The history of Buffalo’s Chippewa District is one of variation, reinvention—then reinvention again.
It’s been blocks of gritty revelry and a stretch of shimmering bars and clubs, pulsating with bass, dance moves and draft beer specials. Its locales have offered dining and drink options for Theatre District denizens headed to touring Broadway productions, and its live music venues birthed sweat-drenched guitar heroes, including the trio that became Buffalo’s most commercially successful music export. (See: Goo Goo Dolls.)
Over its span as Buffalo’s entertainment district, it’s been all things to all patrons. But throughout its run, few have tried to match the kaleidoscopic spontaneity of its host district quite like Rec Room.
Since opening as an upscale rock club in 2018—with two floors of space for patrons, a full food and drink menu, Instagram-ready backdrops aplenty, and shows featuring touring acts across all genres—the Chippewa spot remains the district’s go-to for live original music. They’ve filled a needed niche in a city with larger-capacity clubs and smaller, grimier rock holes, but few places in between.
“We’re trying to bridge the gap between Town Ballroom-like amenities and that smaller, intimate, club-level vibe,” says Chris Ring, co-owner of Rec Room.
As former owner of Delaware Avenue spot Waiting Room and longtime operator of the Buffalo-based After Dark Entertainment—which has produced concert events across Upstate New York for more than two decades—Ring understands what entertainment can mean to a district, venue or single patron. When he transitioned from Waiting Room to finding a home for Rec Room, he knew he wanted to set up somewhere that could use the creative injection his concept could provide.
Enter available Chippewa space and the neighborhood’s need for a new live music spot, and Ring found his match.
“When we decided to open on Chippewa, it was important for us to bring the live music vibe to the district,” said Ring. “This is known as the entertainment district for Buffalo, but all the bars provide predominantly dance music or Top 40. There’s no Continental anymore, no Atomic, no venue really doing live music. It really lacked that, that live-band element, so we thought it was a unique opportunity to bring that element to the street and complement everything already going on here.”
But instead of merely complementing the district’s drinks and dining options, Rec Room stands as its block’s must-visit destination, offering a variety of music options while delivering a diverse collection of new patrons to the ever-changing Chip Strip.
First, there’s the traditional bookings of such past performers as The Joy Formidable, Wavves and actor-turned-musician Billy Bob Thornton, luring traditional clubgoers into a spacious, multi-tiered experience. But along with watching the bands, there are the nights when things turn a tad more immersive—and patrons can join the band. This is Rec Room’s Live-Band Karaoke, and it continues to be one of the venue’s most popular draws.
“For live-band karaoke, you’re the one participating in the show. You’re singing,” said Ring. “You’ve felt the excitement and energy as a fan, seeing your favorite band. Now, you get to sing and be on the stage with a full backing band and kind of get to live the rock star life. That’s a different element than people are used to experiencing, and that comes with the show.”
Then there are nights with the Dueling Pianos Band, when Ring & Co. build a separate stage on top of its bar for the pianists to play, and transform its venue into more of a food-forward lounge—but one conducive to plenty of sing-a-longs. Between collaborative verses, patrons can relax with friends in adjacent booths, toast with rounds of Blood Orange Mules, and pass around shareable dishes like Bang Bang Shrimp.
These are three completely different ways to enjoy a night of music, all within the same quasi-traditional rock club space—and according to Ring, they’re always looking to add more. Touring DJs. Taylor Swift dance parties. Even an outdoor music festival across the whole of the Chippewa District.
“It’s always different,” said Ring. “You never know what kind of show you’re going to get, what kind of program you’re going to get. We like trying to create events that, though maybe more normal in bigger markets, haven’t been done that much here.”