Neighbors Sports Bar & Grill on Cleveland Drive is an institution. All the way back in 1992, Carl Herko wrote about it in The Buffalo News as the prototypical neighborhood bar.
Called Neighbors since 1989 (before then, it was called Dux), Herko described it as "Gin Mill Modern: wood bar, wood walls, mirrors, TVs behind the bar."
A lot has changed since then in Buffalo and beyond -- 1992 was, after all, the year of the Bills' third Super Bowl appearance -- but my guess is Neighbors has changed little. It is a neighborhood bar for the neighborhood, and its regulars likely feel as comfortable inside its green walls as in their own recliner.
Me? Not so much. It's safe to say I felt as out of place walking through its open door as Justin Bieber at a fight club. (In this example, I'm the Biebs.)
You could have heard a pin drop as my friend and I entered; I half expected a record to skip. All eyes -- probably about 15 folks -- turned in our direction, and they did not look happy to see us.
The bartender, happily, was quite nice, right from the start. With a smile, she asked us both if we were over 21, which today, as a balding, married father with a mortgage, actually makes me feel pleased.
We assured her that yes, we were both legal, and not barely. But that wasn't enough for the fella at the end of the bar. He waved the bartender over and whispered something about us, and after she told him all was well, he pointed a finger in my direction and uttered, with difficulty, "You should be ID'd."
I felt the smartest response was to smile, and head to the nearest table with my Yuengling and Budweiser.
"There's hostility in the air!" my friend said excitedly, and he was correct. I remembered why I was at Neighbors, however, and took a good look around.
Herko wasn't far off with his "Gin Mill Modern" description. The Neighbors of 2012 is a nice, clean, small local bar. Several guys played Golden Tee, a few girls chatted over a drink, a Touch Tunes jukebox sat waiting in the corner.
The bar is fully stocked with alcohol, although the beer selection is minimal at best; Heineken was the only import we saw that did come from our neighbors to the north. But this is not the place for an IPA. It is, instead, a no-nonsense, no-frills establishment that surely draws a devoted crowd of locals. We noticed, in fact, that only a few cars were in the parking lot, which indicates that many patrons live close enough to walk.
There are no happy hour deals, per se, but that's because, I was told, "Everything is cheap." (Pints are just $2.)
I noticed some neat old beer signs, and one behind the bar bearing the legend, "Get me drunk, and enjoy the show." A few of the video golf players cheerfully argued: "Did you just say that?" "I heard it!"
It all makes sense, I thought to myself. Even the reaction to me seemed right on the money. I did look out of place -- my friend, even more so.
Neighbors is the kind of Western New York establishment that has Quick Draw cards and little pencils on every table and a menu of reasonably priced bar food (pizza logs, burgers, chicken fingers).
A regular came in shortly before we departed, and sure enough, everybody knew his name.
While I won't be returning, Neighbors should keep its regulars happy for a long time to come. The vibe, if not the songs on the Touch Tunes jukebox, remains the same, and that's as it should be.
Neighbors Sports Bar & Grill
659 Cleveland Drive 832-4091
Scene: A neighborhood bar where everyone truly does know everyone else's name.
On tap: The basics Labatt, etc. ; Yuengling is the most adventurous draft here.
Music: A Touch-Tunes jukebox is on the premises.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 a.m. daily.