Thanksgiving Eve is one of my favorite nights of the year for catching up with old friends over a cold beer and good conversation. Buffalo’s classic pubs and taverns offer the perfect venue.
These spots have woven their way into Buffalo’s fabric over the decades and are linchpins of their neighborhoods. Some are holdovers from the city’s blue collar era when nearby millworkers ended each day with a cold one. Others attract a crowd with their one-of-a-kind atmosphere. All of these taverns are a window into Buffalo’s personality and soul – comfortable, cozy spots where the conversation and friendliness flows as freely as the beer from the taps.
Here are a dozen classic bars and taverns for you to consider exploring on this night before Thanksgiving:
Founding Fathers Pub, 75 Edward St, Buffalo
This has been my go-to bar since I first turned 21. Former social studies teacher Mike Driscoll operates this presidential themed bar packed to the gills with presidential paraphernalia, from campaign posters to placemats featuring the miniaturized portrait of every Commander in Chief. Driscoll is quick with a trivia question while you’re at the bar; he also serves as quizmaster at the bar’s trivia night on the first Tuesday of every month. With free popcorn and nachos to boot, it’s no wonder Esquire and Buzzfeed each named this bar one of the most unique in the country.
Bar-Bill Tavern, 185 Main St, East Aurora
This cozy East Aurora institution isn’t only one of Buffalo’s most renowned spots for wings (staff hand-paints each batch with housemade sauces) and beef on weck (hand-carved behind the bar). It’s also home to the Mug Club. For $50, patrons can buy a mug, place their name on it and use it to access an unlimited supply of $1 select draft beers every time they’re at the tavern.
Rohall’s Corner, 540 Amherst St, Buffalo
Stepping into Rohall’s Corner is like spending an evening in your “grandfather’s old rec room,” according to owner Greg Rohall. There are ketchup-and-mustard colored walls, brown and red floor tiling, recessed lighting, glass block windows and a back wooden bar stocked with hard liquor. At this Black Rock neighborhood bar, the original wooden coolers still keep the beer cold, including rare and vintage finds like Utica Club – one of the popular blue-collar beers of Buffalo’s industrial heyday – and Stiegl from Salzburg, Austria. Rohall’s successfully straddles a fine line between an old-time “shot and a beer” joint serving Old Vienna and Pabst Blue Ribbon to a contemporary bar offering live piano music and an extensive wine list.
The Place, 229 Lexington Ave, Buffalo
In the Elmwood Village, the quiet corner of Lexington and Ashland Avenues has been a gathering spot since the 1870s, when horse drawn carriages leaving Buffalo stopped by the wood-frame building there for a meal. In 1941, new owner Bernie Flynn turned that place into The Place and introduced menu items that remain to this day like the “Flynnie’s Thinnie” sandwich (ham, swiss cheese and onion on toasted rye.) One of its most popular drinks is only served this time of year: The Tom and Jerry (rum, brandy, meringue and hot water topped with a dash of nutmeg) is such an institution at the holidays that patrons can even bring home the mug it’s served in. While the menu and décor has evolved over 140 years, one thing hasn’t changed: The Place’s ability to connect Buffalonians of all stripes – from politicians, lawyers and doctors to neighborhood residents – over a pint, good conversation and a warm meal.
Colter Bay, 561 Delaware Ave, Buffalo
Undergoing a renovation and ownership change just a couple years ago, the bar named after the Grand Teton village now, rightfully, feels like a mountain retreat. Always a popular spot around the holidays, come in from the cold and cozy up in this Allentown “lodge” with one of the dozens of craft brews on their extensive menu and a few of your closest pals.
Blackthorn, 2134 Seneca St, Buffalo
South Buffalo is a place where “everybody knows your name,” and perhaps nowhere embodies the cozy and close-knit character of this historically Irish neighborhood better than the Blackthorn Pub, a Seneca Street mainstay for over 40 years. Tim Russert, the late South Buffalo native moderator of NBC’s Meet The Press, loved this place, and Guy Fieri featured it on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”
Ulrich’s 1868 Tavern, 674 Ellicott St, Buffalo
The oldest tavern in Buffalo, celebrating its sesquicentennial next year, is a special spot for my family. My great-great grandfather, George Dobmeier, owned this tavern on the northern edge of downtown in the 1890s before it became Ulrich’s. A picture of him in front of Dobmeier’s Tavern still rests on one of the walls; my great-grandmother used to tell stories to my grandmother of peeling potatoes there as a little girl to help her parents with meal prep. That Ulrich’s, once a stalwart of Buffalo’s German quarter, still exists after all these years is a testament to them and all the owners since.
Brennan’s Bowery Bar, 4401 Transit Rd, Clarence
First-time patrons might do a double-take when they first enter Brennan’s. The pub, located within one of Transit Road’s many shopping plazas, is non-descript on the outside, but built inside to resemble a 19th century dark-wood bar on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Brennan’s has carved out a reputation as one of Buffalo’s most popular bars over its nearly 50 years in existence – a favorite over the years of the Buffalo Sabres’ “French Connection” and other local athletes.
Cole’s, 1104 Elmwood Ave, Buffalo
Cole’s has been a staple of the Elmwood Village since 1934. There is probably over 85 years’ worth of decorations in here, too: bison and elk heads, merry-go-round horses and high school and college pennants adorn the wood-paneled walls, booths and ceiling. Aside from the old-school atmosphere, Cole’s also has three dozen beers on tap and a full pub-grub menu.
Gene McCarthy’s, 73 Hamburg St, Buffalo
Back in Buffalo’s industrial heyday, scores of grain scoopers laboring in the silos dotting the Buffalo River whet their whistles after a long workday at nearby watering holes. One of those pubs was Gene McCarthy’s, a mainstay in Buffalo’s Old First Ward for over 50 years. These days, Gene’s also rocks an impressive craft beer selection thanks to the adjoining Old First Ward Brewing Company, and makes “McCarthy’s Style” wings – tossed in a tangy blend of bbq sauce, bleu cheese and hot sauce – that might just be some of the best in the city.
Del’s, 1553 Hertel Ave, Buffalo
Most Buffalo neighborhoods have a bar that the locals walk to and meet friends they’ve known for decades. Del’s is one of those spots in North Buffalo, the neighborhood where I grew up. I am guaranteed to bump into a classmate I went to grade school with at nearby St. Rose of Lima School any time I’m in there. Del’s – with its long wooden bar, extensive back patio and inexpensive beer – is a place where “Everyone Knows Your Name” – or will eventually.
Glen Park Tavern, 5507 Main St, Williamsville
The village of Williamsville has a history nearly as long as Buffalo’s – dating back to the early 19th century – so it should come as no surprise to find a classic tavern here, too. The Glen Park Tavern just celebrated 130 years in business. Stop in at the tavern’s original mahogany bar, order a pint, and give thanks for a village – and a region – filled with great classic bars.