If Elmwood is the movie star of Buffalo neighborhoods, then Allentown is the artist. Wall-size murals flank the district’s many live music bars, neighborhood galleries, restaurants and shops. Beautiful brick buildings and characters like the “bubble man,” who blows bubbles out of his apartment window at the corner of Allen Street and Elmwood Avenue, give the neighborhood a creative energy unlike anywhere else in the city.
A Weekend Getaway in Allentown
Most people would describe Allentown with adjectives like “funky” and “hip.” While Allentown is pleasantly weird, it’s also secretly luxurious, and one of the best places in the city to combine funky and fancy into a weekend getaway.
Fancy first. Check into the Mansion on Delaware. Why? Because the Mansion is a AAA Four Diamond hotel with 24 hour butler service. After you (or your butler) drop your bags, make use of their complimentary shoe shine and pressing service, head to the lobby for a complimentary cocktail or two and then use the free shuttle service, a Range Rover, to ride in style to dinner. Now, you could use the complimentary internet to find a place to eat but you should take my word for it and head to Tempo for their prosciutto wrapped filet mignon.
Sleep in and take advantage of the Mansion’s complimentary European style breakfast. Then head up the street to the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site for a history lesson. The museum is located on the site where Roosevelt took the Oath of Office and was sworn in as the 26th President of the United States.
Then, head around the corner to for a session at Massage Therapeutic Arts on North Street. Their motto? “A sanctuary in which to heal and rejuvenate.” This has you written all over it.
Fill out the remainder of the afternoon with music. Nietzsche’s has carved out a niche as one of Buffalo’s prime live music bars every night of the week. But one of the city’s best kept secrets also takes place here at 4:30 every Saturday afternoon, when a group of local musicians gather for a casual Celtic jam. Grab a pint of Guinness and enjoy.
It’s time to get funky! Walk down Allen for a Mexican meal at Cantina Loco or Don Tequila. Pick one. There’s no wrong answer. After that, stay on Allen for a cocktail or three. The fun-filled crew at Colter Bay serve over 30 microbrews. After that, make your way to the back room bar at Allen Street Hardware. End your night with a famous steak sandwich at the Old Pink, a Buffalo classic. When you’re ready, call the Mansion and Range Rover it home.
Betty’s is an Allentown classic; a restaurant that embodies the character of the neighborhood while also serving up one of the most popular Sunday brunches in Buffalo. Start your day here.
This historic neighborhood just north of downtown is a perfectly quirky spot filled with live music bars, trendy restaurants, public art murals and locally owned galleries, antique shops and boutiques. Allentown, named after early 1800s local farmer Lewis Allen (who let his cattle graze on the land prior to the neighborhood’s construction), is roughly bordered by Main Street to the east, Edward and Cottage Streets to the south, Kleinhans Music Hall to the west and North Street to the north (of course). Here are my 5 ways to eat, play and love Allentown:
Listen to it LIVE
Allentown is particularly known for its bars and music venues. On any given night you can hear hip hop pouring out of Allen Street Hardware, jazz playing at PAUSA Art House and the Buffalo Philharmonic on stage at Kleinhans Music Hall. Nietzsche’s is a neighborhood staple that hosts musicians, open-mike nights, comedy acts and burlesque shows. As the public art on the outside Nietzsche’s states, “Life without music would be a mistake.”
For Those Who Like to Eat
Allentown is home to some of my favorite foodie destinations. Some of the city’s most popular restaurants are within a stone’s throw of each other.
The adventure starts with breakfast. “Hang with the locals” at Café Taza for a coffee, or try a scramble tofu hash from Betty’s (vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options).
Save your appetite for dinner, but it’s going to be hard to choose! If you are looking for fine dining, Tempo is one of the best restaurants in the city. For tasty wings and things head to Gabriel’s Gate or Allen Burger Venture. As for your second dinner, Founding Fathers Pub has make your own nachos, and how can you pass up a legendary “chicken finger sub” from Jim’s Steakout…you can’t, so just give in.
Art For The People
Mark Goldman, a Buffalo historian, social advocate and businessman, created the public art scene in Allentown, known as the Allen Street Art Collective. In 2013, he set out to create a mural series that would be dedicated to his late brother, and since then it’s blossomed into the heart of the public art scene. The murals feature artists from New York City, Los Angeles and Buffalo.
And in the summer months, don’t miss the guy locals affectionately refer to as the “Bubble Man,” who blows hundreds of bubbles from his third floor apartment into the intersection of Elmwood and Allen on nice days. Only in Allentown!
A strong music scene is at the heart of any great city. It doesn’t need to be flashy, loud, or complex. But it needs rock steadiness and a soul. Think Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones instead of Neil Peart of Rush.
As a guitarist and music geek, I set out to explore some of Buffalo’s music venues. Some of my all-time favorite spots thrive on being effortlessly authentic. So, after two weeks of exploring, my takeaway is that the scene somewhat mirrors Buffalo’s narrative of rebirth – priding itself on authenticity and limitless potential.
On the larger scale, you have stalwarts like Shea’s and Kleinhans. But this time, I focused on the smaller venues where up-and-coming bands’ own stories are born.
Nietzsche’s, 248 Allen St.
A bohemian twist on a New Orleans music hideaway. Patrons are greeted by stretches of quirky wall décor, dim lighting courtesy of faux candles and neon signs, and writing scrawled across – of all places – the ceiling. To your right, an antique piano sits just invitingly enough to make you wonder whether it’s been waiting for you. It’s a casual atmosphere with a quiet energy that attracts jazz, jam band, funk, and fusion enthusiasts who mingle around the front lounge bar or at the back main stage. Vintage Allentown.
Sportsmen’s Tavern, 326 Amherst St.
Blues festival junkies and classic rockers, look no further. For tasty guitar licks and dirty fingernail blues, this venue has everything you need. With a renovated ground floor and balcony, the venue has a unique design to accommodate a large crowd while maintaining the intimate club feel. In the summer months, there is also an outdoor patio and seating area for people to enjoy a summer drink while looking in on the band. For those that prefer their tunes up-close-and-personal, there’s the option of tables and chairs so close that your ears feel the hum of a Marshall stack or Fender strat. Bring your dancing shoes.
Buffalo’s Mohawk Place, 47 E. Mohawk St.
No music city would be complete without a vintage rock club. The legend of Mohawk Place started in the early 1990s, built by Western New York music impresario Marty Boratin and his eye for booking talent. He turned a gritty dive bar into a place where playing meant something across circles in rockabilly, blues and Americana. Today, the club stands as a right of passage for many veteran and new artists.
Mezza, 929 Elmwood Ave.
Buffalo’s not only rock ‘n roll. And I like it. In fact, I love jazz. Mezza is less heralded for the genre than the historic Colored Musician’s Club, but it is a hidden gem – if there is such a thing on bustling Elmwood Avenue. A somewhat unassuming exterior leads one to believe it’s a cozy bar and Mediterranean restaurant. It is. But in the middle of each week, it also features Jazz Wednesday – hosted by bassist Wayne Moose who anchors a rotating group spanning across Buffalo’s rich jazz artist community. Moose and company have serious chops and – in true Buffalo fashion – are always open for a chat between sets.
Pausa Art House, 19 Wadsworth St.
Seriously, an art house? Part gallery, part wine bar, part music venue, it’s one of Allentown’s lesser known destinations to catch any range of genres across jazz, bluegrass, gypsy, Klezmer, and others on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Count me in.
(Editor’s note: We also recently profiled Buffalo Iron Works in Buffalo’s Cobblestone District. Check it out here.)