Follow beer writer, Troy Burtch, as he explores the wonderful world of craft beer and the pubs that serve it. Great Canadian Beer is a place to come to catch up on beer news, read tasting notes, check out event listings, and for pub previews and reviews.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Beer Tripping in Buffalo: By Rob Symes

Craft beer drinking Ontarians are no strangers to heading out on weekend excursions to Buffalo, our neighbour to the South, to stock up on a number of well crafted American beers or other worldly hard-to-find styles at their private beer boutiques. Smuggling back some treasures to share with friends at tastings. Same can be said for day trips to their pubs to scan over beer menu's that can be pages long, indulging in stuff that we can only dream of here in our province.

Rob Symes, who has contributed to this blog on a number of occasions with some great posts, recently headed to Buffalo on a solo journey to discover some of those gems, and he stayed sober enough to put some words together about his experience.

My wife has just boarded a plane and departed for a week-long conference, and I’m at a loose end. An hour or so later I’m barrelling towards the USA on a coach. When I get to the border the guards ask me what I plan to do in Buffalo, and I tell them I’m just going to hang out. Their smiles tell me that perhaps Buffalo isn’t the best place to hang out in. The real purpose of my visit, though, is to see what Buffalo has to offer to the beer lover, and I’ve mapped out 5 bars that I plan to hit over the course of the day. I’m looking at the map when the bus driver strikes up conversation with me. He’s bought some new sneakers, and they’re the most comfortable pair he’s ever had. ‘Even better than New Balance’, he assures me. Thank God the bus is pulling into the terminal.

There’s not too much I can add to the prevailing wisdom on this great bar. Ask anyone with a knowledge of beer and Buffalo, and they’ll be able to tell you that Cole’s is the place to go, and more or less being the most northerly point of my crawl, it also marked the starting point for the day’s drinking. The selection is flat out excellent, and the only problem I had was narrowing down my choices, while at the same time keeping in mind that it probably wasn’t wise to start off with imperial stouts and barleywines. You could easily spend a long, long time in this bar enjoying great beer. I settle for a Great Lakes Independence Ale and busy myself with my Beaver (the Canadian history magazine, not the oversized rodent). The place is heaving on a Sunday afternoon, but the service is relatively speedy, and its not long before I’m enjoying a delightful eggs Benedict, which is almost as good as my own. Looking at my surroundings I feel like I’m in one part Cheers and one part an old saloon. This is very much an old American bar style, with lots of antique touches, and it eschews the rampant borrowing from other beer cultures which mars many a place. I cap my meal with a glass of Stone 13th, an excellently rich beer from one of America’s most respected breweries, and painfully drag myself away from the seductive beer menu and on to the street.

Mr. Goodbar
Its Sunday afternoon and I've already had lunch at Cole's. Its the second stop of my Buffalo bar-hop and this is the bit I feel most self-conscious about. There's something supremely decadent about leaving one bar, and taking a sharp left straight into the bar next door. I feel like a lush.

Goodbar is dark and gloomy, even on this sunny July day. An L-shaped bar lies off to the right, and a cross between a pool joint and a frat house lurks on the left. A disparate group of locals line the bar, and they all seem to know each other. The bartender looks like a roadie, but turns out to be a gentle giant. He's manning the frying station, which is kicking up an awesome smell of hot and barbecue wings. I belly up to the bar after checking out the menu of roughly 30 taps, and decide to take it east with a Troegs Pale. The person next to me is talking about beer advocate. It appears to be a place in the know. I make short order of the Troegs - its a simple, easy drinking beer, which fails to last long in the glass - and move on to a Weyerbacher Double Simcoe. The prices are stupidly low, especially considering the barman gifts me my first beer for making me wait a few moments. The damage comes to $4. I'd heard about the washrooms and had been crossing my legs in anticipation since drinking my second beer at Coles. True to form, they are legendary. Every surface is covered in graffiti. The stall door won't close. The toilet seat isn't actually attached to the toilet. Best of all, the urinal seems to resemble a horse's trough and would be the ideal receptacle for some vomit. The place oozes character in a disgustingly beautiful way. It reminded me of Havana, and how the decay made the place. Back at the bar, a four year-old boy is now sat on the stool next to me. Things are getting weird. I drink my Simcoe and leave.

