The queen city shines again

Six reasons to get away to Buffalo



Katie DeTar

The secret is out. Buffalo, our formerly downtrodden industrial neighbor to the west, is undergoing a renaissance. The city is brimming with palpable energy as entrepreneurs reinvent downtown and beyond. A prosperous heritage again shines through adaptive reuse of old buildings. Cuisine extends beyond the classic wings and pierogies as award-winning farm-to-table restaurants proliferate across the city. Jobs in medical and solar propel a new era of business. And all the while Buffalo maintains its friendly, approachable vibe. This is a city infused with new energy, a vibrant art and cultural scene, and waterfront fun. Now is the time to visit Buffalo. Here are six great reasons to start planning a getaway.

UP-AND-COMING NEIGHBORHOODS

On Buffalo’s West Side, eat your way through the day at unique food destinations that are garnering accolades and attention in Buffalo and beyond. Fifth- generation neighborhood resident Kevin Gardner opened Five Points Bakery on Brayton Street with a goal of helping to improve the area with a lively food spot. The bakery’s Toast Café presents some of the best ways to enjoy sliced bread, with combos like salami and rye with pickles or cinnamon raisin walnut with peanut butter and apple. The presentations—on antique tableware with quirky serving utensils—show off the local, fresh ingredients.

A few blocks northwest on Grant Street, the West Side Bazaar is tucked into an unassuming shopping plaza. Here, an economic development group supports start-up shops and food stalls for immigrants and refugees. The result is a 3,000-square-foot market selling handmade items and foods from around the world. Take a cuisine journey with foods from Burmese, Indian, Puerto Rican, Thai, Halal, and Ethiopian vendors. For an upscale experience, reserve a table at the Black Sheep on Connecticut Street. James Beard Award semifinalists Steve and Ellen Gedra craft dishes focused on local meats and farm-to-table produce. 

The Niagara Corridor, a portion of Niagara Street north of the city along the Niagara River, is moving from a warehouse district to an entertainment, residential, and craft beverage hub. At Roost, chef Martin Danilowicz personally sources ingredients from farmers and foragers around the country and serves them up in an artsy, industrial setting. Go for the fish of the day—likely flown in that morning—or one of the simple yet elegant pizzas. Down the street, Resurgence Brewing Company brews unique beers in a space formerly occupied by the city dog pound. The outdoor beer garden is casual and friendly, inspired by the beer gardens of Western Europe. Try the sponge candy stout, an homage to Buffalo’s famous chocolate treat.

WATER WATER EVERYWHERE

Buffalo’s proximity to water led to its boom in the early nineteenth century, and now the waterfront is the city’s main tourist destination. At the mouth of the Buffalo River on the shore of Lake Erie lies Canalside, an expansive urban park that celebrates Buffalo’s history. Here, at the terminus of the Erie Canal, boats brought goods, and thereby wealth, to Buffalo in the early 1900s. A multimillion-dollar revitalization project funds green space, public art, craft festivals, and even a sandy kids’ play area. In wintertime, Canalside emerges as a hub of cold weather fun with ice bikes, skating, and nearby hockey tournaments.

At the Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park you can tour a World War II–era submarine and cruiser and view aircraft and military vehicles. The adjacent memorial park and sculpture garden is a beautiful tribute to our fallen heroes. At Liberty Hound restaurant, grab lunch in a lively setting on the outdoor patio overlooking the park and Canalside.

Rent a bike from the new Reddy Bikeshare—with bikes available throughout the city—and hop on the Queen City Bike Ferry. The summertime vessel carries bikes and pedestrians between Canalside and the Outer Harbor—the newest of Buffalo’s waterfront park space. Bike paths stretch along a peninsula of land between the Buffalo River and Lake Erie, offering sunset views and picnic spots. Ferry rides are just $1 each way.

