Albert Collins, the late, great Texas-born guitarist known as the “Master of the Telecaster” once said of the music he championed, “Simple music is the hardest to play – and blues is simple music.”
The same could be said about the simple bar or tavern. It’s one thing to open a venue, but a feat to profitably operate it with the right mix of comfort, style and bar-stool camaraderie, all while keeping its dive bar cool intact. Take a drive toward the North Buffalo intersection of Main and Fairfield streets and you’ll find the Central Park Grill, a neighborhood bar and blues haven that has served up simplicity in one form or another since 1929.
With a seamless balance of blues-soaked weekends and corner-tavern hospitality, CPG offers a clubhouse environment equally inviting to Buddy Guy devotees as it is to craft beer conversationalists. And, though ownership changed in August 2012, the Main Street mainstay has shown no signs of abandoning this setting.
Show up for its Thursday Night Blues Night – hosted weekly by local radio legend Anita West – and have your hair blown back by such homegrown heroes as Dive House Union, the Jony James Band and noted Fender assassin Maria Aurigema, plying their craft on the bar’s intimate back-room stage.
Find the front bar to grab a $4 pint of Southern Tier IPA before scanning a grill menu lined with barroom classics, and an Internet jukebox full of chords from John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.
The bar’s warm interior does nothing to detract from its clubhouse vibe. Its wood-paneled and exposed-brick walls – featuring such instructions as “Hippies use side door” – introduce it as your neighbor’s rec room. A five-step walk-up reveals shadowed tables and CPG’s stage, set back and secluded, yet inside a setting reminiscent of a finished basement.
But, once the night’s band plugs in and delivers, you’ll realize you haven’t stumbled upon the block’s hottest house party; you’re merely in a bar that makes you feel like you are.
On a recent Saturday night, I was treated to scaled-down version of the bar’s best offerings. I settled in with a scattered group at the front bar, who were there to watch the Yankees game on the large flat-screens, or to cheer on the booze-infused live blues of Buffalo’s Heavenly Chillbillies.
Customers exchanged shots of Crown Royal and pitchers of Labatt beer as they were treated to the echo of the Chillbillies, whose barroom ruckus produced a cover of Spinal Tap’s “Gimme Some Money” before lamenting local failures on its own “Buffalo Blues.” And, as the bass lines bounced off paneled walls and wooden tables, patrons tapped along on the bar top, seemingly familiar with reverberations that have surrounded them for decades.
Going forward, the owners have plans to continue to enhance the bar’s neighborhood-friendly confines, with new tables and chairs, a projector screen for Sunday football, and an expanded, locally sourced bar-and-grill menu on the way. Also on tap: an outdoor beer garden to join CPG’s refurbished rear patio, available at stage right for patrons who want a simultaneous serving of fresh air and classic riffs.
But, as things inside the bar change, the atmosphere and adherence to the blues will remain unchanged. It’s hard work, and the simple bar with simple music will continue to make it look easy.
Central Park Grill
Where: 2519 Main St. (836-9466).
When to go: After work for a happy hour round; Wednesday through Saturday night live music; Thursday Night Blues with Anita West; and during Bills and Sabres games.
Dress: Casual, with jeans nearly mandatory.
Price range: Drinks, $2.50-$6. Food starters, $3.95-$9.95; sandwiches, $5.95-$9.95; wings, $8.95 (10) to $35.95 (50).
Parking: Small lot is next to building; plus ample parking on Main Street.
Info: Event specials on Facebook, Twitter (@CentralParkGri1).