BY ETHAN POWERS
Special to The News
If Frank Sinatra was alive and rocking his fedora on the streets of modern downtown Buffalo, he would undoubtedly take solace in the very existence of a place like The Alley Cat, counterbalancing the pulsating beats and epilepsy-inducing light shows of the Chippewa strip.
Allen Street’s newest bar does little to attract the common passer-by through its innocuous exterior aside from a neon PBR sign in the window, beckoning Allentown’s bohemian hordes as a lighthouse would to wandering ships at sea. Don’t let its peripheral inadequacy fool you.
Stepping into The Alley Cat on a Saturday night is to take refuge from the often exuberant, vociferous approach of the contemporary bar scene. A minimalist design and alluring low-key lighting scheme will instantly make patrons lust after the long-forgotten and under utilized noir motif of the 1930s and ‘40s.
Seven booths with vintage, wooden benches stretch across the right side of the wall, with the bar stretching equally as far to the left. A small lamp and candle initiates a sense of intimacy and a chiaroscuro flair.
Two stuffed buffalo heads mounted on the wall dutifully watch over customers. A stained glass mosaic of a roaming buffalo is aptly situated above the bar, perhaps serving as a testament to owner David Forness’ past ventures (Gabriel’s Gate, Hemingway’s – now Encore). It’s almost a metaphor for The Alley Cat’s piecemeal composition and its place in the larger, increasingly growing subculture of Buffalo’s niche bar realm that has become as essential as any other component of the city’s ongoing economic renaissance.
Luckily for Sinatra, he was a cocktail guy, and had he stumbled into The Alley Cat at 1 a.m. on a Friday night, he would have been able to enjoy his habitual whiskey and water without problem. Unluckily for those of us with a taste for draft beer, The Alley Cat’s beer selection is strictly of the bottled nature – a seemingly egregious oversight given Allen Street’s place in the zeitgeist of Buffalo hipster culture which craves the latest and greatest from the world of craft brewing. However, The Alley Cat does pleasantly stock Southern Tier’s IPA, Ithaca’s Flower Power IPA, Great Lakes’ Edmund Fitzgerald, and Buffalo’s own Ringside Lager (costing around $4.50 per bottle).
The Alley Cat’s food menu does little to distance itself from the traditional pub with a focused variety of salads and paninis, wings, fish filets and signature macaroni and cheese entrees. However, Forness has utilized the bar’s contiguous location to the newly established Allentown Pizza to its advantage by installing a window in the connecting wall. This mutually beneficial partnership allows guests to order food from the adjacent restaurant and eat it in the pub, offering bargoers an impressive array of late-night food options for those who would rather not seek out the food trucks at 4 a.m.
A friendly staff and free popcorn do well to alleviate the stress of being forced to drink beer from a bottle, which stands out as the bar’s only major shortcoming. Yet with an enticing noir atmosphere, Buffalo flair, a host of food options and a music selection varied enough to please everyone, The Alley Cat already looks and feels like an Allen Street requisite and has everything you could ask for in a weekend go-to.
Unless, that is, you want beer from a tap.
The Alley Cat
Where: 199 Allen St. (235-8215, alleycatbuffalo.com)
Scene: Allen Street’s newest member offers a tantalizing and intimate noir setting suitable for all, from young and old professionals to Allentown’s customary hipster citizenry.
On tap: Nothing. Bottles include PBR, Labatt Blue, Southern Tier’s IPA, Ithaca’s Flower Power IPA, Great Lakes’ Edmund Fitzgerald, Ringside Lager.
Music: A truly eclectic selection ranging from classic rock and hip-hop to contemporary pop hits played at an enjoyably audible sound level, which further adds to an ambiance well-suited for a variety of night excursion situations.
Hours: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Thursday; 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. Friday; noon to 4 a.m. Saturday; and noon to 2 a.m. Sunday.