some stewardesses – they can work wonders for you,” Tim confided in me. “We used every trick in the book. We’re going to be flying bartenders in from all over the country (part of the Guild), who will be bringing their own knowledge and flare here. It’s a whole different take on “guest bar tending”.
I didn’t know exactly what to expect from Ballyhoo (a word that his grandmother used to shout at him – “What’s all this ballyhoo about?). I assumed that Tim had some tricks up his sleeve, but this simple and honest concept blew me out of the water. It was as if they took all of the great drink and food menus, stripped them down, deconstructed them, paired them together and called it a day. It looks so simple on the surface, but to pull it off successfully is extremely difficult. Tim has now been in the industry for 22 years. He has had a hand in bringing back the craft cocktail movement, but not in a way that you would expect. It’s more about getting down to basics – the way an experienced sushi chef can extract the flavors of the fish by simply understanding what it is and how it works.
When I last saw Tim at Ballyhoo, he tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Good night, I’m outta here.” Fifteen minutes later he was serving me a “Last Word” at the bar. I said, “I thought that you were going home.” He replied, “I am home.” In the end, Tim won’t just have the last word, he’ll serve you the “Last Word”, and you’ll love every minute of it.