Buffalo, New York

For the long July 4th weekend, Magellan suggested a trip to Buffalo to experience Beef on Weck, tour a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home and stay in an old mansion. I was excited to give this destination a try, especially after looking it up on a map and discovering it’s a shorter drive (7 hours) than I anticipated.

We left Wednesday night and stopped in Clarksburg for dinner and to break up the travel. See our reviews of Minard’s and The Fifth Floor in separate posts.


Upon arrival in Buffalo, we headed for Charlie the Butcher’s http://charliethebutcher.com/original location for Beef on Weck, a dish seemingly as popular as wings in Buffalo. Rare roast beef is piled on kummelweck – a roll sprinkled with salt and caraway seeds. To this au jus and horseradish are added to make a very sloppy, delicious sandwich. I love bread, beef and horseradish so Magellan figured this would be a hit with me. While I enjoyed it, I did not love it because of all the salt on the bun (I scrape salt off of those giant pretzels so this is me and not you, kummelweck). {Magellan here: the Beef on Weck was great and the bun was perfect for those of us who like the salt on the pretzel.} We got a basket of onion rings with our sandwiches and they were some of the best o-rings I’ve ever had. Just the right size, the onion didn’t slide out of the ring and the batter was tasty. Magellan also got a Spiedie. {Magellan here: the spiedie is chicken that has been marinated in something like Italian dressing and grilled; it is very popular in the Southern Tier of NY. This sandwich was a chicken breast instead of the usual chunks. It was good, but the Beef on Weck was better. } This was a tasty way to kick-off our stay in The Queen City (which is not Cincinnati, another “Queen City”).


We then checked in to The Mansion on Delaware Avenue http://www.mansionondelaware.com/, a beautifully renovated Second Empire home, now a AAA Four Diamond Award-winning boutique hotel with 28 private rooms/suites. A stay at the manse offers many amenities including breakfast, complimentary cocktails, chauffeured transportation and 24 hour butler service to name a few. It’s a beautiful building in a location that’s very convenient to downtown Buffalo. The “Butlers,” as the staff is referred to, were all very friendly, even at midnight on our first evening there when we called to report a leak in the bathroom in our room (it wasn’t a big deal and though we were offered a change in rooms, we opted to remain in our suite and experienced no further issues). The rooms are decorated with many modern touches and there is even a tv behind the mirror in the bathroom.

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We read up on all the Buffalo literature in our room and enjoyed cocktails in the Mansion’s beautiful first floor common areas.

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Then we headed off to Gabriel’s Gate, a short walk from the Mansion. Buffalo is proud of their many beautifully designed buildings and produce a walking tour brochure showcasing opportunities to check out the sites (request your copy at http://www.visitbuffaloniagara.com/buffalo-architecture/on-foot/). It was evident in our short walk, Buffalo has reason to brag. I was also impressed with their bike lane.


Many Gabriel’s Gate reviewers proclaim this restaurant to have the best wings in the city so we decided to give those a try along with another appetizer as we weren’t very hungry after visiting Charlie the Butcher’s earlier in the day. The potato skins (listed as Buffalo Skins on the menu which mistakenly made me believe they’d have hot sauce on them) were regular old skins and nothing to rave about. The wings were good, tasting very much like Frank’s Hot Sauce. The Grill’s (on Charleston’s convenient West Side) wings are just as good, IMO; better if you order them Elk River Style. {Magellan here: the key here is the crispiness, true Buffalo wings are fried nice and crisp. And, yeah, The Grill over on the west side does a very nice tradional wing after 4pm.} Our server was attentive and pleasant and kept our beers full (Labatt’s Blue Light on tap … which unfortunately tasted similar to water). The decor in Gabriel’s Gate is really the star here. The interior has a great deal of character, with many characters in the form of taxidermied animal heads surrounding the bar area, as well as lots of beautiful woodwork.

After a filling breakfast at the Mansion the following morning, we headed off for our in-depth tour of the nearby Darwin Martin House http://www.darwinmartinhouse.org/, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I was somewhat surprised to see the home situated in the midst of your average, regular, everyday neighborhood (albeit one designed by Frederick Law Olmstead). We parked on the street, careful to avoid blocking drive ways, and proceeded to check-in at the Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion. Obviously an addition since Wright’s original plan, this striking all glass venue provides background on Wright and his designs, Buffalo at the time of the home’s constructions, and Darwin Martin and his family. Be sure to allow at least a half hour before your tour’s start time to view this information.

