Monday, August 1, 2011

Buffalo's True Appeal

Since returning to Buffalo last June, I've lost count of the number of times I've been asked "So, why'd you move back?" But I never know how to answer. I always find Buffalo's appeal hard to put into words. But apparently Julia Rocchi didn't. She wrote this article after she spent some time here with the Buffalo Unscripted team to film for the documentary they're putting together for the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference in October. She was able to perfectly articulate the real reasons I love this city. This is why people always tell you "There's no other city like Buffalo." And they're right.

Buffalo shows us how we can reinstate the social systems that hold us together and meld them with the march of progress. When Buffalonians look at their city, they don't see the Rust Belt/snow-encased stereotype the rest of the country pokes fun at. They see neighbors working together. They see progress and reinvention. And they see it all all happening right now. Not in some distant, amorphous future, but in real time, as we speak.

Read the article here.

I BuffaLOVE this city! You will too.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Buffalo's thriving live music scene

I've been hooked on live music since my very first concert (Bush. 1997. At the then brand new Marine Midland Arena. Veruca Salt opened. I was thirteen.) There's something about the reciprocal sharing of energy between a musician/band and their fans at a show that lets the audience feel the music in a way they can't from just listening to it at home.

Growing up, the live music scene here in Buffalo wasn't all that great. We'd get the occasional appearance from the latest top 40 acts at the arenas and stadiums. Maybe I just wasn't looking in the right places back then, but it felt like the great shows were few and far between.

Things have changed in the Queen City. Lately it seems as if all of my favorite bands are making stops in Buffalo! I'm amazed with each new concert announcement. Sure I blow most of my money on concert tickets, but when I'm on my death bed I'd rather remember some great experiences than the extra cash in my checking account.

I got to see The Black Keys - who Spin magazine named artist of the year in 2010 - perform at ArtPark last week. It was incredible! Minus the Bear just announced that their ten year anniversary tour will make a stop in Buffalo too - at the greatest venue ever - The Town Ballroom. And I was really excited to learn that the Stone Temple Pilots are coming to town. (My 90s grunge fantasies about Scott Weiland can finally come true.) We're really lucky that these and so many other great bands want to play in Buffalo. Lots of love goes out to all of the venues and promoters who are making that happen.

And I can't forget about the incredible FREE concert series that are going on too!

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals ROCKED OUT
at the final TATS show in Lafayette Square.

The biggest and probably most popular of the free concert series in and around Buffalo has got to be Buffalo Place's Thursday at the Square series. Now in its 25th year, the TATS concerts bring in bigger acts every year. The shows have grown so popular that they had to be moved this summer from Lafayette Square to the waterfront to accommodate the huge crowds. The lineup includes a broad range of music genres, so there's something for everyone! So far this summer I attended two shows at the old location: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. I haven't been to a Thursday show at the new location yet, but I am very much looking forward to seeing The Tragically Hip perform at the wharf this weekend as part of the (not free) Buffalo Rocks the Harbor series - also from Buffalo Place.

Though it's probably the most popular, Thursday at the Square isn't the only free summer concert series in the area. In fact, there are is a seemingly endless number of concert series that bring major acts to the Buffalo area - FOR FREE! The HardRock Cafe in Niagara Falls has a Saturdays at the Falls series that runs through August 13. ArtPark's Tuesday in the Park shows bring in some really big names and run through the end of August. My favorite summer events in Buffalo are still the Tuesday night Bidwell concerts. Just last weekend I attended my first Molson Canal Concert Series show - and was blown away by an incredible performance by the John Butler Trio. On our way to the show, my friend asked me "Do you think other cities have as many awesome free concerts as we do?" I highly doubt it!

John Butler performed at the Molson Canal Concert Series

(Of course one can't overlook the wonderful LOCAL music scene in Buffalo. But that's a topic for another day.)
For the latest news about live music in Buffalo, be sure to bookmark BuffaBlog!
And if there's a good show coming up that isn't already on my calendar, please let me know!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Awesome Buffalo Trivia, part deux (again)

I'm extremely disappointed that the original version of this post disappeared when Blogger went down a few weeks ago. I've learned my lesson and will definitely be backing up all of my posts moving forward. If this post totally sucks, I can assure you that the first version of it was super awesome...

Well, it's official. I've finished my Buffalo Tours training, completed my final exam tour, and am now officially a docent. You can find me giving walking tours of downtown Buffalo's glorious architecture and history starting this summer! But that's not all! I've decided to take a few extra weeks of the class so that I'll also be able to give the waterfront tours that are given down by the commercial slip. During these extra weeks I've picked up a few more awesome tidbits of information about Buffalo which I will gladly share with you now.

