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The First Buffalo Chicken Wings

By now, everyone who has ever nibbled on chicken wings prepared in a particular style knows their origin story: in 1964, at the Anchor Bar, Teressa Bellissimo cut some wings in half, deep fried them, tossed them in hot sauce, and served them at the bar with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing. A star was born. Today, Buffalo is not just a city, it is a flavor applied to just about anything: snack foods, cauliflower, shrimp, pasta salad, mac & cheese, hamburgers, stuffed mushrooms, and even pizza.

The Buffalo affection for chicken wings is not limited to the Bellissimo version, however. The first appearance of chicken wings in the Buffalo telephone book was courtesy of John M. Young (1935-1988).  Young, an African-American entrepreneur, opened a restaurant in 1966 called “Wings & Things” at 1313 Jefferson Avenue. His wings were uncut, breaded, deep-fried, and served with his secret, tomato-based Mambo Sauce. They were sold ten for a dollar.  We are indebted to Steve Cichon for first reporting the telephone book entry.

We can look even further back than the 1960s for evidence of chicken wings on the plates of Buffalonians. On August 16, 1894, the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser published this less-than-appetizing recipe for chicken wings:

We have no way of knowing if any 19th century Buffalo households had a copy of The Modern Cook by Charles E. Francatelli (11th edition, 1858), but in it we found this wing recipe, which also sounds fairly unpleasant:

We can, however, show that Buffalo’s chicken wing pedigree began at least 160 years ago. In our menu collection is a Bill of Fare dated July 1, 1857, from the Clarendon Hotel at Main & South Division:

The wine list was longer than the food list. However, in small print, under Entrees, one finds not only the delightful Macaroni baked, with Cheese, but this offering: Chicken Wings, fried. Buffalo comes by its association with chicken wings honestly.

The Clarendon Hotel, shown below in an illustration from Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo, p. 157, was built in 1849 as the Phelps House.

Under the new management of Captain Henry Van Allen, it was renamed the Clarendon in 1853 and described as a “first class, well kept” hotel. That year, the Buffalo Daily Republic reported, with a cryptic reference to earlier labor difficulties:

At the Clarendon Hotel, girls have been introduced as waiters, with good success. They get from $6 to $8 per month. No other of our principal Hotels has yet tried them. The proprietors think that the employment of girls will alone exempt the Hotels from a repetition of the annoyance already experienced.

Daily Republic, May 3, 1853

Also in 1853 was this episode of bravery concerning an omnibus, a horse-drawn passenger vehicle:

An omnibus, standing at the Clarendon this morning, while the driver was attending to some baggage, started off, and proceeded down Main Street at full speed. When nearly opposite Swan Street a colored man named Jackson started out and caught the lines and stopped the team, amid the applause of several by-standers. 

Daily Republic, Sept. 3, 1853

The Clarendon Hotel served the traveling public and boarders until Nov. 10, 1860, when it was destroyed by fire. At least four guests and two chambermaids lost their lives. Today it is the site of Fireman’s Park, between 1 M&T Plaza and the Ellicott Square building. We hereby credit the Clarendon Hotel as the first known establishment in Buffalo to hire waitresses and to serve chicken wings.

This article was featured in the 2017 Summer issue of The Album.  To learn more about Buffalo-area food & restaurant items in the Library’s collection, see this list maintained by Library staff.

Written by Cynthia Van Ness

Cynthia Van Ness

Cynthia has an Master of Library Science (MLS) degree from the University at Buffalo and a BA in art history from SUNY/Empire State College. After library school, she worked at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library for 13 years, half of were in the Grosvenor Room, the local history & genealogy collection, where she developed research and reference expertise in the people, places, things, and events Buffalo history. She was appointed Director of Library & Archives at The Buffalo History Museum in 2007. On her own time, she is the author of Victorian Buffalo (1999), Quotable Buffalo (2011), and the creator of BuffaloResearch.com, a guide to researching ancestors, buildings, and companies in Buffalo.

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  • Vandra

    Did anyone really think that a chicken wing had never been eaten before 1964?

    • Mailman

      It wasn’t invented until the around the 1950s, so something has to give at some point.

    • ZEBRA9

      Of course, chicken wings have been around as long as chickens. And people have been throwing hot sauce on them as long as peppers.

  • Randy503

    Great work! Love the history. Took me a while, but those numbers at the bottom probably refer to the times, not the prices. So dinner was our lunch, and tea was our dinner. I wonder how much it all cost?

    • breckenridge

      Based on the CPI, $10 today would have been about $0.37 in 1857.

      • Randy503

        That meal would cost a lot more than $10 today! But still, I think pre-civil war a meal over 35 cents would be considered rather costly. This was not for the rank and file, but for the high flyers visiting Buffalo.

    • OldFirstWard

      The original Phelps House, later the Clarendon Hotel, was a beautiful building. Notice the side by side double hung windows on the rounded corner. An amazing detail for a pre-Civil War five-story building.

  • Brad Pitts

    Just ask yourself: Chicken Wing : Italian or Soul Food?

  • Farras09

    This is a pretty great story. Thanks for the nice write up!

  • benfranklin

    Interesting that the date is on the menu. They’d have to set that type everyday?

    • Christopher Bieda

      If the actual bill of fare didn’t change much, it would only be a (few) sort(s) changing daily, monthly, annually; surely the hotel patronized the same printer, who could keep the form ready for re-use.

      One would think “benfranklin” of all people would know that! 😉

    • OldFirstWard

      The comma looks spaced from the 1 for adding numbers. The menu was probably the same for each day of the week for that month. There were newspaper printing presses just down the street. In a pinch they probably used a sharpie!

  • OldFirstWard

    The above restaurant menu from 160 years ago had better eating options than some of the restaurants today. Lobster plain and Veal Pot Pie.

    Only back then the restaurant put actual food on the plate instead of dots, smears, and mini weeds.

    • Farras09

      De gustibus non est disputandum

  • ZEBRA9

    Great to have these articles by Ms Van Ness, so well researched and wonderfully written!

  • lsuttell

    Librarians rock! Thank you, Cynthia!

  • Nick

    Love the history. Love the story. The Chicken Wings at the new Union Pub are clucking awesome. The Pub’s home is at 38 Swan Street and sits directly across the street from Coca-Cola Field and the Buffalo Bisons main gate! 38 Swan Street was built in 1864 and was the Steelworkers Union Hall as they built the Ellicott Square Building- so Union Pub!