March Madness in Buffalo: Restaurants, bars ready for hordes of Syracuse fans - The Buffalo News

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March Madness in Buffalo: Restaurants, bars ready for hordes of Syracuse fans

An Orange crush hit Buffalo – and we’re not just talking about Syracuse’s 77-53 blowout against Western Michigan.

Restaurants and food trucks filled up with hordes of hungry and thirsty fans scurrying in from the biting cold and wind as the game ended right before 5 p.m. and ahead of the next double header at 6:55 p.m.

Fans were eager for dinner and booze: Alcohol has been banned at First Niagara Center by the NCAA during the tournament.

Benjamin Rydzik, manager at Soho Burger Bar on West Chippewa Street, said his restaurant – one of nine bars and restaurants in the Chippewa entertainment district running a shuttle to and from the arena – was already booked between 5 and 7 p.m. For those without reservations, the restaurant opened its patio, equipped with heaters to combat the unspringlike weather today. It was 33 degrees in Buffalo at 5 p.m. today, with 36 mph wind gusts and a little snow was in the forecast, according to the National Weather Service.

“It should be a full house all night,” he said as his staff prepared for the crowds.

At 67 West, also in the Chippewa District, bartender Dakota Balone said the bar had drink specials for the crowds expected this evening before St. Joseph’s was to take on Connecticut.

Bottoms Up, also on Chippewa, opened early. It normally opens at 10. “We’re ready to go,” said owner Kevin Nightingale.

At Pearl Street Grill and Brewery on Seneca Street, even before the game ended, there was an hour wait at the popular downtown venue. The multistory restaurant was directing people to its buffet or the deli in the basement to satisfy hungry customers.

Food trucks were set up along what’s been dubbed “Food Truck Alley” under the viaduct at around Main and Exchange streets to accommodate basketball fans looking for a quick bite.

Knight Slider, Roaming Buffalo, ThaiMeUp, FallyMac, R&R BBQ, Whole Hog Buffalo and Lloyd Taco, which displayed a sign that read “Free hi-5’s for Cuse fans,” were among the food trucks that had set up shop although harsh, cold winds were making conditions tricky for dining.

Closer to the arena, Kevin Caputi of Kenmore was settling in with a hot dog from Frank’s Gourmet Hot Dogs, a food truck that was parked right outside the First Niagara Center.

He decided against fighting his way out of the arena before the evening games began, on the advice of his friends, who said the bars were very crowded.

He wasn’t yet sure what to think of Frank’s. “I’m about to find out,” he said.

Kevin Corcoran, of Clarence, left the Western Michigan-Syracuse game early and was headed to a Canisius College alumni event at the Avant. His orange pullover displayed his allegiance to Syracuse, and although he was happy his team won, he found it hard to get into the lopsided game.

“It’s not a close game,” he said.

He was hoping to take MetroRail. The NFTA announced it was running an extra Metro Rail train after the Syracuse game to help move fans up Main Street in between tournament sessions.

Traffic was slow but not terrible around downtown at rush hour, as heartbroken Ohio State and Western Michigan fans headed out of town and downtown workers tried to beat the crowds between the first and second sessions of today’s NCAA March Madness games.

Inside First Niagara Center, Syracuse fans had gotten antsy as their team consistently held a 20-point lead over Western Michigan. Many left the game early.

“Great win by SU. They are back,” said Brian Haessig of Oswego, who came to the game with his son, Alex.

“It’s nice to see us put the ball in the hoop,” said Syracuse fan Mike Youmans of Corning.

“I’m looking forward to playing Dayton,” he continued. “They’re going to be a tough team.”

He and friend Brandon Drumm said they would like to grab some food from some street vendors and then find a bar before tonight’s games.

Chris DiPasquale, a Syracuse fan from Rochester, wants to see his team make the Final Four. “The next game’s going to be tough,” DiPasquale said.

Taking in the excitement at the arena today were Angelo Caruso and his uncle Mike Baker, self-described “huge” Syracuse fans from Rochester, who were attending their first NCAA tournament game together today.

“We watch every game together, so it was only fitting we make the trip out here,” Caruso said.

And cousins Jerel and Joe Welch of Niagara Falls came to enjoy the games.

“Very rarely do you get this type of talent in Buffalo,” Jerel Welch said, noting that he likes Syracuse but is a sports fan in general.

The hoopla inside and out left an impression on Doug Loffler, a years-long Syracuse ticket holder from Ogdensburg who was at the game with his wife, son and son’s girlfriend.

“This is a great venue,” he said, adding that he thought First Niagara Center should host more tournaments annually. He liked that there are “lots of places to eat” nearby.

