Now that Larkin Square has wound down for the season, it’s time for another spark to be ignited in Larkinville. I’m referring to Hydraulic Hearth, one of this city’ most completely thought through restaurants. It’s true. There’s not an aspect of the place that doesn’t show the hand of the Zemsky family.
From the custom wallpaper designed in Buffalo and crafted in Brooklyn, to the “world’s smallest art gallery” that is located in an old phone booth (when one picks up the phone a podcast plays that talks about the featured artist and the work), there are twists and turns around every corner.
The phone even has a USB port to charge a cell phone. Not to mention the ornate candelabras that Leslie Zemsky brought from home – they sit in the windows, playfully beckoning to people passing by. There are even custom placemats for the kids, where they can doodle and draw, and connect with Larkinville.
The lighting at Hydraulic Hearth is spot on… or so I thought. As I was taking pictures of the place, Harry Zemsky hustled over to the light switch dimmer panel and turned it down one tiny notch. “Now it’s perfect,” he said. I looked around and he was right. It was perfect. “And we’re taking the film off the windows,” he added. “The views onto Larkin Square should be vibrant, not dulled down.” Even though I’m sure he’s right, I thought that the views (with the film) were already spectacular… there’s no other view like that, anywhere, period, film or not.
The old restored back bar refrigeration system is brilliant. The saucer-like hanging light fixtures with Edison bulbs look great. The seating is modern, yet rustic and comfortable. The family did not skimp on anything.
Every last detail was thought through. Like the bathrooms. Even the bathrooms are jaw droppers. They completely depart from the rest of the restaurant design-wise, but they are woven back in with custom touches, from the Larkinville wallpaper to the Dwell-ish faucet to the outlandish color. A trip to the bathroom is more than a trip to the bathroom. Every detail… thought… through.
Then there’s the pizza oven imported from Italy. There’s a giant spinning stone inside that rotates the pizzas, cooking them in a mere two minutes and 40 seconds each. “It’s like eating at a sushi-pizza bar,” my friend said. Pizza chef Rick Gazzo trained for two weeks in NYC, learning the ropes on how to make perfect pizzas. The dough is made in-house, and so is the cheese. Rick’s favorite pizza is the carbonara with house made pancetta. He also noted that the special was pretty darn good – shrimp and brown sugar chipotle bacon. The menu featured bourbon wings, cheese fondue Swedish meatballs and a few more non-pizza options.
While we were talking to the pizza makers (lead photo: Jesse Vandyne), Harry brought us over a couple of boilermakers to try. The first was a Firebar (Compari and IPA) and the second was a Smokebox (bacon Bourbon and stout) – the drinks are named after hydraulic’s terminology. As we sipped the drinks, Harry told us that in coming days he would be tapping the fresh, brewed in-house beers thanks to a satellite Community Beer Works brewing operation that was recently installed in the back of the restaurant.
Diners are offered complimentary coffee with their meals. Live podcasts will soon be broadcasted from the restaurant, featuring notable personalities from around the city. Art abounds – notice works by the legendary Mark Freeland?
You can get stickers and temporary tattoos featuring work from local artists (sold out of a stamp machine).
There is even a food truck docking station. No stone has been left unturned when it comes to conversational conveniences.
Hydraulic Hearth is an incredible addition to Larkinville. This is the type of restaurant that is worth the trek across town. Looking at the snow falling outside of the windows this winter, with Larkin Square as a backdrop, will be a sight to behold.
I can’t even imagine how popular this place is going to be when the beer garden opens in the spring, complete with shuffleboard courts!
Hydraulic Hearth | 716 Swan Street | Buffalo NY | 716-248-2216 | Facebook
^ A dedication to the firehouse located across the street