The tour begins with a brief film in the Greatbatch Pavilion then leads into the gardener’s cottage, the last addition to the Darwin Martin property which consists of five Wright designed structures. I want to live in this structure (moved to Charleston)! It’s the perfect size with a great layout and beautifully designed interior.

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After the gardener’s cottage, we toured the main house, which is still under renovation (I could go into many details about this experience but I won’t spoil anything about the home and its history, and I encourage you to visit it or read up on it), the pergola and conservatory, the Barton House designed by Wright for Mr. Martin’s sister, and the carriage house now housing the gift shop.

This was an excellent tour, in large part because of our docent who was stellar. She provided a wealth of knowledge on the home and on Wright and Martin. She was adept at keeping our group on schedule without making the experience seem rushed.

With a two-hour tour under our belt, we were hungry and searched Yelp for a nearby suggestion on where to eat. We decided on Bertha’s Diner http://www.berthasdiner.com/ which was excellent. Our server and all the staff with whom we interacted were very friendly and the food was fantastic. My burger was far superior and cheaper than any fast food establishment out there. **Do yourself a favor and wherever you may be, eat (and shop) local. If you’re uncertain of where to go, check out the reviews on Yelp. {Magellan here: Or here. Cross-promote, Missy, cross-promote!} If an establishment has an average of 3.5 or more stars (or if Magellan gives it the thumbs up) you’re generally in for a treat.

We then decided to head to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery http://www.albrightknox.org/ to check out their Pop Art exhibit. When we arrived, the rains came down (the only bad weather we dealt with during the whole trip – thanks, Buffalo!) and many folks were heading for the entrance … which created quite the cluster bomb. Upon entry, which is hardly functional for visitors or staff when busy, we – along with many entrants – were handed a wristband and flyer and told by a volunteer (I think) to move along and enjoy. We were highly confused and thought we might be missing some information but proceeded to walk around the galleries which was somewhat disappointing for me as the space was compressed and it seemed the art was just hanging in hallways. We had no luck finding information on the flyer regarding the Pop Art exhibit so I checked with a staff person in the gift shop. She informed me it was at the top of the nearby stairs. As we approached the stairs, we saw a couple being admonished by a volunteer (the same one originally at the entrance) for not having the proper wristband to access the upstairs. While eavesdropping we learned that on First Fridays, general admission is free to the Albright-Knox but there is an upcharge on special exhibits such as the one we wanted to see (confusion would have been avoided had the volunteer asked a few simple questions of guests upon entry … and observing several other couples attempting to access the stairs, I realized we weren’t the only ones who didn’t receive the full details upon entry). We headed back to admissions to purchase access to the exhibit and enjoyed the upstairs galleries which were more traditionally laid out. The Albright-Knox does have an impressive roster of artists but the overall visitor experience was not impressive. Also, the up-charge for the Pop Art exhibit was $12 (regular admission to the A-K); all of the art in the exhibit was from the A-K’s collection. I guess we helped fund several First Fridays admissions.

Albright-Knox outdoor scultpure

Albright-Knox outdoor scultpure

Across the road from the Albright-Knox is the, apparently lesser known, Burchfield Penney Art Center http://www.burchfieldpenney.org/. In addition to showcasing travelling exhibits and works by regional artists, the BP holds the largest collection of works by Charles Burchfield and develops different exhibits to showcase his art. Admission to the BP is $10, and not only are the exhibits worth this but the building itself is impressive and is the first green art museum in NY State, LEED-certified Silver. If you only visit the A-K and skip this place you are missing out. Our experience at the BP surpassed that of our visit to the A-K, so I would suggest you skip the latter if pressed for time.

