Let me guess. When you hear “Buffalo,” you think wings. Or Bills.
These associations are understandable and completely valid. Whether it was Teressa Bellissimo at the Anchor Bar or Alabama transplant John Young, the barroom staples were certainly invented in Buffalo, probably in the late 1960s. The Buffalo Bills have been active there since 1960. The Buffalo Sabres, the Bisons and the Bulls round out the town’s copious all-season sports offerings. So yes, if you’re looking for an evening of athletically themed, beer-soaked partying with a side of spicy, deep-fried protein, this town has your back and then some.
But now that we have that out of the way, let’s consider what else truly makes this town remarkable.
Set on the shores of Lake Erie, Buffalo as we know it originated in 1789 as a trading community and blossomed into full glory after the opening of the 524-mile Erie Canal between 1821 and 1825.
Its position on the cusp of the 13th largest lake in the world and the western end of the most successful man-built waterway in human history made it a magnet for industry. The Erie Canal reduced shipping times and transportation costs astronomically (the cost of shipping a ton of flour from Buffalo to New York went from $120 to $6, essentially overnight), making mints for the barons behind Buffalo’s already lucrative grain-milling and steel-production businesses, and creating a population boom.
"Buffalo held the Pan-American Exposition in 1901, a world's fair, showing off the powers of electricity for the first time on a large scale. 8,000,000 people, including world leaders, visited the city. Buffalo was the eighth largest city in the U.S. at the time. Pictures in the nighttime garnered Buffalo the nickname, The City of Light, because of the attraction's focus on Nikola Tesla's breakthroughs with electrical lighting." Caption and photo from Instagram by @buffalobravesnba
The framework for the masterpiece of neoclassical, art deco and beaux arts into which Buffalo would soon evolve was laid out with intention. In 1804, Joseph Ellicott designed a radial patterned grid system for the streets that stretched out from downtown like the rays of the sun, within which an architectural and recreational bohemia bloomed during the late 19th and 20th centuries.
A public parks and parkways system, inspired by the grand boulevard and parkland system of Paris, France, was created by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux between 1868 and 1896. Three-fourths of Buffalo’s current parkland was part of their original, cutting-edge design. The green spaces dotting the jungle of gray buildings are comprised of six major parks, eight connecting parkways, nine circles and seven smaller spaces.
The most prestigious urban planners and architects flocked to Buffalo during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and in addition to Olmstead’s handiwork (he was the mastermind behind New York City’s Central Park), masterpieces erected by Frank Lloyd Wright (the Darwin D. Martin House) and others (like the 398-foot art deco City Hall and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, a Greek Revival museum) seem to be just around the corner on every block.
Liberty Building. Photo from Instagram by @buffalonyphoto
For a while though, the city hit pause on the splendor. The Great Depression and the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1957, which bypassed Buffalo, dealt a devastating blow to its economy. In recent years, after decades of decline, there has been a serious resurgence by the hands of independent creatives, in art, culture and that ineffable mixture of hipster cache, giddy delight and impressive output.
Little Summer Street. Photo from Instagram by Erica Eichelkraut @buffalolittleherd
“Buffalo is back,” Audra Herman, New York Makers’ Marketplace Director tells me as I map out my jaunt northward. Audra spends much of her time combing the state for unique artisanal artwork, housewares and edibles that are well-made, locally sourced gems. When she says Buffalo is one of her favorite stops, everyone at New York Makers perks up. “Buffalo used to be more powerful than New York City, believe it or not, and the remnants of those glory days can be found in the architecture, museums and parks. And today, it boasts one of the most cutting edge, innovative and talented art scenes in the county. Oh, and the food is incredible.”
Planning a jaunt? Buffalo is more wildly unique than ever before so don’t miss these places.
