There’s a stretch along the edge of the Buffalo River where empty grain silos loom like modernist sculptures and Americana jazz plays as the cocktails pour in a tavern that was once a flour company office.
The bar Duende, with an indoor performance area and an outdoor stage with silo views, was named for the Spanish word for soul of an artist. It is in the heart of Silo City, which is the name for 14 acres of land leftover from Buffalo’s heyday as a harbor and terminus of the Erie Canal. More than a century ago, Buffalo had 30 grain elevators, the nation’s largest grain storage capacity and shipments of wheat arrived here from the west before making their way east.
Duende, which has an eclectic cozy décor with repurposed elements like the bar top made from old work benches and tables made from grain sifters, opened in 2018. Out in back there’s a second bar in an old garage. Beyond its doorways, outdoor tables made of funnel-like grain hoppers are on a lawn by a stage and a curious door that functions like fence gate and opens to a wild un-mown urban field.
“It’s a mysterious door that originally was ‘The Door to Nowhere’ because there wasn’t a lot around the space,” said Olivia McCarthy, director of arts & culture at the Lyceum at Silo City, the nonprofit site management office. “Now it’s ‘The Door to Everywhere’ because of all of the possibilities of what can happen at Silo City, what has happened and all the energy that Duende brings to the site.”
The bar, surrounded by silos, is a magical spot for taking in sunset light as it gleams on the silo curves. It is an urban refuge surrounded by an evolving park with sculptures, landscape art and architecture and space for arts happenings.
Owner and founder Rick Smith started Silo City in 2012 when he gradually began to transform this once languishing industrial wasteland. The grounds include three silo clusters and related buildings, including ovens where malt for Genesee beer was once roasted. The place has hosted festivals, art installations, concerts inside and out of the silos, along with monthly summer poetry readings with the Just Buffalo Literary Center that begin each June.
Smith, the mustachioed, Stetson-hat wearing CEO and third-generation president of Rigidized Metals, the architectural steel fabricating company next door on Ohio Street, is a regular at Duende. As steward of the place, Smith is glad to take questions about its history and the goings-on he has shepherded in collaboration with artists, poets, musicians, university faculty and students and the developers who are building 168 apartments inside the former American Mill & Warehouse buildings. “He greets you like a friend even if you don’t know him,” said McCarthy.
Stop by on Saturdays between 1 and 2 p.m. for the “Mimosas and Minuets” music program. When it’s open, Duende is the place for a drink, smoked wings, a salad, crab cakes or a dinner with some brisket or roasted portobello. Its hours and musical happenings posted online at duendesilo.city …Check there when planning your visit because times vary with the seasons.
“It’s kind of a neighborhood bar in an unexpected place,” said McCarthy.
Tavern hours also align with the new hours of Silo City’s green space. As of June 7, 2023, the Ohio Street pedestrian entrance is open Wednesdays from 3 to 7 p.m.
Stroll among the art, metal forms and sculptures and meander through a labyrinth seeded with chamomile and yarrow and shaped like the wiggle of the Buffalo River. Walk down long pathways through the tall grass where wood chucks tunnel. For details and news of the occasional Sunday morning opening of the grounds, check lyceumsilo.city/public-hours.
For McCarthy, Duende’s Silo City home is alluringly because it’s a surprising place that can seem different at every stop. “It’s ever changing,” she said. “It’s a great place to be in solitude and a great place for gatherings.”