Did you ever think that only a block from the Chippewa strip, there is an oasis of civility, gentility and ready access to a lovely, well-poured cocktail?
We weren't certain, but on the night we went to find out, it seemed destined. Finding a parking spot right in front of Hemingway's on Pearl Street during theater season was the first sign. Walking into the bar confirmed it. Comfort and charm exude from the place.
When owner David Forness bought this venerable building in 1988, the second floor was still set up as a rooming house. And the cozy bar and restaurant continue to have the feel of a place where you could hang your hat.
Forness, a former teacher who has been in the restaurant and bar biz in Buffalo since 1982, is also an art lover and avid collector. These passions are evidenced by the framed Charles Burchfield posters, vintage advertisements and wild assortment of antiques, toys, trains, signs, objects and, well, stuff, that decorates the place. A huge fish tank adds life -- though plenty exists regardless. The urethaned brick walls and live plants also lend to the eclectic atmosphere.
I counted 29 different bottles up on a ledge over the bar. When I asked the bartender if he really had all the varieties, he pointed to Zima and one other fruit-flavored, non-beer beverage, and said those were the only ones they were "out of."
This bartender would know. If Dave Forness is the eccentric godfather who fills the place with flea-market oddities, bartender Joe Lindstrom is its heart and soul. He works Tuesday through Saturday, and when he's not working, he comes here to relax. The self-proclaimed "Nightmaster of Ceremonies," he presides over the regulars, which include theater insiders, theatergoers and "friends of friends of friends" -- his way of saying that, in the five years he has worked here, he has built up a nice following.
You really almost don't notice the TVs, which on the night we were there, were on without the sound -- a fair compromise, I suppose for those who may need visual stimulation while not being lovingly and entertainingly taken care of by the staff.
Joe took care of us just fine, not raising an eyebrow when a lady ordered a Beefeater Martini, rocks, olives. Hubby has always been impressed when I order this steakhouse classic, and he had the same.
Going to an HSBC Arena event, says Joe? Park nearby, stop in for an Old-Fashioned. For $5.50, sip his rendering of orange, cherry, bitters, sugar and whiskey. He'll muddle it for you if you like, pour it on the rocks and pop it in front of you.
Then, take the train downtown from there, no worries about beating the crowds on the way back. It's such a good idea that you'll want to stop in again after the show. And don't forget your car.
492 Pearl St., Buffalo
Scene: Pre- or post-theater or anytime; great atmospheric downtown spot.
Drinks: "Positive Mental Attitude" and "Attitude Adjustment" signature blends of rum, vodka, cranberry juice, sour mix and soda for a little fizz. All the beers and regular stuff, too.
Dress code: Very casual, but you could show up in a tux and still fit in.