More immigrants to the U.S. passed through the city of Buffalo than ever went through Ellis Island. It turns out that most people who emigrated from Northern Europe came through Canada, bypassing New York City entirely. Almost all of them passed through Buffalo. Those who DID come through NYC and headed West most likely also passed through the Nickel city. They came down the Erie canal and sailed West from here. 

Buffalo is home of the original "Dive Bar." It's true! Those bars that we all love in spite of, or sometimes because of their cheap drinks and dingy atmosphere got their nick name right here. It all started in a place called Dug's Dive, a crappy little joint near the canal back in the mid 19th century. The bar itself was in the basement of the building, and to get there patrons had to climb down a dark narrow staircase. Hence "dive." The place was notorious for being pretty much the most disgusting place ever. Regular flooding from the canal left the establishment damp and smelly. Noone paid attention to the bodies strewn on benches, or could even tell if they were dead or just passed out from the drink. And that is why "dives" are the gross (yet comfortably  familiar) bars we all know and love today. (The Dug's Dive that now exists on Buffalo's waterfront is a lovely establishment. It is not the same place and is named only as an homage to our city's history.)

An illustration of Buffalo's Canal Street district
The area surrounding the central wharf downtown was once referred to as "The Infected District." This was not the result of some kinf od physical ailment or disease, oh no. Canal Street and the surrounding area earned this nickname because it was so notorious for being stricken with crime and populated by people of low morals. It was also known as "The Wickedest Street in the World."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Buffalo: A foodie's paradise.

When I was living in California, I would tell my Angelino friends that Buffalo has a better food scene than L.A. They of course looked at me like I belonged in a padded cell, but I stand by my statement. Does Los Angeles have amazing food? Absolutely. More great restaurants than Buffalo? Probably. But the ratio of good restaurants to bad here is off the charts. Really bad restaurants just don't exist in Buffalo, because they wouldn't survive. Maybe it's the less-than-stellar economy in this city that causes Buffalonians to be extra picky about where we dine, or maybe it's just that we are a city of foodies. The point is that you'd be hard pressed to find a really crappy restaurant in the city limits.

I'm no food critic, and I may not be able to wax poetic about food in a way that will make your mouth water like some other local bloggers (Buffalo Eats, Buffalo Chow) but I think it's about time to tell you about some of my recent food experiences.

To say that I like sushi would be a massive understatement, so I was really excited to stop into SeaBar with some friends during local restaurant week earlier this month. The sushi special included chef's picks of maki rolls, nigiri pieces, and a handroll as well as some sesame noodles, all of which were excellent. The fish was all really fresh; the rice and fish just about melted in my mouth. I don't think I needed a drop of soy sauce. To me, freshness is the only factor that separates good sushi from bad sushi, and SeaBar definitely has the best sushi in town.

In retrospect, I should have taken pictures of my food, but I was too busy devouring it.
This image is courtesy of

Another recent restaurant event was this week's Dining Out For Life. Local foodies were encouraged to dine at any of the 100 participating restaurants, who then donated 25% of that night's proceeds to AIDS Community Services of WNY. When my co-worker told me that he was going to be the Dining Out For Life "Ambassador" at The Blue Monk, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to finally eat there. I've loved the Monk since it opened. Hell, I was excited when I first heard about plans for the place back when I was still living in Los Angeles! I've been a regular at the bar, enjoying their superb beer selection since day one, but I had still never eaten there.

Boy, was I missing out. On Tuesday I shared a flat-bread pizza, an order of mussels, and fries with a friend. Awesome awesome awesome. I could have ate the whole pizza (okay two of them) myself. The Gorgonzola, which I don't usually love, contrasted the fresh greens beautifully. Our mussels, cooked in Ommegang Witte (one of my favorite beers) with leeks and lemon were done perfectly. Not chewy, not mushy, but just right.(Goldilocks moment!) Being pescetarians (vegetarians who eat fish,) we opted for the vegan fries instead of the duck frites, but they were still excellent. So excellent in fact that they were gone before the mussels ever made it to the table. Obviously we ordered more. Not one of the 7 of us that ate together were disappointed. Even my brother, an eater who uses the phrase "it was just okay" pretty often, gushed about one of the best burgers he'd ever had.

I remembered to take a picture this time.

Great. Like I needed a reason to spend more of my time and money at that place. (Totally worth it!)

Friday, April 1, 2011

I still think babies are funny looking...

