Over the years, the city has lost some of its old school bars and taverns – you know, the corner spots where you could pull up a barstool and order a bunch of cheap beers, and walk out with a few dollars left in your pocket. The good thing is that some of those old taverns transitioned into popular establishments that ushered in a new wave of talented chefs and mixologists. But if you’re looking for those old, reliable throwback pubs, chances are that you will have to make visits to South Buffalo and Riverside.
Bucking the trend of opening swank bars and restaurants is Josh White, owner and operator of Free Street Tavern. Free Street is a refreshing take on the drinking scene because it boils down the basics, from the beers to the laidback environs. At the same time, Free Street does offer up full cocktail and food menus.
I asked White how he came to name the place Free Street, and he told me that his grandmother grew up on Free Street… in Portland, Maine, which is where he grew up. When his brother got a job in Buffalo back in 2003, he came for a visit and fell in love with the city. And one of the things that he especially liked was the affordability, which, if you think about it, translates to his love for the classic tavern atmosphere. After a number of bartending stints, White eventually decided to grab the bull by the horns and open his own place.
And thankfully he did, because this building at 1469 Niagara Street was prime for some good news. We’ve been keeping our eye on this beauty for years (see here), hoping and praying that one day it would land a good commercial tenant. While the renovation of this building took longer than anyone could have expected, the final result is perfect – 100% primed for the resurgence of Niagara Street.
I should also mention that White is a sports fanatic, which means that Free Street is a prime spot for Bills and Sabres games. As a matter of fact, the sign in the bathroom (see below) pretty much sums it all up:
Looking around Free Street, there are plenty of other fun signs and banners on display, some sports oriented, some Buffalo oriented.
If you’re hankering for something to eat, Free Street has a menu that features an assortment of crockpot specials including soups, chilis… and then there are pastas, rice bowls, paninis, a Cuban, a spicy soppressata, and even a banh mi. Better yet, simply “Ask what’s in the crock pot.”
The cocktails/drink selections range from the Dark and Stormy to a sangria. “There’s something for everyone,” said White. “Our entire menu consists of classic cocktails that have been around forever. PBR and Gamay…. Genny Cream Ale and Eagle Rare Bourbon. We don’t have a huge list of liquor but we have a little bit of everything and can accommodate pretty much anyone.”
So stop in for a Blackbird Cider, and a ham and cheese on Texas toast, chill at the bar with some friends, catch a game on TV, and be thankful that there are still people like White out there that want to bring back some of the basic tavern touches that can be hard to find these days. This is the type of establishment that will quickly gain a loyal following of patrons who are searching for the quintessential down to earth corner bar.
Free Street Tavern | 1469 Niagara Street | Buffalo, New York 14213 | (716) 424-1022 | Facebook
Hours: 4pm-midnight Mon-Fri | 11am-midnight Saturday | 11am-8:00pm Sunday