When was the last time you celebrated your birthright as a Western New Yorker, and stayed out all night?
Our late last-call hours are a rarity in the nation. The most recent attempt to change them, several months ago, failed. If this doesn’t call for a toast, what does? So do it. Finagle a day off. Send the kids to their grandparents’. Call a cab, or find a designated driver. Work it out.
Three of us chose a recent Thursday to pull an all-nighter.
Raising the bar, so to speak, we began early – at 5 p.m., at the Hyatt downtown, listening to Jackie Jocko. Songs like “‘Round Midnight” and “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” can ease you into that late-night vibe. Plus, Jocko announced that he would now be playing Wednesdays in addition to Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The nightlife, it ain’t no good life, but if octogenarians can embrace it, we can.
Where to next? Chippewa? Elmwood? Allentown? Even on a weeknight, this town’s a-rocking.
We chose Black Rock, because we feel at home there. Our first stop was Rohall’s Corner, a cozy place on Amherst Street across from Wegmans. Joe Bellanti was at the piano.
A real piano, a real pianist – if you were in New Orleans, you’d be raving about this place. Owner Greg Rohall was at the bar. Bellanti, between numbers by Professor Longhair and Elton John, paused to recall playing late Thursday nights at Broadway Joe’s.
“There would be 300 people there,” he laughed. “I would say, ‘Why are you all still here?’ ”
It was hard to leave. But we had agreed that the night would be a wash without washboard. And so we moved on to the Sportsmen’s Tavern to hear C.J. Chenier and His Red Hot Louisiana Band. We caught the last song and the encore, “Caledonia.”
When the music ended, things slowed to a Big Easy pace. The night was chilly and Chenier, a Southerner, sported a big fur coat. “It’s Buffalo,” he said, shivering. Our designated driver took a selfie with him.
Buffalo being one big bar, we ran into folks we knew from the old days. The harmonica player Doug Thornton, single last we recalled, was there with his wife. And they had teenage kids! Bluesman Mr. Conrad, looking dapper, joined the conversation.
Taking our time, we drifted to Casey’s. This nearby corner bar is kind of rough-hewn – when we opened the door, nasty rap lyrics were blaring. But the jukebox was soon playing “Bad Moon Rising,” and, contrary to the song, all was calm. One detail bears mentioning because Buffalo is constantly being called segregated: All races were here. Not separately, either. Together, up and down the bar.
And now for the highlight. There’s no polite way to put this, so ... OK, a guy was dancing, and his belt buckle broke and his pants fell down. And his buddies, roaring with laughter, dropped their drawers in sympathy. A whole herd of guys in their boxers. And folks say nothing good happens after midnight.
There was no topping that. Time for a nightcap.
“It’s quarter to 3,” begins “One for My Baby,” by native son Harold Arlen. That hour found us at Hot Mama’s Canteen, the historic tavern at Amherst and Military. A Frisky Whiskey appeared in front of me. Luckily, I took only a few sips. Deep-fried food beckoned: crispy eggplant wings, with blue cheese and Hot Mama’s signature hot sauces. So did shuffleboard.
Did you ever try shuffleboard? It’s great for the wee hours. You play by feel – by sending a disc gliding down a board. Other patrons, a dozen or so, offered coaching.
Who were these people? Alas, my reporting skills had taken a hit by this time. I can, however, tell you about the shuffleboard itself. It has graced a number of bars. It is part of Black Rock history.
As was this night, all too soon.
Next morning, I was only half awake. But it was worth it. Think of the Canal District. Think of our heritage.
Buffalo gals (and guys), won’t you come out tonight?