The village where America’s Arts and Crafts movement began over a century ago continues to embrace a creative vibe today. Located 20 minutes from downtown Buffalo, East Aurora is full of distinctive attractions, from the only house built by a U.S. president with his own hands to a family owned 5 & 10 store and a variety of cafes, boutiques and restaurants. It’s easy to see why so many visitors stay an entire day or a weekend in the village.
Art and antiques, eclectic cuisine, a historic five-and-dime and craft beer attract visitors to a classic small town.
East Aurora, founded in 1804, boasts a delightful blend of historical preservation, natural beauty and iconic character while also acknowledging that times, indeed, have changed. It’s so iconic, in fact, that movie productions—both local and national—use it as a stand-in for “Small Town, USA.” It’s a great spot for a quick weekend jaunt when in Buffalo.
On Friday, check in to the Roycroft Inn. The original Roycrofters helped put East Aurora on the map—late 19th century salesman, thinker and artist Elbert Hubbard founded the Roycroft Press, which morphed into an American Arts and Crafts community, known simply as the Roycrofters. Today, the inn’s Arts and Crafts architecture and décor preserve the Roycroft aesthetic and the history.
For the evening, head to 42 North Brewing Company; the barrelhouse, taproom and brewery is a destination for locally crafted brews, a farm-to-table menu, convivial atmosphere and a good taste of the EA nightlife.
In the morning, try breakfast at the Elm Street Bakery. The charming barn-like structure with a warm wood interior offers fresh baked pastries, hearty bread and breakfast options. (At lunch and dinner time, wood-fired pizzas and homemade dishes fill the belly and soul. It’s all locally sourced and seasonal when possible.)
After breakfast, visit the Roycroft Campus and the Copper Shop Gallery across from the inn to see workshops and artifacts from the Roycrofters. In addition to books, they produced wood furniture, leather goods, metal and decorative items.
Head a few blocks down Main for lunch at Bar-Bill Tavern — this low-key joint always makes local and national “best Buffalo wings” lists. They specialize in the regional dish, and have made them their own with both expected and unique sauce choices, including zesty honey pepper, Cajun and honey butter BBQ. There may be a wait —see the bartender to get a table or on a list. No reservations. Cash only.
Amongst East Aurora’s many boutiques and shops, there are a few standouts. Before heading back across town to the main commercial area, check out Four Honey Bees Cottage — owner and local personality Anne Marie Biron will be happy to show you her justifiably vaunted selection of Mackenzie-Childs giftware.
Will Faller Antiques is a destination for well-curated art, antiques and curios. In the same funky building (a former creamery) is RedFISH Studios, a space highlighting artists working in a variety of media. Mud Sweat n’ Gears is the place for ski and snowboard gear. Fowler’s Chocolates, which claims to be the originator of Buffalo’s famous sponge candy, has an outpost here. Vidler’s 5 & 10 is a must-see. If the red awnings spanning almost an entire block don’t tip you off to the location (676-694 Main St.), look for the “Vidler on the Roof.” A five-and-dime store on steroids, this nearly 90-year-old emporium features more than 75,000 items of kitsch (and some stuff you might really need) and is endlessly entertaining.
Roycroft Renaissance artisan Thomas Pafk
For die-hard Roycroft fans: take a short drive to the Schoolhouse Gallery, where juried modern-day Roycroft artisans offer handcrafted wares like plaques, prints, paintings, tiles and wooden furniture for viewing and sale.
Dinner at Rick’s on Main is always a treat; the cozy nooks, friendly service and varied menu are welcoming to all. For an after-dinner drink, try the Griffon Gastropub or Wallenwein’s Hotel, a local institution that’s been serving cold beer and good food since the late 1800s (641 Oakwood Ave).
Get some shuteye! In the a.m., try the sumptuous brunch at the Roycroft Inn, then check out.
On your way out of town, stop by Knox Farm State Park. The rolling 633-acre property was donated by one of the area’s most philanthropic families — their name graces many locations, most notably Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Take a hike or a walk, and explore the Visitor Center for a bit of history.
There’s a popular saying in Buffalo that “everything is within a 20 minute drive.” Locals are spoiled by how quickly they can get from one neighborhood to another thanks to our lack of heavy traffic. The nearby village of East Aurora, just a quick drive from downtown, is no exception. East Aurora has many unique retail stores, historical sites and great restaurants – many of which are included on Buffalo Bites’ East Aurora Food Tours. It’s the perfect location for a day trip at any time of the year. Here are a few of the top foodie spots in town:
Elm Street Bakery (72 Elm St) One of the best restaurants in Western New York, Elm Street is worth the drive to East Aurora by itself. The location is warm and inviting and if you can, grab a seat at the bar. Watching the staff cook pizza out of their large wood fire oven is simply mesmerizing (plus it’s honestly some of the best, if not the best, pizza in WNY). Their bread and pastry selection is second to none and their dinner service lead by Chef Jennifer Boye features excellent seasonal and locally sourced ingredients.
