Buffalo’s Summer Cool: A city resurrected, revitalized, reimagined and cool in the heat

By Michelle Kearns

Published on

Lake Erie breezes make Queen City temperate and cool. This city also beckons with another kind of summer cool: From waterfront promenades to a shoreline concert space with sunset views, a culture of cutting-edge design, an art museum with a world-renowned modern and contemporary art collection to a global food scene with a James Beard finalist chef who melds the cooking of his Indian heritage with Texas barbecue. The Erie Canal is celebrating its 200-year anniversary by retelling its history at a canal boat replica and floating museum built by volunteers. Buffalo is, in the words of Anthony Bourdain, “weirdly wonderful.” Open your calendar. Visit this summer.

Immerse yourself in a unique city with captivating design.

The new Gundlach building at Buffalo AKG Art Museum, photo by Marco Cappelletti

The $195 million reinvention of the expanded, renamed Buffalo AKG Art Museum. A world-class collection of modern and contemporary art — without the crowds. Explore the 50,000 square foot addition that emerges from the lawn like an ice floe made of glass. The riveting chronicle of art from the past century to now is, as the Wall Street Journal wrote, “a required stop for cultural travelers.”

The H.H. Richardson-designed Richardson Hotel, photo by Richardson hotel

Sleep in at a National Historic Landmark by the great American architect H.H. Richardson: The Richardson Hotel is an au courant experience with modern décor and the soaring windows of the1870s asylum. Dine on Italian fare and oysters in its serenely elegant Cucina bar and restaurant. Get the story at the ground floor Lipsey Architecture Center. Tour the Richardson Campus designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Guided walks await photographers, gardeners, history buffs and the curious.

Terminal B, a repurposed waterfront warehouse turned concert venue on Buffalo’s waterfront, photo by Joe Cascio

Music moves us. Jazz, rock, classical, hip-hop venues and festivals grow here. This summer, Terminal B, a waterfront warehouse repurposed into a concert venue, debuts with alt rock’s Counting Crows and soul, funk and jazz by Lake Street Dive. Hear more at Buffalo RiverWorks, a grain-siloed waterfront entertainment center. In the downtown Cobblestone District, tribute bands transport at Buffalo Iron Works’ brick factory space. Nationally touring Americana folk and country players take the Sportsmens tavern stage in the Black Rock neighborhood. Let summer end at the Music is Art festival, founded two decades ago by Goo Goo Dolls bassist Robby Takac, with a renewed collaboration with the Buffalo AKG Art Museum. A recent count of its ear-opening profusion: 200 bands on 24 stages. For the bucolic, head to Borderland, a jam band fest at a horse-farm-estate-turned-state park.

International cuisines and culinary incubators are part of Buffalo’s delicious food story, along with the James Beard finalist chef behind Southern Junction Barbecue’s fusion of Texas and Indian cuisines. Taste the delights of Egypt, West Africa, Myanmar, the Philippines, Sudan, Thailand and Ethiopia at the West Side Bazaar, within a Prohibition-era hootch factory, and the Downtown Bazaar, in the heart of the Theatre District. Classic eateries showcase Italian and Sicilian fare that goes back generations. Now Bangladeshi kebabs, Yemeni roast lamb, Georgian coffee and Syrian pastries join the lineup.

A performance and projection outside at Duende at Silo City, photo: Pat Cray via Just Buffalo Literary Center

Silo City, a once abandoned 27-acre stretch of waterfront and grain elevators, has emerged as an urban oasis with residences underway in a century-old warehouse. Music, poetry and cocktails are at home here. Take a sip at Duende tavern and listen to jazz and Americana folk indoors and out. On Saturdays, Mimosas and Minuets is an afternoon breakfast sandwich brunch with string ensembles playing. Poetry readings have uncanny resonance in the silos with the Just Buffalo Literary Center. As a nature trail winds amidst sculptural installations, see how new urban design evolves organically.

The summer theater scene is unique and diverting. Avant-garde happenings by Torn Space Theater connect art, fashion, sound and even a communal dinner table at Silo City and in a redesigned theater connected to a century-old Polish club still serving bottles of cold Zyweic beer. Follow Frederick Law Olmsted’s parkways for a picnic and hillside seat at one of the longest running summer park producers of the Bard’s work: The Winter’s Tale and The Comedy of Errors unfolds at Shakespeare in Delaware Park, now in its 49th year.

This city’s house gardens open to the public in summer. The Buffalo Garden Walk with its route through Victorian neighborhoods and inspiringly creative plantings and blooms celebrates its 30th anniversary. Find more garden walks and open garden days June 30 through July 28.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House, photo: Matt Digati

Explore Frank Lloyd Wright’s design genius at two house museums. The architect called the Martin House, in the leafy Parkside neighborhood, “a perfect composition.” Its complement, the Graycliff summer estate and gardens, perches over Lake Erie.

Colored Musicians Club board member and former president, George Scott, photo by Nancy J. Parisi

Hear jazz at the Colored Musicians Club, one of the nation’s only continuously operating Black musicians’ union headquarters, where members like Aretha Franklin and Miles Davis hung out and played. The reopening club and expanded museum will tell the story and lend a seat for a beer at the wooden bar where music, and history, has been made for a near century. It’s in the  African American Heritage Corridor with roots in the Underground Railroad and the NAACP.

Our shoreline is dotted with elevating experiences. See the Seneca Chief, a volunteer-built recreation of the first boat to float down the Erie Canal. The new, in-the-works Ralph Wilson Park is a $110 million citizen redesign of 100 acres along the water, made from soil left from the Erie Canal dig. It gets a spotlight this fall when a wide new pedestrian bridge gets placed over a highway. More public coastline stretches downtown at the Buffalo River. Where the Erie Canal once ended, there are the parks Outer Harbor and Canalside. Explore the children’s museum. Ride a restored carousel made here a century ago. Kayak, sail, paddleboard in smooth, sheltered waterways. Our waterfront aligns for killer sunset views. Come. Take in a few.

Michelle Kearns headshot

Michelle Kearns

As a former Buffalo News Reporter, teacher & member of a university communications team, I love sharing stories about Buffalo & the unexpected people, places & happenings here. It is a thrill to make new discoveries, and take in the city - & the Cheerios air! - as VBN's new communications manager.