A revitalized Queen City reveals a cosmopolitan character
By Doug Wallace
There’s a live band in full swing on the veranda of InnBuffalo Off Elmwood, the lawn filled with onlookers sipping their beers, the kids all waving streamers in time to the music. The annual Porchfest—one giant street party in Elmwood Village—is the welcoming committee, my first impression of Buffalo. Hello, everybody!
Skirting all the excitement at the front, we sidle in the side door to check in. The walls of this former family mansion, built in 1898, mute the party with a soothing calm that only a turn-of-the-century ambience can evoke, all silk damask walls, stained glass, hand-painted ceilings, and gleaming oak. This is just one of several mansions lining the streets here, holdovers from a simpler time, the architecture doggedly outliving the past.
“Architectural revolution is nothing new to this city of 278,000.”
Built to Last
Buffalo, my partner and I discover, is filled with this kind of renewal, older properties not just rising to their former polished glory but surpassing it. It’s like a quiet revival is taking place, Art Deco office towers getting a new lease on life downtown, growing communities enticing newcomers, once derelict parts of town now the talk of the town.
Architectural revolution is nothing new to this city of 278,000. Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright got that ball rolling more than a century ago, building on Buffalo with his unique vision. Seven of Wright’s masterworks still stand in and around the city, including the newly revitalized Martin House, from Wright’s Prairie period, a profound example of how ahead of his time Wright truly was.
"It's Like a Quiet Revival is Taking Place."
Art is Everywhere Here
After the Martin House, we decide to spend the whole day up in the Delaware Park area. We hit the shops and cafés on Hertel Avenue and have a picnic near the Rose Garden, then wander into the temporary home of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which has been collecting and conserving artworks for more than 150 years. Revival is at play here, too, with a satellite collection on exhibit until 2022 at Albright-Knox Northland, while the home base undergoes an expansion. The abridged show is surprisingly varied, so much to chew on. Right across the street, the Burchfield Penney Art Center is an enormous and bright space dedicated to artists and designers from the Buffalo Niagara region, historic and contemporary. A series of patchwork-quilt portraits by Jack Edson from Hamburg, New York, is paralyzingly beautiful.
"Buildings and Galleries aren't the only players in Buffalo's new act."
On the Waterfront
Buildings and galleries aren’t the only players in Buffalo’s new act. The rejuvenation of Canalside, to the tune of $300 million in development, has created a home for more than 1,000 events year-round, from kids programs to concerts to charity runs. You can skate on the 35,000-square-foot rink or go ice biking in the winter, and go kayaking or boating in the summer. The Outer Harbor has miles and miles of bike trails, lakefront parks, fishing, and more cruising; chances are good that a visit to Buffalo will see you in a boat at some point.
With all this activity comes—an appetite, of course. Happily, Buffalo has that covered, and with more than just chicken wings, although you would be remiss not to try them. Gabriel’s Gate, a stop on the infamous Buffalo Wing Trail, is a highlight of my afternoon one day. I follow a Bloody Mary and plate of wings with a nice, long nap. At the other end of the scale, the intimate Las Puertas restaurant delivers a delicious take on modern Mexican cuisine, blending classic French techniques with traditional Mexican ingredients and flavors. Somewhere in the middle, you will find eateries like Toutant, a casual Southern Louisiana gem, where a traditional jambalaya is so melt-in-your-mouth perfect I want to crawl into it.
"The LGBTQ scene is robust and raucous in all the right places.”
Our Night on the Town
Buffalo’s diversions don’t end with the restaurants, either. Post-dinner, the entertainment value is high for the night owls, thanks to venues like Nietzsche’s with its broad range of live music, comedy acts, and burlesque shows. It’s not just a local favourite, but also a well-regarded stop on the regional and national touring circuits. The bars and nightclubs of the West Chippewa Street strip swing at the weekends, most until 4 a.m., and the LGBTQ scene is robust and raucous in all the right places, the cluster of watering holes on Allen and Franklin Streets all part of one big happy family.
I find Buffalo’s friendly factor the golden thread woven through its laneways and boulevards, neatly tying everything and everyone together. People are quick with a simple nod—in store lineups, on street corners, bellying up to the bar, wherever you are. It’s a warm, welcoming gesture in a cosmopolitan city that acts like a small town. When you realize that you are part of the community even though you don’t live here, you’ll begin planning your next trip before this one is even over.