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The older I get, the cooler my Western New York hometown seems to get. Last summer, well before this COVID-19 business, my sister and best friend checked some of the best bars in Buffalo, N.Y. In between noshing on wings, we checked these places out…
Our bar hopping adventure in the Queen City began at Acropolis OPA just before noon and the place was hopping, as in, standing room only. It has a nice indoor-outdoor flow and inside was airy. Because this was a late morning stop, I chose a mimosa to toast the day’s adventure.
The bartender and staff were friendly, and perhaps too hospitable. We left and it was a block later when I asked my BFF, “Did you pay the bill?”
“You said you would,” she replied.
“Nope,” and the feeling of dread filled me. At the time, I had applied to the FBI Citizens Academy prior to my trip, which included consent to a background check. All sorts of horrible scenarios played in my head as to how my non-existent criminal record would now come to fruition complete with a mugshot. As I hurriedly trotted back to this Buffalo bar to pay the bill and profusely apologize, I envisioned the city police waiting for me and wondered whether I should smile for the mugshot, smirk, or just look badass.
Thankfully, my imagination is wilder than reality and the bartender was surprised I returned.
“I am so sorry, we had some miscommunication on my part,” I told him.
“I thought, oh well, whatever, they left,” he said with a shrug.
Feeling terrible, in addition to paying the bill, I left him a generous tip. (708 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo, NY 14222; Tel: (716) 886-2977; acropolisopa.com)
Founding Fathers Pub
As soon as I walked into Founding Fathers, I knew this was my jam. It oozes with political memorabilia from floor to ceiling. In case you did not know, Buffalo has connections to presidential history.
Millard Fillmore, our 13th president, lived in Buffalo in 1822. Our 22nd and and 24th president lived in Buffalo and served as its mayor between 1882 – 1883 and that’s Grover Cleveland. And, President William McKinley, our 25th president, was shot in Buffalo on the grounds of the Pan-American Exposition on Sept. 6, 1901. He passed away on Sept. 14. At the age of 42, making him the youngest U.S. president, Theodore Roosevelt, McKinley’s vice president, was sworn in as the 26th president on Sept. 14 in Buffalo. Today, you can visit the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site in downtown Buffalo.
But I don’t think that’s why this Buffalo bar exists. From what I’ve researched, the owner, Mike Driscoll, is a former social studies teacher with a passion for American history. He opened the pub in 1986 and it’s a local favorite. The bar is full of campaign posters, photos, flags, and cutouts of beloved presidents for you to pose with, along with other presidential mementos.
Founding Fathers Pub is definitely the place you want to cozy up to the bar and enjoy a lively conversation with the bartender and the other pub patrons. The visit called for a cold beer. (75 Edward St., Buffalo, N.Y. 14202; (716) 855-8944)
Gabriel’s Gate Restaurant & Bar
Gabriel’s Gate has been welcoming thirsty Buffalonians and visitors since 1969 but the building’s history dates to 1864 and it charmingly shows. Admire the wood floors, tin ceilings, and nuggets of history throughout. Pony up to the bar and admire the taxidermy animal heads staring back. We didn’t stay long enough to find out but I suspect the later you stay, the more likely those animal heads talk back!
This restaurant and bar also serves up some darn tasty wings and to date, some of the best I have ever tasted. It’s also part of the Buffalo Wing Trail, a tasty culinary drive in Erie County, N.Y. Their crispy and hot wings are best enjoyed with a cold beer. (145 Allen St., Buffalo145 Allen St., Buffalo, N.Y.; Tel: (716) 886-0602; find them on Facebook)
The Lenox Grill
Located in the historic Lenox Hotel is Lenox Grill. This bar and restaurant is a nostalgic throwback to the 1980s. It kinda reminds me of the classic sitcom, Cheers. Like Cheers, you walk down into the bar and and décor is in hues of brown except the gray mounted shark in the dining area. The hotel opened during the turn of the 20th century and is Buffalo’s oldest operating hotels.
Lexon Grill boasts more than 500 bottled beers. With our wings, I chose loganberry hard cider from Cider Creek. Loganberry is a Buffalo thing and when in Buffalo, wings and loganberry go hand-and-hand. In addition to wings, we enjoyed oversized, warm soft pretzel rods with melted cheese and mustard for dipping. (140 North St., Buffalo, N.Y. 14201; Tel: (716) 884-1700; www.lenoxgrill.com)
Cole’s Restaurant & Bar
Our final stop of a busy day was Cole’s Restaurant & Bar . When the weather is nice, they offer indoor and outdoor seating. The advantage of patio seating is enjoying the Buffalo street and sidewalk view. Memorabilia is an eclectic collection and dates to 1934 and includes a rowboat in the rafters from the 1960 Olympics.
Delicious bar nibbles at Cole’s include wings, fried Brussels sprouts, and baked artichoke and spinach dip. (1104 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo, N.Y. 14222; Tel: (716) 886-1449; www.colesonelmwood.com)
Best Bars in Buffalo
Buffalo bursts with neighborhood bars with personality and they may not know your name when you walk in, they will when you leave. Logistically, our day of barhopping of Buffalo was not efficient but if you’re planning on visiting these pubs, I recommend visiting in the order below. Sure, you could drive but grab an Uber or Lyft downtown then walk from Founding Fathers to Cole’s. It’s about a 2.5-mile walk.
- Founding Fathers – 75 Edward St.
- Gabriel’s Gate – 145 Allen St.
- Lenox Grill – 140 North St.
- Acropolis OPA – 708 Elmwood Ave.
- Cole’s Restaurant & Bar – 1104 Elmwood Ave.
Advantages of walking from bar to bar includes getting exercise, admiring the street art, and hugging possibly the oldest tree in Buffalo! On Franklin Street is a huge sycamore tree which is about 300 years old. Mounted on the tree is a plaque which reads:
“This sycamore tree is believed to be THE OLDEST TREE IN BUFFALO about 250 years old. The Buffalo Lumber Exchange, est. 1880, presents this plaque in commemoration of National Forest Products Week. October 16 – 22, 1960.”
No matter how you enjoy Buffalo’s best bars, drink responsibly!