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'For Sale' signs abound on bars, clubs around Chippewa Street

"For Sale" signs are becoming as common as "Happy Hour" banners in downtown Buffalo's Chippewa Entertainment District.

There are currently a half dozen bars and nightclubs on the market in the compact entertainment district, which includes sections of Chippewa, Franklin and Pearl streets, and Delaware Avenue.

The list of available properties includes:

* Lake View Brewing Co.'s Barrel House at 85 W. Chippewa St.;

* Area 42, 42 W. Chippewa St.;

* Tantra, 153 Delaware Ave.;

* Utopia, 228 Franklin St.;

* Jade, 199 Delaware Ave.;

* McMonkeez, 79 W. Chippewa St.

Another handful of taverns have announced a permanent "last call" and now sit dark, including the veteran Continental, at 212 Franklin St. and WitzEnd Comedy Club, 117 W. Chippewa St.

Real estate broker Alan Hastings, whose Hastings Cohn firm is representing several of the sellers, said it has more to do with the life cycles of the business owners than the life cycle of the Chippewa neighborhood.

"The deals I'm involved with are all tied to owners moving on to new things in their lives. This isn't a story of doom and gloom on Chippewa. I think opportunities abound in the Chippewa district," Hastings said.

Change has been a way of life in the decade and a half the Chippewa Entertainment District has been in existence. A laundry list of bars and restaurants, including Mark Goldman's seminal Chippewa Arts Cafe and Mark Croce's Coliseum, have come and gone.

Second and third wave night spots, such as Barristers, Reservoir, Basement, Red Room and Desiderios, are all now just distant memories, too.

Jim Alfieri, president of the Chippewa Entertainment District Association, whose Crocodile Bar has found success at 72 W. Chippewa St. since 1997, said the bar business by its nature tends to see a lot of turnover. And operators who aim too high or too low, find it's tough to make a go.

"The good operators make it. They are able to weather the ups and downs and find a loyal audience," Alfieri said. "If you're going for trendy, you better have a lot of money because you have to constantly reinvent yourself or you're out of luck."

He noted that several of the now-extinct clubs in the entertainment district tried to build their business on high volume and low drink prices. He recalled one defunct bar's promotion for a "Five drinks for $1" special.

"They end up getting a lot of very young people without a lot of disposal income," Alfieri said. "You need more than just kids who don't spend much and tend to be very fickle about where they want to hang out. You can have the hottest bar in town and six months later that crowd has moved on."

Dennis Brinkworth III, owner of Brinks, 51 W. Chippewa St., and Union Bar, at 414 Pearl St., admits he badly misjudged what would work on Chippewa when he opened Brinks in 2001.

"My idea was a big city, cool tavern with great food and high end chefs. I almost went under because the street wasn't ready for that," Brinkworth said.

These days Brinks draws a solid lunch crowd with a casual menu, and in the evenings a crowd of post-work professionals comes in looking for a selection of European beer.

"This Brinks works, but I had to make major adjustments," he said.

Brinkworth, who also operates Colter Bay, had a brief misstep with Union Bar, which debuted last year. The original concept was a sports bar for 20-somethings, with lots of TVs and cheap drinks.

"It was a nightmare. We sold a ton of beer, but there was no money in the till at the end of the night and the place was a mess," he said.

Union Bar now caters to an older, college-age and up crowd that comes in for a deep array of hand-crafted beer.

Mark Croce, whose multiple entertainment district holdings run the gamut from D'Arcy McGee's Irish-themed bar to the fine dining Buffalo Chophouse to the euro-influenced dance club Warehaus, said the Chippewa district has seen better days.

"There's a lot of struggling right now. I'm not surprised some people are selling," Croce said.

He said several factors are currently working against the downtown Buffalo entertainment area, including casino gaming in Niagara Falls and an increase in the number of young adults moving out of the Buffalo area.

According to Croce, despite those negative economic factors, more businesses have opened in the Chippewa neighborhood.

"The pie's not big enough to support all these places. That's why people are selling, that's why some places are going to limited hours," the Chippewa area pioneer said. "I love downtown and I've got my life invested down here, but we've seen much better days."

Dan Cane, who shuttered the WitzEnd comedy club, at 117 W. Chippewa St. earlier this year, is banking on a turnaround. While the comedy club sits dark, he and business partner Jim Denz are busy remodeling their Quote dance club, just around the corner at 236 Delaware Ave.

"We closed after New Year's and the new and improved version will open Fat Tuesday. It was getting stale and we are making it hot, hot, hot," Cane said.

Plush decor with vibrant colors, carpeted floors and deep cherry wood accents will greet returning patrons, and give the 5-year-old bar a new lease on life.

Cane, who also operates Flappy's at 252 Delaware Ave. and Guido Fienberg's Sports Bar, at 115 W. Chippewa St., said he is willing to ride out whatever the Chippewa district delivers.

"Some things work, some don't. Some owners are in it for the long haul, some aren't," he said. "Unless there's something going on down here that I'm not grasping, this is a temporary lull and this is where I want to be."


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