We continue the series on walking Buffalo, from the intrepid couple who walked every day—no matter the weather—in the first 30 months of Covid. They think (without being systematic) they walked every street in Buffalo, and many in other cities and towns, taking some 20,000 photos, some of which are shared in this series. While not itineraries, we hope to encourage others to “walk the walk,” to see, observe and appreciate Buffalo—and beyond. William Graebner and Dianne Bennett are also 5 Cent Cine’s film critics, here.
Today’s photo-essay: Once a Bar
We’re always looking for a new wrinkle to make our walks interesting. We enjoy bars, so we thought it would be fun to find a cool bar we hadn’t been to (not all that easy) and integrate it into our late-afternoon walks: a mile and a half to the bar, a mile and a half on the return. One of our destinations was JP’s Checkers on Hertel. Don’t miss the mural.
Another gem is the Gypsy Parlor on Grant Street at Potomac, with its neon invitation–“Psychic Reader”—a hint of its Bohemian interior. If there’s a funkier bar in Buffalo (meaning that in the good sense), we’d like to know about it.
Buffalo has always been a bar city. Lots of Catholics (strong opponents of Prohibition). Blue-collar guys heading for the neighborhood tavern after a day (or after the night shift) at the mill or factory. That still happens, but it’s no longer the habitual behavior that once made bars the center of the city’s (male) social life. Many of the factories closed or moved. The automobile allowed for easy movement out of the ‘hood, reducing the appeal of the down-the-street lounge. Family life—television, then streaming–encroached on the sociability that once was the province of bars and clubs. Demographics played a part, too. The Germans and Poles moved to the suburbs, where going to a bar usually meant getting into a car. The city remains predominantly Catholic, but one new element of the population, Muslims, doesn’t drink alcohol.
For all these reasons and more, bars closed. But even closed, and even as new bars open every day, their presence haunts the city, ghosts of the past. For some, as in the title of Verlyn Klinkenborg’s account of the life a Buffalo bar/restaurant, they’re echoes of “the last fine time.” For others—mothers and housewives charged with holding households together—the closed bars are more likely reminders of paychecks lost.
In certain neighborhoods, it can seem as if there used to be a bar on every corner. Black Rock, although well served by “main street” bars (those on major thoroughfares) on Amherst Street—and now Chandler Street—at one time had more than its share of “backstreet” bars.
In Lovejoy, we found this “backstreet” bar at Ideal and Reiman Streets. The corner entrance is a sure sign that you’re looking at a “once-a-bar.”
In Lovejoy Village, a closed “main street” bar in bad shape, complete with deteriorating modernist aluminum trim, probably dating to the 1940s.
South of Broadway and not far from the Central Terminal, this bar at Ashley and Peck Streets, now for sale, once served workers at nearby factories off Grimes and Young Streets. It’s the classic configuration: corner entrance, side entrance, 2 windows on the front:
This one, in the same south-of-Broadway neighborhood, doesn’t have the corner entrance, but it obviously was once a bar. Maybe it will be again. Octagonal windows are common to bars, as are glass block windows.
Just the other day we walked the Leroy Avenue neighborhood east of Main Street. We came across only one backstreet bar, on Leroy at Halbert, just south of Tri-Main Center. Once upon a time it was filled with Trico employees, having a beer or two after a day of making wiper blades.
Riverside’s backstreet bars catered to King Factory workers, who once-upon-a-time made sewing machines and then radios and TV sets. We found one at the corner of Rano Street and Riverside Avenue, and another on Esser Avenue.
Clubs (not easy to define, but bigger and usually fancier than bars), have also closed. One of our favorites from years ago was on East North Street at Fox Street, cheek-by-jowl with the Kensington Expressway. For a time, it offered some of the best jazz in town (no cover). The building remains, and there’s some work going on. We’re hoping they’ll reopen, complete with a Hammond B-3.
There once was a club—or an upscale bar–at East Ferry at Masten Avenue, northwest corner, today across from the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, then the site of Offermann Stadium. You wouldn’t know the rather ordinary building housed a club, except for the artwork, by Tony (you’ll see his signature elsewhere), above the door on Masten. Two cocktail glasses, two dressed-up dudes, and the words, “Classy…Haven’t Ya Heard.”
A close look (one of the pleasures of walking) also has its reward at our third once-was-a-club, the New Humboldt Inn on East Delavan (right next to the clover that funnels traffic from the Scajaquada Expressway onto “the 33”). The place hasn’t been open in years.
The building has a “clubby” presence, but it’s nothing special. What is special is the weekend dress code, (still) attached at the entrance on the Delavan side. If the place ever re-opens, “always dress to impress,” and, if you’re a woman, take care not to “overly expose your body.”
© William Graebner
How to Take a Walk in Buffalo – Look Up! Roofs and Roofers
How to Take a Walk in Buffalo – Buffalo’s Mini-Marts
How to Take a Walk in Buffalo – Remembering 9/11
How to Take a Walk in Buffalo – Street Humor
How to Take a Walk in Buffalo – The Yard as Spectacle
How to Take a Walk in Buffalo – Beware of (the) Dog
How to Take a Walk in Buffalo — Halloween
How to Take a Walk in Buffalo: Little-Known Trails and Paths
How to Take a Walk in Buffalo: Church Board Advice
How to Take a Walk—in Buffalo: Coping with Covid
How to Take a Walk—in Buffalo: Planters
How to Take a Walk—in Buffalo: Christmas Tidings
How to Take a Walk—in Buffalo: Murals… Off-the-Beaten Path
How to Take a Walk—in Buffalo: Scajaquada Creek
How to Take a Walk in Buffalo – Block Clubs