HIP TO BE SQUARE

Grab a hula hoop and shimmy along to live music at Larkin Square, the centerpiece of a former warehouse neighborhood now known as Larkinville. The weekly Food Truck Tuesdays attract more than thirty trucks, and hundreds gather to nosh their way through everything from classic Buffalo favorites to creative tacos and vegan fare. Local bands entertain crowds in season on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings and at lunchtime concerts throughout the summer. Next door, public art and play collide at Larkin Links, a nanosized, fully functional mini golf course. Each of the holes was designed by a local artist and reflects an aspect of Buffalo history or culture (think microsized Niagara Falls or the Buffalo Sabres’ ice rink). The mini golf is free and open to the public, with putters and scorecards available at the entrance.

Buffalo’s craft beverage scene is growing in Larkinville, home to local favorites Flying Bison Brewing Company and Hydraulic Hearth restaurant and beer garden. At Tommyrotter Distillery, owner Bobby Finan crafts spirits in small batches. The flavorful gin incorporates 12 botanicals, including cardamom and nutmeg, for a unique flavor profile. Be sure to try the Cask Strength Bourbon Barrel Gin with its rich amber color and warm undertones.

ARCHITECTURE TOURS

The Queen City’s collection of world-class architecture is reason enough to plan a visit. The city’s downturn in the 1950s and 1960s actually spared historic buildings from the wrecking ball, and they’re now shining as part of Buffalo’s resurgence. Connect with Explore Buffalo for a walking tour to see masterworks including Louis Sullivan’s 1895 Guaranty Building, Richard Upjohn’s 1851 St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the art deco masterpiece that is City Hall, with its open-air observation tower, open to the public during weekday business hours.

Influential American architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed and built some of his best work in Buffalo, including the Darwin Martin House Complex in the city and the Graycliff Estate south of Buffalo on Lake Erie. Both exemplify his famous use of cantilevered ledges and his signature window style and are open for public tours. At the Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum, owner/collector Jim Sandoro built a Frank Lloyd Wright filling station, designed by Wright in 1927 for a Buffalo locale but never built. The station was completed—indoors for show only—in 2014 and is now on public display. The bold copper roof and salmon-colored concrete structure complement the museum’s expansive automobile collection.

ART SCENE

Buffalo’s most popular selfie spot is next to Shark Girl, a statue of a young girl with a shark’s head located at Canalside. An Instagram star in her own right, she adds an element of fun to the established art scene in Buffalo and takes her place among public art projects expanding around the city. Murals adorn buildings and businesses, new sculptures are popping up around the city, and small galleries host vibrant collections and craftspeople.

The popular Albright-Knox Art Gallery is home to a modern art collection that rivals big-city museums. The collection includes works by van Gogh, Matisse, and Picasso, as well as more modern pieces by Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. An expansion project is under way to increase exhibit and event space. The Burchfield Penny Art Center showcases regional artists and Western New York themes, including the works of watercolor master Charles E. Burchfield.

UNIQUE EXPERIENCES

Thanks to the Erie Canal, Buffalo was at one time a booming center for shipping, most notably grain shipments coming from the Midwest, heading east to New York City and beyond. The grain elevators—wood, brick, and concrete structures developed in Buffalo for more efficient handling of grain—once dominated the city’s riverfront. The thirteen remaining grain silos are collectively known as Silo City, and like much in Buffalo, it’s a creative reuse project. At Silo City, Explore Buffalo walking tours guide visitors through the 125-foot tall gigantic structures, many filled with subway-style graffiti and public art projects. The area around the silos hosts poetry readings and concerts, and will soon house a chic new restaurant and bar.

Gardeners and flower fanatics flock to Buffalo the last weekend in July for the annual Garden Walk Buffalo. More than 400 public and private gardens around the city open to the public for the largest garden walk in the United States. The self-guided tour is free, and there’s even a free garden tour shuttle.

Katie DeTar is the host and producer of the television travel series Fringe Benefits, airing now on public television stations.
katiedetar.com

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