Cool Places I Really Like: Buffalo
Look kids, it's my neighborhood.
I can hear you laughing already, so here it is: Buffalo is cool as hell, and it's gonna be The Cool City in like, 5 years. I'm calling it. The next It City. Portland/Austin/Buffalo. And I want to encourage you all to check out this very cool place, and stop asking me if my family travels by dog sled. (We do not. The dog is too small.)
I've been known to give Buffalo a lot of shit, but I'd like to state for the record that it's always been in one of those "I grew up here, so it's okay for me to say this," kind of ways. The truth is that I feel very protective of Buffalo, and growing up, I spent a lot of time fiercely defending it to people - mostly other Buffalonians. And now I don't really have to do that anymore. The Washington Post recently highlighted Buffalo's cultural renaissance in a travel post, there's a whole huge economic revitalization of the area, I did not make up that thing about it being the next Austin/Portland/Whatever, millenials are flocking here in droves, mostly because the quality of life for your dollar here is extremely competitive. People are choosing Buffalo.
It's not the city with the best reputation in the world - although even its poorest, we were still, you know, right next to Niagara Falls ;) Buffalo may be a product of its past – and its reputation – but it’s certainly not a victim. Rather, it seems to accomplishing the rare feet of transformation without homogenization. I'm not going to turn around and shit on New York, but you look at the direction gentrification has taken there and you see the same Citi Bank and Starbucks on every corner. Buffalo has managed to resist that, to reject that – with a few exceptions, most of the new builds in the area have been at the very least local chains, and at best a display of local talent and culture.
One of the things that really characterizes Buffalo culture is a certain tenacity, a stubbornness. Growing up, I found that a little schmaltzy, but it's true - this is a city has making-do in its blood, and right now that means the city is learning to use its identity in a really cool way. A city known for snow and chicken wings has taken that image and transformed it in a way that's modern, fresh, and perhaps most importantly, unique. We've responded by becoming a world-class destination for winter sports - the development of the Harbor Center comes to mind. A city known for casual, low-key cuisine has created an incredibly diverse array of gourmet and not-so-gourmet food trucks. Buffalo's identity has become a resource in a way I don't think I could've imagined five years ago.
But Buffalo has never been just chicken wings and snow – there’s nothing quite like a beleaguered city to foster a rich arts and music scene. What separates us from the past is that the small and the local artists are being recognized as the assets that they are, and being made visible and supported. Elmwood Avenue – call it the Greenwich Village of Buffalo – has been a hub of art and alternative culture for decades, as has Allentown, its grittier sister and Buffalo’s East Village-in-the-1990’s. But there was a time when those were the only two options – now Grant St, Hertel Ave, and others are all cool as hell. And because the cost of living has been historically low, independent and underground art and artists have flourished there in a way that would have been impossible in larger cities.
There's this image of Buffalo as very white bread and blue collar, and that's completely inaccurate. There's a cultural richness and an incredible diversity here that rivals any larger city. In fact, Buffalo has the largest population of refugees in NYS. The majority of people are settling in the West side, where I went to high school. I remember riding my bike to class everyday was a tour of a lot of boarded up buildings. Now I go back there and it's a bustling, lively neighborhood with clear and marked global influence. Finally, Buffalo is - I just want to say this once and for all - way more politically and culturally Canadian than anything else.
During the warmer months, Buffalo comes to life. There’s a free outdoor concert literally every night of the week. There are the major acts, but there are also a lot of up and coming and indie bands that stop in Buffalo – I saw Tokyo Police Club, the Silversun Pickups, and a few others in super-intimate venues before they got huge.
And as in winter, what's available in Buffalo is so cool because in a lot of ways, much of it is unique to Buffalo, at least in terms of diversity of options. Sailing, adult kickball leagues, garden walks, like 1342 festivals (and all of them close traffic on my fucking street), farmer's markets, watersports, architecture, fishing, antiquing, I don't know, what are you into? On summer Sunday nights at midnight - I don't even know if this is still a thing - a group of like 200 kids would meet downtown and get on bikes and ride around until 4 am or whatever. I used to hate coming home and working for the summers because there was never enough time to actually do all the cool shit I wanted to.
If you visit Buffalo, avoid the suburbs and stay downtown - I suggest the world-class Hotel Lafayette, one of Buffalo's old jewels from its Victorian past, was renovated in the past few years. The ballroom's gorgeous. I hear there's a microbrewery.
Since both my mother and sister are way cooler than me, I asked them to help me compile an extremely narrow list of just a few cool places in Buffalo for you perusal. Come visit, I promise it'll stop snowing there probably sometime soon eventually.
Buffalo is really one of those places that is defined by its activities - festivals, parties, concerts, etc - and so it's a little bit difficult to say "do this" because a lot of the cool things, although frequent, are on the transient side. But I tried to give a good overview of some stuff I really like here. Otherwise, look into Allentown Art Festival, the Infringement Festival, etc.
In terms of places to hang out, your best bets are the Elmwood Village and Allentown, although Grant St and the West Side are definitely up-and-coming/super cool. Buffalo is really bike-able, and public trans kind of sucks, so step 1) procure a bike.
Delaware Park and the Parkway system were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, of Central Park Fame, and they're equally as cool. From here you can check out the Albright Knox Art Gallery, which is super gorgeous/has a mad decent collection. This places you in the heart of the Elmwood Village, so walk west down the strip, chill at Cafe Aroma, and get drinks at Blue Monk, which has a really, really great beer selection. People also really love Cecelia's - it's not my favorite, but they have a truly excellent martini/clam special on the patio during the summer.
In Allentown, I recommend hanging out on Allen St and checking out some of the cool secondhand shops and little galleries in the area. There are also a ton of really good bars/gay bars down here - Hardware, Duke's Bohemian Grove, The Pink. The New Phoenix Theatre I think is technically in Allentown and they do a lot of cool original work. As far as restaurants in this area, I really like Buffalo Proper and Cantina Loco. Allentown in general is super charming and has a lot of the oldest cottages in Buffalo, so stroll down the side streets while you're here.
Downtown/Allentown have a lot of really great architecture, including Frank Lloyd Wright and others, so if you're into that, I would really check it out. There's also Canalside and I don't know, the thing they're building at the Harbor. There's a lot of really great restaurants down here: 716, Doggy Style, Seabar, and Tapo are all great. There's ice skating in the winter, but downtown is great for summer activities: sailing, kayaking, waterbikes, concerts, paddleboats, strolling around the water, etc. etc. etc. etc. Downtown is also the location of Chippewa St, which used to be the big place to go out on weekends. Now it's mostly upscale restaurants/lounge-y places, such as The Lodge. You can get a great brunch down here.
On the West Side, you have Niagara Café, which has some of the best Latino food I've ever had in my life. There are a lot of little up and coming places around here - Columbus Parkway is really turning into a cool area, and Resurgence Brewing Company on Niagara street has excellent beers/is a really fun place to hang out. I also hear really excellent things about the brunch game at Sweetness 7. The Elmwood Village has gentrified a lot but the West Side is still growing a lot, so there are a lot of cool hole-in-the-wall places here that I encourage you to explore.
Or go to Canada, no one's stopping you. We're two hours away from Toronto, and one time I accidentally hit a tennis ball into border patrol. You can also get out of the city proper and explore the Niagara Wine Region, Niagara on the Lake, Niagara Falls, any of those cool Canadian places.
Anything to add? Tell me in the comments.