After a busy day filled with architecture and art, we returned to the Mansion for cocktails and reading, then we decided to continue the cocktail theme with a walk to the Founding Father’s Pub http://foundingfatherspub.com/ across the street from the Mansion. This place is great! The walls are decorated with American history memorabilia, including many prints of US Presidents {and an eagle}, and they have a nice selection of beers on tap and in bottles. Their menu is varied and the food we had was really good.{Magellan here: Bar food, of course, but well done bar food. I’d love to see their Presidential trivia contests because, yes, I’m a nerd.} They also serve free popcorn and nachos {yes, nachos, this was brilliant}. If you’re in Buffalo you should most definitely give this place a try.

Saturday morning, we walked a little ways up Delaware Ave from the Mansion to The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site http://www.trsite.org/. The site is run through a cooperative agreement with the National Park Service (this exists thanks in part to President Roosevelt) and offers scheduled tours – allow at least an hour for your visit – during the morning and early afternoon. In addition to learning about President Roosevelt’s impromptu inauguration after the assassination of President McKinley, you will learn about Buffalo’s 1901 Pan-American Exposition (I want to go to there – when is someone going to work out that time travel thing?), the Wilcox family who owned the home in which the inauguration took place, and the challenges facing our country at the turn of the century. At the end of the structured tour, guests have time to engage with interactive exhibits and discover even more on this fascinating period of history. This is another site I suggest as a must visit in Buffalo.

President Kinder doin' presidential stuff

President Kinder doin’ presidential stuff

With our heads full of history, we decided to fill our bellies with some New York Style Pizza (I capitalize because it deserves respect; whatever that is they do in Chicago is all wrong … unless you think of it as lasagna with a crust). Searches on Yelp indicate NY Style Pizza is hard to come by in Buffalo … New York. But, we gave it a go at Gino and Joe’s Famous New York Style Pizza http://www.ginoandjoesnypizza.com/. I’ve had better. It’s possible the meal was a bit of a downer because it is located in the Main Place Mall, in downtown Buffalo, which is emptiness, mixed with sadness and datedness. Ennui is actually more fascinating than this establishment. {Magellan here: Wow this place was sad. I remember the 3-4 months when massive downtown malls were the next big thing. It is really impressive what the folks at Charleston’s Town Center Mall have done to fight history and keep that place relevant.}

So if that mall is one of the levels of purgatory, the town of Niagara Falls is even closer to the underground basement. As beautiful and majestic as the falls themselves are, the area surrounding the falls (at least on the US side – Magellan and I, ironically, do not have current passports) is lame and super sucky touristy. Maybe I was in a crappy frame of mind because I had just read up on Love Canal (how the hell did that happen, America? For shame! Also, DO NOT read up on this). I found the area depressing and depressed (also, super un-PC). I think, too, I imagined it would be like the settings in Wonderfalls (2004 tv show) but Magellan reminded me that was likely shot on a (much prettier) sound stage. This made me certain Wonderfalls was set in Canada, but Magellan insists it was NY. {Magellan here: According to Wikipedia, I was partly right. The show was shot in Canada as a stand-in for the NY side. Even Hollywood’s magicians can’t make the Niagara Falls, New York side look appealing. As an aside, Caroline Dhavernas should work more.}

Returning to Buffalo, we stopped for brews and food at the Pearl Street Grill & Brewery http://pearlstreetgrill.com/home. The décor here is impressive, inside and out. Unfortunately, the beers and food didn’t overwhelm. We began by splitting a paddle of 10 tastings. For me, the most interesting beers on the paddle were the two that actually had flavor (ok, so the three fruity beers had flavor but not in a good way): the one described as aggressively hopped (I don’t typically enjoy aggressive hops but ended up getting a glass of this), and the chocolate stout which was really good but I couldn’t imagine consuming a full glass of it. The food was standard; Magellan determined his Beef on Weck at Charlie the Butcher’s was superior. Our server was friendly and attentive, and the place seems quite popular as it filled up with several wedding party receptions and fans who wandered over after the Buffalo Bison’s game ended.

Sampler platter

Sampler platter

Before leaving town, we stopped at Wegman’s http://www.wegmans.com/ to see what unique groceries we could take home. NY State’s beer laws allow sales early on a Sunday morning (Hallelujah! Amen!) so we picked up some brews we can’t get back home along with other groceries we can’t find in Charleston.

Buffalo is a fun vacation destination, particularly if you’re interested in architecture/history. There’s plenty to see, do and eat – so long as you’re not expecting (good) NY Style Pizza.

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