Buffalo, NY: Looking Back at a Weekend Spent on the Eastern Edge of Erie
Sometimes, when picturing upstate New York, I imagine a mystical land far, far away — a place that almost isn’t even real. Perpetually second fiddle to the Big Apple, the City That Never Sleeps, the city so great they named it twice, etcetera, etcetera, you tend to just kind of forget that the state of New York has 50,000 square miles of land which are not encompassed by the five boroughs. But those large tracts of farmland and college towns like Syracuse, Ithaca, and Albany are just up there waiting to be explored.
On a stormy fall night four years ago, I beckoned to the call of those mystical, oft-overlooked lands, journeying with a good friend of mine to the state’s second-largest city, Buffalo, on the eastern shores of Lake Erie. It was an impromptu trip — the best kind — and I left town on the heels of my final midterm exam, literally leaving the lecture hall and jumping right into my car, which I’d parked nearby. One pitstop in Columbus, Ohio (to grab my pal from his institution of higher learning), and about eight to eight-and-a-half hours later, there we were at the Best Western on Delaware Avenue.
True to the spontaneous nature of our trip, we didn’t necessarily have a plan of attack once we arrived — an approach that would surely put a smile on the face of the late, great Anthony Bourdain, who once described creating a checklist of must-see tourists stops as “punishing.” Leaving room for ourselves to be surprised, we woke up Friday morning and decided to head where you would naturally expect the heart of any city to exist: downtown.
Downtown Buffalo is certainly not Manhattan, but it does contain one of the largest and tallest municipal buildings in the U.S. Rising 32 stories in the very center of it all, Buffalo City Hall, an Art Deco building completed in 1931, is a marvel to behold. On top of the architecture and, you know, the daily goings-on of city government, one other reason to visit City Hall is for the chance to take in the view offered by the observation deck on the 28th floor. The friendly folks in Buffalo even let visitors go up there for free, making the panoramic views of the city and Lake Erie that much sweeter.
Following a not-so-quick photo session on the observation deck, it was time to explore some more of downtown Buffalo. Lo and behold, who should we find after walking out of City Hall? Why, Grover Cleveland, the former mayor of Buffalo! You might remember him better as the 22nd and 24th president of the U.S., AKA the only dude to serve two non-consecutive terms from 1885 to 1889, and then again from 1893 to 1897. Mr. Cleveland was looking rather stiff as he stood in Niagara Square near Perkins Drive — though what more can you expect when the guy’s been dead for over 100 years? Yes, I’m talking about a statue, so calm yourself.
Strolling on along, we wound up visiting two nearby churches, partly to check out the architecture — churches are usually good for that, you know — and partly because my friend was (and still is) in the seminary and thus naturally curious about houses of worship in parts unknown. Among our stops were St. Anthony’s of Padua, an 1891 church right behind City Hall on Court Street that was once considered the mother church of the Italian community in western New York, and St. Joseph Cathedral, a 19th century church on Franklin Street boasting Gothic Revival architecture.
Lunchtime soon came along and the only natural choice, of course, was the original home of the chicken wing, the Anchor Bar on Main Street. As the story goes, it was late in the evening on March 4, 1964, when Teressa Bellisimo was tending the bar and her son, Dominic, and several friends came in looking for something to eat. With few options, Teressa deep fried parts of the chicken that usually would go into the stock pot for soup. She added a secret sauce, served her new creations to her son and his friends, and the rest is history, as they say.
Sitting down at the now-famous restaurant for some wings and a beverage or two was just what we needed after working up an appetite exploring during the early part of the day. Afterwards, we would explore some of the Elmwood Village neighborhood, checking out a menswear retailer or two and poking our heads into a knickknack shop where I was more interested in getting photos of an orange cat than perusing the items for sale.
While I can’t recall precisely the places that we visited, some recommended stops in Elmwood Village might include the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, for your fill of modern and contemporary art; Cole’s, for a wide-ranging draft beer selection; and Everything Elmwood, for all of your eclectic gift-buying needs.
Come Saturday, it was time to head north of the city and take in the eighth wonder of the world: Niagara Falls. Now, I know people say that the views of the falls are better from the Canadian side — I know that to be true myself, actually, after visiting the other side in the summer of 2017 — but there is something to be said for the American side, as well.
For one thing, you’ve got the Maid of the Mist, which comes primed with ample opportunity to squeeze in references to Jim Carrey ranting and raving about Rose letting Jack freeze to death in the icy waters of the Atlantic (any “Bruce Almighty” fans out there?). Niagara Falls State Park, the Cave of the Winds, and the U.S. section of the Niagara Wine Trail are just a few other reasons that the American side of the falls has no problem holding its own.
Our impromptu trip to Buffalo (and Niagara) came to a close later on that afternoon, but you don’t need to let your inspiration end there. Here are some other resources to check out if you’re thinking of visiting Buffalo, which came in at No. 37 on The New York Times’ “52 Places to Go in 2018” list, anytime soon:
The Best Things to Do in Buffalo NY in 48 Hours (I Love NY)
12 Cool, Hidden, and Unusual Things to Do in Buffalo, New York (Atlas Obscura)
36 Hours in Buffalo (The New York Times)