Fresh pizza at Elm Street Bakery
Rick’s on Main (687 E Main St) In the six years they’ve been open, Rick’s on Main has become an East Aurora staple and for good reason. The Chef/Owners Rick and Cathy Pohlman have consistently been serving upscale American fare to locals for lunch and dinner. Their specials reflect seasonal ingredients while their menu features various fresh salads, a long selection of steak and seafood entrees and shareable plates. All of this takes place in a two story historic home that has been converted into a gorgeous restaurant.
Bar Bill Tavern (185 Main St) Bring cash and patience. This small bar has expanded over the years to help meet demands but you still might have to wait a bit for a coveted table. The reason for the popularity? Some of the best wings AND beef on weck sandwiches that you’ll find anywhere in Western New York. The sandwiches are cut behind the bar to order and the wings are hand painted with sauce in order to keep them as crispy as possible. My tip? Order the teriyaki wings; they might not be traditional but they sure are delicious.
Bar-Bill Tavern wings
Aurora Brew Works (191 Main St) While this isn’t a restaurant, this is a must visit for any beer lover who happens to be near East Aurora. ABW acts as both an excellent craft beer store AND a place where you can hang out (or kill time for your Bar Bill wait next door) and enjoy a beer on draft or from their cooler. Head downstairs to their newly renovated tap room if you want to stay a while.
East Aurora Co-op Market (591 Main St) This relatively new member-owned grocery store has basically everything a local foodie would want. The shelves are full of quality produce (often local when possible), humanely-raised meat from some of the best farms (we found a lot of T-Meadow in there), local artisans goods, fresh-to-go snacks and a lot of natural household products.
Freshly baked pies at East Aurora Co-op (Photo courtesy of East Aurora Cooperative Market)
42 North Brewing (25 Pine St) One of Buffalo’s newest breweries is also one of its most exciting. Located in a renovated building filled with reclaimed wood and exposed brick, the space is a great backdrop for hanging out with some friends and grabbing a couple beers. In the rear, large glass windows allow customers to take a look at the brewery facility below. It doesn’t hurt that their food menu is filled with products from local vendors and farms like BreadHive, Arden Farm and Barrel & Brine.
The Roycroft Inn (40 S Grove St) The Roycroft Inn offers breakfast, lunch and dinner from longtime Executive Chef Andrew Nuernberger and they do a great job. Aside from the great food, the restaurant and surrounding campus offers a unique historical setting unlike any other restaurant in WNY. The inn itself dates back to 1905 and the campus, which is a National Historic Landmark, was founded by Elbert Hubbard, the father of the American Arts and Crafts Movement.
Ladies and gentleman, step right up and witness the almighty Vidler’s 5 & 10! Come one, come all, to this legendary variety store located in East Aurora. Witness the bizarre, the charming, the colossal, the family-owned destination. Stories of this landmark are all true…just pick a door under the red and white awning and step right into a wonderland of shopper’s bliss!
Celebrating 89 years in business, this 5 & 10 dominates EA’s charming Main Street. With 4 connected buildings, Vidler’s offers twelve departments of fun. A visit is like walking back in time, where the lineup of penny candy jars is never-ending and you can buy Christmas ornaments year-round.
What I love most about Vidler’s is the wacky and wild things you can buy. Owner Don Vidler estimates the store stocks a whopping 75,000 unique items! If you’re looking for something for yourself or need a gift, you will find the perfect one for your mother who takes gardening to another level, your father who loves anything camo, your sister who loves to cook, and your brother who loves anything with a Buffalo on it. This is the place to find everything, and anything you’ve ever wanted, and didn’t even know existed.
You could spend hours in this haven of happiness, and I’m not exaggerating. Every corner you turn puts a smile on your face, and there are a multitude of corners, nooks and crannies too. Could you use some bacon-flavored floss or a mini Hello Kitty frying pan or even a Buffalo Wing infused soda? It’s like every dream you’ve ever had woke up and sat on a shelf. The straightforward but vintage department names alone should help paint the picture: candy, school supplies, bath & body, specialty foods, retro & collectables, seasonal, home décor, crafts, toys, “take a look nook,” kitchenware, and fabrics & yarns. From room to room the sheer size of this store is incredible, and there’s even a basement jam-packed with gourmet and home-spun kitchenware and sundries. I would recommend packing a snack and bringing a water bottle in case you get lost amidst the aisles (perhaps a GPS visitor tracking system would help?), but why not just buy while you are there and taste along the way.
If this hasn’t gotten you into your car and driving towards East Aurora, I don’t know what will. You can’t miss the spot. Look for the GIANT smiling “Vidler on the roof”. It’s family owned and now run by the 3rd generation. So, stop in and play. Even just purely for an epic Instagram photo. This circus of fun is awaiting your visit!