When I was young, my uncle would take me to the Elmwood Soda Bar for lunch. It was his favorite place to eat in Buffalo, partly because of the food, but mainly due to the nostalgic atmosphere – the place was a throwback to another time and place.
The Soda Bar was a beloved business on Elmwood – one which the community supported for years. When the Soda Bar closed, my uncle was not happy, nor was the community. But I always figured that someday, someone would take over the spot, and recreate the magic. Now, after more than 20 years, it looks as if someone has finally lived up to the old Soda Bar expectations… and quite possibly surpassed them.
When I first heard that Hook & Ladder Development (a real estate holdings company owned and operated by three Buffalo firefighters) was going to be opening another one of its Cookies & Cream locations at 929 Elmwood Avenue, I felt that the time had finally come for the building, which had so much potential.
After a couple of weeks in business, my dad and I decided that it was time to pay a visit. Why my dad? Because he never met an ice cream, or a cookie, that he didn’t love. I figured that he would be over the moon about the new happenings at this old haunt. And I was right.
First off, the place looks better than it ever has before, even when it was the Soda Bar. Hook & Ladder did a tremendous job of taking a space that many people said “… could never be fixed.” Instead of fixing it up over the years, building owners kept throwing new ideas against the wall, to see what would stick. But in order for the storefront to live up to its potential, it needed an overhaul, and that’s what it got.
Anyone with a sweet tooth is going to go crazy when they see this place. But aside from the incredible selection of ice cream, cookies, and other treats, it’s simply beautiful. I am so impressed by the attention to detail (a trademark of Hook & Ladder). Every aspect of Cookies & Cream is an adventure, from the display cases filled with tubs of ice cream, to the refrigerated cases displaying the inventive cakes. It’s a sweets-lover’s paradise. It’s also pretty dreamy for anyone who loves a throwback retro soda shop-meets ice cream parlor vibe.
Walking in from the snow, into an environment of this nature was a big surprise for me, and for my dad. But it was the selection of treats that really impressed him. As I walked around checking out all of the aesthetic nuances, he went about his business of contemplating what was going to end up in his bag.
A milkshake, soft-serve custard, a cookie tower (lead image), a float, a ’77 Blizzard (very clever), a giant cookie sandwich with custard (rolled in sprinkles), an ice cream cone (Gifford’s ice cream – well over 20 flavors), or any number of specialty sundaes (all based around cookies and ice cream). I must admit, that for someone who doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, there were some concoctions that appeared to be very tempting, and completely tantalizing. But I held back (this time), knowing that it wouldn’t be long before a milkshake would come a callin’.
Around every corner there was a surprise, awaiting our discovery. When my dad first spied the cookie tower, he said, “Maybe we should get that for your mom?”…. knowing full well that she would never go for something like that. I had to give him credit for trying though. My dad was also fascinated with the cakes, each of which had cookie chunks strewn across the top. “This is where I’m going to get my birthday cake,” he told me, never taking his eyes away from the prize as he said it.
The opening of Cookies & Cream makes me very happy for Elmwood Avenue. I always considered the closing of the Soda Bar as an end of an era. Up until that time, Elmwood seemed to be hopping, with great restaurants, clubs, and stores. Later, things fizzled out for a while.
I looked at the Soda Bar building as a litmus test for the rest of the street for some reason. Maybe it’s just the nostalgic nature of the storefront, which needed to live up to its full potential once more.
I’m happy to say that the glory days for 929 Elmwood Avenue have returned, and with it a new generation will enjoy it much the same way that my uncle and I did back in the day. I’m sure that he is looking down upon Cookies & Cream from the heavens, smiling, knowing that his favorite spot has been painstakingly brought back to life. It’s certainly an exciting Elmwood development, thanks to the vision and investment of Hook & Ladder.