In the midst of Buffalo’s resurgence, new buildings, new projects,
new life- it is important to remember the basis of what created this city. I have spoken to this in prior posts and on
Friday night got to experience a flash tour of Buffalo authenticity.
Forgotten Buffalo Tours celebrate what was. They examine the local gin mills, dive bars
and social clubs that helped create the fabric of Buffalo’s working class
social scene. The tour began at
Sportman’s Tavern on Amherst St in Black Rock and progressed to 5 other local
joints, all with their own character and story.
Myself and 40 new found friends travelled via bright, yellow school bus
on a colorful tour filled with drinks, music, history and even some dirty
After Sportman’s Tavern the tour continued to St. Stan’s
Athletic Club in Polonia of the Broadway-Fillmore District. This area is known primarily for housing the
Broadway Market, and now the Dyngus Day Festival on the Monday following
Easter. For 2 weeks a year, Western New
Yorkers flock in droves to this important historical neighborhood. The tour guides, Eddie and Marty, enlightened
us about the history of the area. At one
point in time the Broadway-Fillmore District was the second busiest
intersection in New York State, second only to Time Square in New York City,
with an estimated 50,000 people crossing through per HOUR. Let that sink in. An area that is considered by most to be a
ghost town, a desert or even a war zone was once second only to Time
Square. St. Stan’s itself was the
epicenter of the neighborhood, along with several other cathedral style
churches built for the Polish population.
You can purchase a membership to this private club for $5 a year. A worthy investment to maintain a historic
Following St. Stan’s we headed to the Top Hill Grill at 104
Fillmore Avenue. This bar, like so many
others, came dangerously close to being forgotten. As is often the case with family owned gin
mills, there comes a point where the aging proprietor passes on and the
remaining family members must decide to either step in or sell. Karen, the daughter of the proprietor decided
to sell. When the day came that she had
an offer, she couldn’t sell the Grill and decided to reopen it herself after it
being closed for 2 years. She now
operates it with her children, who were all there serving cold drinks to our
rowdy crew. The Top Hill Grill also
sells food and is open to the public. It
was comfortable, safe and fun.
The next stop was the only location that I have been to
before the tour- The Saddle Up Saloon.
For those readers who live in Kasiertown, you may or may not realize
this exists in our own backyard. If you
know where the Clinton Bailey Market is, you have been a stone’s throw away
from the saloon but probably never knew it was there. It is located at 55 Hubbard St and is owned
by the same proprietor who owns Trina’s Diner on Clinton Street. The building was originally used as a livery
stable that serviced the market and now can be considered one of the most
obsolete establishments in the city of Buffalo.
It is open to the public, no membership required.
Second to last on the tour was the American Serbian Club at
1200 Tonawanda Street. This ethnic club was formed in 1916 and welcomed recent
immigrants, giving them a place to converse and socialize in their native tongue. The club is currently open on Friday nights.
The final stop was The Croatian Club at 226 Condon Avenue
founded in 1923. A main theme throughout
the tour was that private social and ethnic clubs existed during prohibition in
order to offer a layer of protection from the government by those wishing to
drink. The Croation Club is a single
story building, and upon arriving you step down a few stairs into a speakeasy
like establishment. The history is thick
in this bar, paying tribute to Croation history as well as Buffalo
history. The club didn’t just serve as a
drinking establishment, but also provided security to members working in
dangerous environments. At this time the
club was established, workers compensation was not in existence and the funds
the club generated were often used to provide care to workers and their
families injured on the job.
Forgotten Buffalo offers a range of tours, each providing
insight into a particular neighborhood or culture that helped create
Buffalo. For me it wasn’t just time well
spent drinking in an unusual location that I wouldn’t have otherwise had access
to. The tour gives you a look into the
lifestyle of those who laid the foundation for the city that so many claim to
love, but few really understand. The
tours sell out fast, so if you’re interested you should sign up for their email
list so you know when a new one is announced.
It’s a $50 well spent. You’ll
make some friends, have some drinks and uncover some history that is eye
opening about the city you call home.