I attended a few baby showers in March. Not my favorite events. Just walking into a Babies R Us location makes my entire body tense up. I get the shakes and I just want to get out as fast as I can. Anyone who knows me knows that I do not want babies any time soon (never say never.) If you offer to let me hold your baby, I will probably decline.

So it may come as a bit of a surprise to some of you that I am walking in the March for Babies. I promise you, this is NOT an April Fool's Day joke. Just because I don't want to give up all of my freedom quite yet to devote my life to a weird looking mini-human doesn't mean I wish babies any harm.

I get it, we need babies, and all of them should have a chance to be perfectly healthy, so I signed up to be on the Social Media Club of Buffalo's team for the March of Dime's March for Babies. The Buffalo event will take place on May 1, and the walk is around Delaware Park which will be lovely.

All of these pictures of babies everywhere are already starting to give me a nervous twitch, so please make a donation now to remind me why I'm doing it. Any little bit will help. The team and I thank you! So do the babies.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Some Awesome Buffalo Trivia

I mentioned a while back that I had applied for the Buffalo Tours docent training. Well, classes started in January, and I am on my way to becoming a tour guide! The classes are 3 hours long, every Saturday morning and take place somewhere new every week. I've gotten a chance to see some awesome places and learn things about this city that I would have never known otherwise. Here are a few of my favorite tidbits of Buffalo trivia:

When the old Buffalo Post Office (now the ECC City Campus - a magnificent building) opened in March of 1901, the first letter sent from the office was done so as part of an opening ceremony. It was a letter to President McKinley, inviting him to attend the Pan-American Exposition that was being held in Buffalo that year. He did attend the Pan-Am. The rest, as you probably know, is history.

    Entrance to the old Buffalo Post Office / ECC City Campus

    Buffalonians spend more per-capita on Halloween costumes, decorations, etc than any other city IN THE WORLD! My source for this stat is a fellow docent-in-training by the name of Donnie. She is a self confessed Halloween junkie so I definitely believe her, even though I can't find anything online to validate her statement. We really do know how to take advantage of autumn around here.

    My last, and favorite bit of Buffalo trivia is a little story I've been sharing with everyone who will listen. It's a gem. In 1901, while Buffalo was preparing for the Pan-Am expo, the "working girls" of New York City decided that they would shuffle on up to Buffalo to try to earn a few extra bucks. The "Buffalo Gals" of Canal Street - Buffalo's red light district back in the day - were not thrilled by the idea of anyone else stepping in on their business. They decided to throw a little welcome party for the ladies from the Big Apple, greeting them with knives, clubs, and chains. What followed was an EIGHT HOUR BATTLE ROYALE between the ladies. Needless to say, the Buffalo Gals came out on top. (My source for this tale is an awesome book called Nickel City Drafts: A Drinking History of Buffalo, NYby Dan Murphy)

    As a little side note to that story: In this famous scene from It's A Wonderful Life (probably my favorite movie of all time) you can hear George and Mary singing "Buffalo Gals." What you may not realize is that the song was written about - you guessed it - the ladies of the night of Buffalo's Canal Street!  Yep, it's a song about hookers - written circa 1844.

    By mid-April I should graduate from the docent training class and be ready to give my first Buffalo Tour. I'll be giving the Queen City Downtown tour, which is an hour-long walking tour of downtown that highlights some really gorgeous architecture and interesting history. I may continue taking classes for a few extra weeks so that I'll also be able to give the new waterfront tours that will take place near the canal starting this summer. You can check out the Buffalo Tours site for the full schedule, but I'll be sure to post when I'll actually be giving tours. By then I'm sure I'll have some more awesome trivia to share.

    Thursday, March 3, 2011

    New York's First City of Architecture

    Here's a groovy little article from Curbed, one of the country's top real estate blogs.

    Saturday, February 26, 2011

    Realizing that Buffalo Winters Aren't So Bad

    It turns out that staying really busy is a great way to avoid the winter blues. Apparently it is also a really great way to acquire a lovely case of bronchitis when you've run yourself ragged and gotten no sleep. I'm pretty sure there's a way to stay just busy enough to avoid depression AND illness. I hope that you find that balance better than I have.

    There actually are a lot of really great things to do in Buffalo that can only be enjoyed during the cold, snowy months, and I've managed to take advantage of a majority of them.

    Shakespeare Hill, Delaware Park

    The first of these is of course sledding. A few friends and I headed to Delaware Park's Shakespeare Hill early in the winter to take advantage of the good conditions. I reverted back to being 9 years old, speeding down that hill, shrieking all the way. We had a blast, and got a pretty decent workout running up that hill so many times! The hill is open to the public all day and, during peak sledding conditions, is loaded with children and grownups alike. It's a short walk or shorter drive to Elmwood Ave. for some hot cocoa or a hot toddy to warm up. There are plenty of other great sledding hills in the area. Another local favorite is Chestnut Ridge park.