The 145-year-old Richardson Olmsted Campus (444 Forest Avenue) doubles as an architectural treasure and a boutique hotel. It was originally designed by the renowned architect Henry Hobson Richardson in collaboration with landscaping maestros Olmstead and Vaux as a (progressive at the time) State Asylum for the Insane. After decades of neglect, it has been transformed into a cultural hub, featuring the Hotel Henry Urban Conference Center and the Lipsey Buffalo Architecture Center. Historical tours are conducted May through September and the site holds frequent events. Situated on 42 acres within Buffalo’s museum district and cultural corridor, many of the city’s parks, lakes, museums and coolest farm-to-table eateries are within walking distance.
Start with the classics. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery (1285 Elmwood), the sixth-oldest public art institution in the country, is perched on the edge of Olmstead’s pièce de résistance in Buffalo, the 376-acre Delaware Park. The original neoclassical building for the museum was conceived of by Edward B. Green; its modern addition was designed by Gordon Bunshaft.
Albright-Knox. Photo from Instagram by @buffaloaerialproductions
Opened in 1862, the Albright-Knox’s redoubtable collection includes works by Francis Bacon, Frida Kahlo, Roy Lichtenstein, Georgia O’Keefe, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and others. Recent additions to its campus show how what is old can be made new.
Once you have experienced this truly special indie Granddaddy, try some public art just outside. Public art is everywhere Buffalo, especially in Elmwood Village, where utility boxes on the street are used as canvases. For more, head from Albright-Knox to the intersection of Bidwell, Chapin and Lincoln Parkways. A stunning mural named “Birds” by Larry Griffis has perched there since 1981. From there, walk along Birdwell to Elmwood Avenue where you’ll find a colorful, abstract mural by Augustina Droze and Bruce Adams. Catty corner is a utility pole featuring the city’s trademark “buffalove” bison, one of many scattered throughout town.
Bunnie Reiss's "Magic Buffalo," 2017. Commissioned by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Public Art Initiative, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.
While the streets of Buffalo are an endless gallery of some formal and established, other temporary and highly illegal art installations, visitors who are seeking another dose of permanence which can be appreciated inside can head to the Burchfield Penney Art Center (1300 Elmwood Avenue), for its arresting collection of art hailing from Western New York, including the world’s largest collection of works by Charles E. Burchfield.
Niagara University’s folk-and-emerging art focused Castellani Art Museum (5795 Lewiston Road), the film-focused Squeaky Wheel (617 Main Street) and the contemporary Anderson Gallery at the University of Buffalo (One Martha Jackson Place) are also all worth a pop-in.
Photo from Instagram by @squeakybuffalo
The arts movement in Buffalo often goes hand-in-hand with the crafts movement, so visitors in search of pretty, portable treasures to bring home will find plenty to choose. Buffalo takes it crafts seriously: no badly knit baby booties or misshapen ceramic bowls to be found here.
In fact, Buffalo still harbors reverberations from the Arts & Craft Movement that emerged as a response to the age of machines and mass production emerging everywhere in the second half of the 19th century. It began in Europe and spread to America.
Elbert Hubbard of Buffalo is considered by many to have led the movement from Europe to America after traveling to England and visiting the home of famed Arts & Craft pioneer William Morris. His legacy can be felt (and purchased!) today at the community he founded, the Roycroft Campus near Buffalo (31 South Grove Street, East Aurora). These days, it’s a celebrated artist’s community employing about 500 artisans who are focused on a philosophical and aesthetically pleasing approach to craftsmanship. There is an epic gallery on-site, with an array of lovingly made objects to adorn walls, bookshelves and tables for sale.
Thin Ice (719 Elmwood Avenue) sells gorgeous locally made jewelry, hand blown glass, wood bowls, leather products, wall art and scarves, plus offers art, meditation, candle making and gemstone classes and store events for the community.
There aren’t enough independent bookstores left, and few in the world like Talking Leaves (951 Elmwood Avenue), which accurately bills itself as “independent and idiosyncratic since 1971”.
