March 4, 2017: The Home of Buffalo Wings
Buffalo is not at the top of most travelers’ radars, and it certainly was not at the top of mine. However, a flash Jet Blue sale was promoting $20 one-way fares to and from Buffalo, so I bought a roundtrip ticket for a weekend. The flight out was a red eye on Friday and the flight back was on Sunday evening. Having never been to Buffalo, I booked the flight in early March where I arranged to meet up with a high-school friend who lives in New York City.
On Friday March 3rd it was a beautiful 80 night in LA when I boarded my 4 ½ hour flight to Buffalo.
I arrived in Buffalo around 7am. The ground was covered in snow. The pilot said it was 14 degrees…Fahrenheit.
I picked up the rental car and headed to the hotel- the airport Best Western where my friend had already checked in. I then took an hour-long nap.
Now somewhat rested, we headed over to the Lake Effect Diner-named for snowfalls caused by Lake Erie- to get breakfast. The diner was built in the 1950’s in the classic “dining car” style and originally stood in rural Pennsylvania before being transported to Buffalo 20 years ago.
We then headed over to the Forest Lawn Cemetery to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s stunning Blue Sky Memorial. The cemetery is home to some of the most beautiful monuments in the country and has some famous residents including President Millard Fillmore.
The next stop was Downtown Buffalo. It was a ghost town on a frigid Saturday morning. The center of town is called Niagara Square and is flanked by civic buildings including two courthouses and the iconic City Hall.
Just a block north is the New Era corporate headquarters. New Era is known for making all the hats worn in the MLB. They have been based in Buffalo for over 100 years. The actual factory is in the suburbs, but the corporate headquarters has a nifty store on the first floor. They sell hats from most every professional sports team with an emphasis on the Buffalo teams: NHL’s Sabres, NFL’s Bills, and Minor League Baseball’s Bisons (not Bison).
It was now nearing lunchtime, so we drove out to the suburbs to get what are reportedly the best wings in the world: Duff’s Famous Wings.
For some reason, I have always imagined Buffalo as full of dive bars. Duff’s lived up to the stereotype with its low ceilings and down-dressed servers. Also, the wings were absolutely delicious! Perfectly crispy and spicy!
After lunch, we headed back into Buffalo to visit the Theodore Roosevelt National Historic Park- one of the 413 National Park Service units. Apparently, one of the exhibits wasn’t working so we got in for free instead of paying the normal $10 admission charge.
The museum sets the stage by showcasing the Pan American Exhibition of 1901 held in Buffalo. One of the “exhibits” at the fair was the opportunity to meet William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States. There, an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz shot the president twice in the chest. He died 8 days later. His Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt then became president, taking the oath of office in the living room of his friend’s house- the site of the museum. The room is still intact and full of period artifacts. After listening to a reenactment of the Oath of Office, you head upstairs to learn about how great President Roosevelt was.
From there, we went to Canalside, Buffalo’s newest entertainment district. The space plays on Buffalo’s location at the western terminus of the Erie Canal- the famed link between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. The developers built a fake canal where people can paddle boats. However, in the winter, the forces-that-be turn the canal into an ice skating rink. On this particular day, the rink was transformed into a gigantic pond hockey tournament with 8 rinks. The tournament had various age brackets, from 5-year olds who struggled to stay up on skates to adults. For the record, watching kids try to skate is hilarious.
AirBNB set up a large tent where we got some Labatt beers and mulled wine.
We then went to the Seneca Casino located just east of downtown Buffalo. The Seneca tribe was actually the tribe assigned to me by Mrs. Roach for my third grade Native American report. In the parking garage, there were exhibits explaining how all the land that is now Buffalo was stolen by the white people from the tribe.
The Seneca tribe was originally part of the powerful Iroquois League. They sided with the British during the Revolutionary War due to racist treatment from the American traders in the region. After the War, the Iroquois League dissolved and white settlers moved into the area and founded many cities in Western New York including Buffalo. The Seneca (like many Native American tribes) were pushed away through a series of treaties forcibly signed with the US Government. The tribe then split. Some fled to Canada, some to Oklahoma and some remained in New York on a reservation about 50 miles south of Buffalo. Their two casinos: downtown Buffalo and Niagara Falls are part of the reservation but are not adjacent to any other part of the reservation. There are currently about 8,000 Seneca living in New York.
The casino itself was okay- on par with most of the larger Indian casinos but certainly nothing compared to Nevada’s gambling centers. My friend played Spanish 21, a form of blackjack, and won $130!!!
Because we didn’t eat enough wings, we then headed to the James Beard award winning Anchor Bar just north of Downtown. The Anchor Bar is the birthplace of the Buffalo wing. The story goes that in 1964 the owner’s son Dominic came in late with some friends and wanted something to eat. His mom, Teresa, decided to fry chicken wings, which were normally used for soup stock, and soak them in a secret sauce known today as Buffalo sauce. The wings were such a hit that they were put on the menu and have since become a worldwide phenomenon.
It was now 6pm and time to head to the KeyBank Center (formerly known as the First Niagara Center) to watch the Buffalo Sabres play! The stadium is located at the south end of downtown near Canalside. After parking, we walked about 6 blocks to avoid the traffic. The inside is beautiful.
Despite being a sell-out, I scored some 5th row seats for a mere $60/seat. We arrived and indeed the seats were in the 5th row right behind the goal where the Sabres shot twice. The beer prices were also quite reasonable. During the game, we talked with a lot of locals and everyone was so nice and pleasantly surprised that Buffalo could attract tourists from Southern California. Oddly enough, about half of all the people I met had lived in Southern California at some point in their lives.
The game went to a shootout where the Sabres lost, but it was still a really fun experience. The crowd was engaged, but polite.
Based on the recommendation of the people sitting next to us, we headed over to the Pearl Street Brewery- a rowdy 4 level bar. After an hour or so of hanging around, we headed back to the hotel after a long day.
Despite the low expectations, I really enjoyed Buffalo. The dive-bar culture is fantastic. Buffalo also shattered the rude Upstate stereotype; everyone was extremely nice. In fact, the nice people was quite possibly the highlight of Buffalo.
There is actually a lot to do and see- even in the shoulder season where winter and summer activities are off-limits. Buffalo also has a lot of civic pride, or BuffaLOVE. I would definitely come back to Buffalo and would recommend a visit by anyone.
Next, I head to Niagara Falls and Canada
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