    This year marked the first time in eight years that I went snowboarding. I had my old board sharpened (and scraped clean of 8+years of rust) at Urban Threads and drove out to Ellicottville for a weekend in January. My friends and I got up early for a day at Holiday Valley. I was nervous about trying the sport again after so long. I thought for sure I'd have to learn all over again, or that I'd fall and wind up in the emergency room. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I had retained most of my snowboarding skills. After a few trial runs I was ready to head up the mountain. My friends and I spent the entire day enjoying the great conditions. We had such a great time that we got together again, this time heading to Kissing Bridge for a few hours after work. There are plenty of other ski resorts in the area to check out. It's a great way to embrace and even enjoy the snowy season.

    Me and "Old Rusty" at HV

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011

    In Your Own Backyard

    Nowhere do the lyrics to this song ring more true than here in Buffalo.

    "Oh you can go to the East
    Go to the West
    Someday you'll come
    Weary at heart
    Back where you started from
    You'll find your happiness lies
    Right under your eyes
    Back in your own backyard"

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    These Are a Few of my Favorite Things: A Little Corner of Heaven

    If I could somehow combine wine, chocolate, yoga, and ice cream into one divine creation, I would never be unhappy again. They're some of my favorite things, and are probably the favorite things of most sane people. I haven't yet invented such a combination, but one intersection in Buffalo is the next best thing. This corner just so happens to be down the block from where I grew up. When I first read this article on Buffalo Rising about what was happening on Hertel and Parker, I flipped my lid. If these businesses had existed on my corner two years ago, I might never have moved to California!

    On Wednesday, I took a little walk in the snow. My first stop was Eaton Chocolate. Owner Ingeri Eaton is a warm friendly woman who really really loves chocolate. Her creations are more than just typical truffles. She makes maple bacon chocolate bars, and cayenne cashew clumps (if they sound delicious, they are) and she continues to experiment with mouth-watering combinations.

    So many delicious choices!

     When I got home I took a look at the Eaton Chocolate facebook page. Ingeri's daily updates let fans know what her latest creations are going to be. When she posted an offer of $10 worth of chocolate to anyone who would provide her with some new music to listen to, I started working on a playlist.  returned today with a CD of some of my favorite tunes, and my mother (who bought some toffee almond chocolate breakables - also yummy.) Ingeri and I chatted about music for a while before our conversation turned back to chocolate. A recent experiment of chocolate-covered bacon was such a hit that she's thinking about trying a new creation every Thursday. She's open to suggestions and requests so jump on the Facebook page to offer yours. I'm thinking chocolate covered goat cheese would be amazing. If you're wonder if Eaton's has the Buffalo favorite - sponge candy - they do. Apparently it goes really fast when Ingeri makes it, so I've asked her to let me know as soon as the next batch is ready (which, she tells me will definitely be in time for Valentine's day.)

    Next door to Eaton's is a yoga studio. Originally Vega Yoga Space when it opened last year, the studio is now Blue Sky Yoga Therapy. The doors were locked when I walked by, but I was able to talk to Stephanie on the phone about Blue Sky. The schedule isn't like most yoga studios; there are no open "walk-in" classes. Instead, there are 8-week class sessions. At first I was disappointed that I couldn't just pop into any classes I wanted to try, but I'm warming up to the session concept. It would be nice to attend regular classes that progress as students progress. I can also see how it benefits the studio to have classes paid for in advance and less of a risk of no-shows. Stephanie was great about suggesting which class would be better for me, and also mentioned that I would be welcome to come for the last few classes of a session if I didn't want to wait for the next one to start. I'm planning to sign up for the next "Yoga for Runners" session, as I just signed up to run the Buffalo half-marathon (I must be crazy.) Stephanie is currently studying to be a licensed massage therapist. In the mean time, Blue Sky offers yoga therapy, which is more like guided stretching for relaxation.

    My last stop today was the Parker Hertel Sweet Shop. Little did I know when I ventured down the block on Wednesday was that this ice cream and candy shop is operating under their winter hours and are only open Friday-Sunday until spring. I visited a few times over the summer for some ice cream, which they still sell during winter months. Today, Mom and I got some hot chocolate. We were surprised how inexpensive our drinks were, especially considering they were made with milk (instead of water) and Ghiardelli chocolate. Growing up, there was a large pharmacy on the corner where these businesses are now. The neighborhood kids used to walk to the corner to spend our allowance on the variety of candy available there. I'm happy to report that the Sweet Shop carries a lot of the candy that used to be sold at the pharmacy.