Photo from Instagram by @esbodow
Another notable business located in Buffalo is New York Makers' very own Oxford Pennant. Over four years ago, founders David Horesh, Brett Mikoll and Pat Simons decided to reinvigorate the vintage-inspired pennant flag industry, and are now dominating that American market, all the while still an independently-owned company. Their showroom is located at 43 West Tupper Street.
Photo Credit: Oxford Pennant
The grand poobah of the craft scene, though, is the city’s annual Arts & Crafts Festival. Held this year on August 19th, 2017, it will be hosted in the streets of downtown Buffalo. Roughly 150 of the city’s best arts and craft vendors will be there, selling their wares.
Hungry? Fun is exhausting. Buffalo Proper (333 Franklin Street), located in a cavernous old building in a former warehouse district, serves prohibition cocktails (gun slinger with bourbon and bitters, bare knuckle boxer with Irish whiskey, lemon, honey, almond and strawberries) and elevated comfort food (burrata tartine with preserved citrus relish and sourdough toast, roasted chicken with smoked fingerling potatoes) with a kitchen that keeps things cranking well past midnight (hoisin glazed pork belly!).
9 oz. roasted hanger steak with spinach, sorghum, charred shallots, roasted eggplant, and turmeric yogurt. Photo from Instagram by @buffalo_proper
Resurgence Brewing (1250 Niagara Street), crouching in an old engine factory, focuses on coaxing unique flavors out of classic styles (the Kottbusser, an almost extinct German beer style, Head in the Clouds DIPA, a double IPA with an aroma of citrus and peach and light flavors of pineapple and papaya) is ground zero for serious fun. Plus there’s a traditional beer garden open when the weather cooperates.
Photo from Instagram by @resurgencebrewingco
The Broadway Market (999 Broadway) offers 40 vendors with a range of specialty goods and services difficult to imagine getting anywhere else under one roof (think fresh fish, handmade candy, watch repair, pierogis, local wine, fresh horseradish, soul food. Random? Yes. Brilliant? Definitely.)
And let’s not forget Audra’s favorite spot for breakfast, Betty’s (370 Virginia Street), located in the art-filled and historic Allentown district. Not only does Betty’s have great food (shrimp & grits, smoked turkey hash…) and great people watching, it doubles as an art gallery. Always a crowd but well worth a wait.
Stuffed? Time to chill. Buffalo Ironworks (49 Illinois Street) offers intimate live indie and rock music in an early 1900’s factory space and the Helium Comedy Club (30 Mississippi Street) hosts up-and-coming comics you can see right before they hit the big-time. And don’t forget Babeville (341 Delaware Avenue), created by indie original Ani DiFranco, which lives in a former Methodist church. It’s a basement club/record label beloved by medium-sized indie stars like Modest Mouse, Conor Oberst and The New Pornographers.
For a slightly more interactive experience, head to Makers (1382 Hertel Avenue), a modern craft workshop space with a calendar of classes practically made for the DIY-enthusiast, everything from glass etching to zodiac embroidery. Looking to host a celebratory private party for friends? They can arrange that booking, too.
Photo Credit: Makers
Who knew there was so much to Buffalove? Get there before the word gets out!
Our New York makers’ products that ooze Buffalo pride:
"LET'S GO BUFFALO" VINTAGE-INSPIRED PENNANT
New York Maker: Oxford Pennant
$25 (includes shipping). Click here to purchase.
"BUFFALO" VINTAGE-INSPIRED PENNANT
New York Maker: Oxford Pennant
$25 (includes shipping). Click here to purchase.
BUFFALO TOPOGRAPHIC PILLOW
New York Maker: Greentree Fiber Arts
Starting at $50 (includes shipping). Click here to purchase.
BUFFALO WOODBLOCK-MOUNTED MAP PRINT
New York Maker: Salty Lyon
Starting at $42 (includes shipping). Click here to purchase.
BUFFALO HAND-DRAWN MAP PRINT
New York Maker: Salty Lyon
Starting at $22.50 (includes shipping). Click here to purchase.