I must admit that until the other day, I had not been to Central Park Grill (CPG) in some time. Over the years, I might have stopped in three or four times total, which is strange, because the place is fantastic. The only reason that I can think of, why I don’t go more often, is that it’s not located along a bike trail in the summer, and in the winter I tend not to mix things up as much as I do in the warmer months. Whenever I do end up at CPG, I always kick myself for not being more of a regular. That’s because, when it comes to Buffalo watering holes, CPG maintains a distinct identity that just can’t be recreated. Being open nearly a century, without being tempted to change the routine, is an accomplishment in itself. Instead of getting caught up in the business of drink shakers, small plates, etc., CPG has stuck to its guns over the years, by maintaining a real tavern feel and authentic rustic vibe.
Although Central Park Grill has been around since 1929, the establishment was only recently purchased by Danny Gugino, who along with general manager Justin Pitts, has been holding down the fort (while looking towards the future). Gugino started bouncing at CPG before working his way up through the ranks, eventually taking ownership of the tavern. “It still seems somewhat surreal,” he told me, during a recent pilgrimage to his bar. “It’s pretty much business as usual right now – we’ve got the only live music stage in North Buffalo as far as we know. This place has a lot of history – this was where all of the Trico workers would come to cash their paychecks and drink. It was a working man’s pub. Today, we get a great mix of people from all over the neighborhood, plus music lovers from all over the city. We have a small scale kitchen, but we’re growing the menu by adding a couple of new menu items – we have become a staple for the Parkside Community.”
Looking around at the place, it’s great to see that so much of the pub’s original integrity is still in place. There’s nothing like visiting an establishment that has retained and maintained so much of its original character and feel. “It’s a comfy divey feeling without the mess,” said Pitts [laughing]. “We have one of the best patios in the city, which is something that not everyone knows. We’re everything that a tavern aspires to be – authenticity is important to us. We’re fixing the place up, but we’re keeping the look the same as it has been for years. When I heard that Danny was taking over the place, I came back to help out. We held our grand reopening party less than a month ago. There’s too much history to let go. There’s a difference between a place that has a drink show and a place that’s a beer, beer and a shot place. We do serve good drinks, but when it comes to the “show”, that’s the live music aspect of the bar.”
Central Park Grill features wood bars and no drama. There’s great atmosphere, an eclectic clientele, solid bartenders, and plenty of live reggae, blues, and rock (live music is mostly on Friday and Saturdays). CPG is open for lunch and dinner. It caters to the residential neighborhood, to the nearby workers, and to music lovers far and wide. “We’re a couple of Buffalo guys, who love the challenge of making this place work,” Pitts added.
And work it does – I for one, can’t wait to head back, not just to check out the circuit of Buffalo bands that play, but to relax out on the patio this summer. The only problem is… if I’m out on the patio, then I’m not inside experiencing one of the most authentic taverns in the city. Oh my, the dilemma!