    I was hoping to nab a few bagels at the Sweet Shop from the Bagel Man, a whole sale baker that is ALSO located on the same glorious corner. I was told that they don't usually carry the bagels in the winter, but that one can order bagels from Bagel Man for pickup at the Sweet Shop. I'll definitely be doing that.

    Also on this same corner is Checkers Tavern. This place is a real Buffalo institution, and though some people love it in spite of (or even because of) the divey feel of the place, most people will be happy to hear about the recent renovations. I was given the "VIP tour" when I popped my head in for a peak on Wednesday. Dont worry, its still the Checkers you know and love, but the walls have been painted and revarnished. The floors look good and (gasp) the bathrooms are clean!

    Across the street from all of these wonderful places is Hertel-Parker Liquor. In addition to liquors, the store also has a pretty excellent selection of wine, including quite a few tasty and inexpensive choices. The friendly staff may or may not be on a first name basis with my mother, and the store has probably been one of the things that has kept my parents in the neighborhood all these years.

    So to sum up, the Hertel-Parker corner has a chocolate shop, ice cream; candy; and hot cocoa, a yoga studio, a bar where everyone knows your name, bagels, and a good wine selection (and liquor.) I'm pretty sure that's the closest thing to Heaven on Earth we're ever going to get.

    note: Yes, this corner is also home to The Lone Star Fajita Grill, and C-Me Marine Sales. These are also great Buffalo businesses, I just don't often fantasize about fajitas or lifejackets.

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    I Ain't Just Whistlin' Dixie!

    Non-locals seem to agree - Buffalo is awesome. Just take a gander at this article from Amtrak's on-board magazine Arrive. 

    "...this four-season city on the shores of Lake Erie is a 25-minute drive from Niagara Falls in one direction and some of the best skiing east of the Rockies in nearby Ellicottville. The arts scene is stoked by 22 professional theater groups, world-class architecture, two major art museums, dozens of galleries, and music venues pulsing to the beat of the good life."

    28 29
    BUFFALO: City of Light

    Saturday, January 8, 2011

    Putting my Money Where my Mouth is (and Where the Books are)

    As an elementary school teacher, my mother is the recipient of countless giftcards during the holidays. This past weekend, my whole family piled into the car and drove out to Barnes & Noble to help her spend a few of them. The four of us wandered around for an hour, trying to dodge the crowd and the disturbingly large "Teenage Paranormal Romance" section. While we were digging through the bargain-priced classics, my father said something that put a halt to my savings-spree. "We really should have gone to a local book store."

    I suddenly realized that as an advocate for bettering Buffalo, I had no business shopping in a national super chain. Immediately, I tucked my page-long book list back into my pocket, unpacked most of the pile from my shopping basket, and headed for the door. The very next day, I took my list to Talking Leaves on Elmwood.

    I've always loved Talking Leaves. It's a tiny place, sure, but it's not hard to spend hours flipping through pages there anyway; they fit a huge amount of books into the place. The selection is great (they had way more gardening books than B&N,) the staff is super helpful, and it really is a Buffalo institution. If you're looking for a book they don't carry, they'll gladly order it for you. I bought two books from my list while I was there, and ordered another two. When I went back yesterday to pick those up, I ordered yet another. I also purchased a membership for $10 which entitles me to 10% off all my purchases for a year. Hell, I bought enough books this week alone to be worth the membership.

    I have a lot of reading to do.

    Will I still order the occasional book from amazon? Of course I will. But most of the time, I'd rather spend a few extra shekels and know that I'm helping to keep an amazing local store in business. I'm really looking forward to when they open the patio in the spring. I can't imagine a better way to spend an afternoon than sitting out there with a good book, drinking a cup of something delicious from nextdoor, and people-watching on Elmwood.

    The Talking Leaves Main St. location is bigger than Elmwood, enabling them to host the occasional event or book signing. They have the same great selection and friendly staff. Talking Leaves isn't the only local book store; there are great shops all over Buffalo. The Second Reader Book Shop on Hertel has a great selection of used and out-of-print books. There's also Old Editions Book Shop & Cafe downtown, and Rust Belt Books in Allentown, among many others.

    With the rising popularity of digital readers like the Kindle, and nook, small book stores need more support than ever. I'm happy knowing that Buffalonians appreciate what these shops add to the community and continue to patronize them.