Allen Street Hardware
A brisk walk from Mister Goodbar gives me the opportunity to have a breather and take a momentary break from beer. I sit in a park and watch the passing Buffalo (Buffalonians?). Allen Street Hardware is the third stop in my Buffalo bar-hop, and by the time I get there, I feel thirsty and in fine spirits. Allen Street itself seems like a funky little strip, and there's some sort of street music festival going down, and the music pleasantly wafts through the bars doors, giving the place a cool indie vibe. That would suit this bar. While not exactly ritzy, its a step up from Goodbar in terms of decor, and seemingly draws a hipper crowd. There's a guy at the bar dressed as either Bob Dylan or a 19th century gentleman. Perhaps it is Bob Dylan... I hear he's getting stranger in his old age. The service at the bar is good, but sadly the tap list is not. Only 3 taps, I'm informed - a Fuller's, Duvel Green and the bar-specific Piledriver IPA. I opt for the Green because I'm curiously how this beer matches up to its bigger brother. The answer is poorly. The bottle list seems somewhat better, but I always thought bottles were for home consumption. I pay up and leave. Its a nice place, and in a good location, but I don't know if I'll ever be back.

Colter Bay
Colter Bay is the fourth of my bar-hopping stops, and is only a short walk from Allen Street Hardware. The interior is bright, airy and clean, but not really what I look for. I do however like the islands bar that everyone is sat around - it affords a panoramic view of the diverse clientele and presents a nice opportunity to see all the action. My server is friendly and in no time there's a Great Lakes Commodore Perry sat in front of me. Damn, I love Great Lakes, and this will be my overriding memory of this bar. That, and the peanut machine, which dispenses a handful for only 25 cents. Oh, and I won't forget the server doing shots with the customer - the second time I've seen this today, and perhaps a classy Buffalo tradition. Overall, Colter Bay impressed me. It had a nice range of around 30 local, national and imported taps and commands a good location. If I find myself in Allentown again I'll be back, but right now dinner is calling.

Fat Bob’s Smokehouse
A short stroll brings me to Fat Bob's Smokehouse, an awesome little joint down a quiet side street. The sun is streaming down, so I head straight through the interior and on to a spacious and pleasant patio. Within moments my server is there with a menu, but conspicuously nothing about beer, and I notice there's no tap list displayed outside. I hate asking servers what's on tap, because invariably they forget something (or start "Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Coors Light..."), or I get flustered and pick something I don't really want. Fortunately I alight on Flying Bison Oatmeal Stout. A poor match for the weather, but a great pairing my barbecued food.

I'm not American and this is my first time in a barbecue restaurant, so I ask my server what's good, and decide to go with her pick. The recommendation proves to be a good one. The pulled pork is sweet and delicious, the mac and cheese is homey and satisfying, and the grilled vegetables are a homey delight. If you're thinking of eating here go ahead and do it right now... this was one of the best meals I've had all year. As I finish my meal I ask for the bottle list out of curiosity, and its quite good. Sadly, however, its time to leave.

Pearl Street Grill
Its very nearly time for me to stagger on to the bus and leave Buffalo for good, but there’s still time to fit in one more bar, and I wander over to the Pearl Street Grill. Why do I keep coming back here? Perhaps its because its so close to the bus station and makes a good place to kill time? I've had two previous visits to this brewpub, both of which have been served up with mediocre beer. It seems to fall between two stools, with all the beer being better than macro, but worse than your average craft. In this sense, it really pales in comparison to Buffalo's other beer bars. Nonetheless I’ve not written them off yet, so I belly up to the bar, and order what turns out to be an exceptionally poor version of a maibock. Its then that it strikes me that sometimes its not all about the beer. The barman is friendly and the service is exceptional, and an itinerant musician strikes up conversation with me, and we talk about the city. People are laughing at their tables, the lights are low, and the beers flowing. Its been a great day, and I've drank some world-class beers, but I can't help but feel that they were only part of the experience, and that visiting the bars themselves was the real highlight.

I'll be back.

No comments:

Web Analytics

Winter Ale