And then there was Howard Winnie of Battle Creek, Mich., wearing his Western Michigan Broncos sweatshirt, who was pretty outnumbered today. His granddaughter is on Western Michigan’s dance team. Originally from Corning, he wondered how many of his relatives were in the arena today rooting for Syracuse.

“I’d like to see them win as long as we’re here, right?” he said of his team before what must have been a sorely disappointing game.

In downtown, the Pan-American Bar Grill and Brewery in the Hotel @ the Lafayette on Washington Street had established itself as the Syracuse alumni headquarters, even decking out a mounted buck head on its wall with orange confetti. It was rapidly filling up with joyous fans within minutes of the game ending.

At the restaurant before the Syracuse game, 7-year-old Jacob of Webster showed off a drawing of “Otto the Orange” painted on the back of his shaved head. His dad, Aaron DiCicco, bought tickets to the 2:45 p.m. game for $129 on Monday but saw they were selling for way more on StubHub.

“I told him we could have sold the tickets and gotten a new bike, and he said, ‘No way,’” the dad said.

From the Chippewa entertainment district to the Cobblestone District right by the stadium, bars and restaurants had been serving beer and wings since breakfast time. The bouncer at Buffalo Iron Works at 49 Illinois St. said the bar was packed like sardines from 10 to about 11 a.m. but the crowd thinned out once the first game started. They were sure to be busy by 5 p.m. again.

The Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino started seeing fans come as early as 9:30 a.m., luring potential bettors with $10 credits for anyone who brought a ticket stub from the March Madness games.

Parking prices downtown were experiencing a March Madness of their own.

Dick Heidrick of Orchard Park said he found a spot in the lot under the I-190 overpass near Washington Street where parking was going for $10 this morning. He said he lucked out – and he’s right.

While $8 parking was reported along Upper Terrace and Pearl Street, the going price went up as high as $60 closer to the arena by this afternoon, including at a lot on Scott Street at Michigan Avenue.

At the first game of the day Dayton’s defeat of Ohio State in a nail-biter made for a wild start to March Madness in Buffalo.

“We are the kings of Ohio now!” declared an ecstatic Dayton fan, Greg Axton from Irvine, Calif., who took in the 60-59 game with a group of friends and family.

Albert Rottaris of Lewiston, who graduated from law school there in 1984 and wore a 3-decade-old Flyers sweatshirt to the game, couldn’t have been more pumped.

“I’m looking forward to playing again Saturday night,” he said.

Earlier today, a handful Milwaukee fans stopped by the Anchor Bar on Main Street, the world-famous birth place of the Buffalo wing, to watch the first double-headers. They were preparing for some more “pre-gaming” at 5 p.m. at the Pearl Street Grill and Brewery where the school’s fans have a banquet room booked as their official party headquarters.

The Queen City made a good impression on at least four Milwaukee Panthers fans.

Our cold, wet weather didn’t faze them, since they left the same thing behind in Wisconsin.

Our approval rating got even higher when they heard our bars stay open until 4 a.m. – two hours later than at home.

That closing time would give them plenty of time to experience the local nightlife after their team’s game against the Villanova Wildcats, which wasn’t slated to start until 9:25 p.m.

“We can drink in Milwaukee,” said Ken Peterson. “But it’s pretty impressive that you can outdrink us.”

We’re not so sure about that. They started pre-gaming at 1 p.m.

Tom Reid was waiting in the First Niagara Center lobby for a ride back to Clarence Center, where he is staying with his daughter and her family.

He had come from Chillicothe, Ohio, to cheer on Ohio State, but said he will stay for the weekend anyway, despite the team’s loss.

“I just like to see a good game,” he said.

Reid was there with his grandson, who was able to go to school for part of the day, he said, before the games started. He was splitting his tickets with his grandsons, but he has an even number of grandsons and an odd number of tickets.

“We’re going to flip a coin to see who gets to come” to the last game, he said.

Reid will miss the crush of people at downtown restaurants. He was meeting his wife, who is also his ride, in the Cobblestone District.

Members of the Villanova University Pep Band killed time before their game eating buckets of wings and playing word games at the Anchor Bar.

For a while, they tried to decipher the famous linguistic gem of a sentence “Buffalo buffalo uffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.”

“I get the first two Buffaloes, but then I get lost,” one said.

Another chimed in that the third “buffalo” means to bully, and they unraveled it quickly from there.

“It’s like saying, ‘Buffalo bisons that get bullied by other Buffalo bisons bully those Buffalo bison themselves,” someone concluded.

When the waitress came by to pick up their chicken wing bones and leftover celery, they didn’t miss a beat.

“You can take all of these plates,” someone said. “We’re Buh-FULL-oh.”

Tiffany Lankes, Jill Terreri, Samantha Maziarz Christmann and Jay Rey also contributed to this story. email:

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