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Founding Fathers, a watering hole for political junkies

There is at least one clear winner on Election Day -- Founding Fathers Pub, which is sure to draw a crowd.

The pub at 75 Edward St. opened Election Day 1985, and has become a landing place for many of the area's pols and media personalities.

Presidential portraits, and other bits of Americana line the bar's walls. And owner Mike Driscoll entertains patrons with occasional trivia questions. It also helps that the kitchen offers late hours.

Channel 4 anchor Bob Koop had what amounted to his own bar stool, where he could often be found after the 11 p.m. news. Other TV celebrities included Don Paul and Rich Kellman.

Founding Fathers Pub is a haven of United States political history. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News file photo)

Founding Fathers Pub is a haven of United States political history. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News file photo)

[Related: 100 Things - Trivia Night at Founding Fathers]

Some of the area's best-known politicians became part of the Founding Fathers crowd. Among them were Eugene Fahey, Mayor Anthony Masiello and Dan Ward. A buzz would go through the bar when a new VIP happened to show up. The arrival of Judge Wilbur Trammell, to name one example, sent discreet whispers from one end of the bar to the other.

Now, Founding Fathers welcomes more of a hipster crowd. But distinguished stalwarts of the old guard still recall it fondly.

Ward has organized a Founding Fathers Reunion group that meets at the bar every few months.

"Back in the day, there were few media or political types who did not go there," he said.

Trivia Night at Founding Fathers can become quite intense. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

Trivia Night at Founding Fathers can become quite intense. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

[Related: Founding Fathers wins Esquire's affection]

Political bars are part of our nation's heritage.  Boston's Green Dragon Tavern, established in 1654, was the watering hole for patriots who hatched the plans for the Boston Tea Party. Philadelphia's City Tavern, built in 1773, played informal host to the First Continental Congress.

Asked what political heavy hitters can currently be found at Founding Fathers, Driscoll demurred, as a good tavern keeper will.

"Usually I don't recognize the person while he or she is here," he said. "The person will be leaving, and someone will tell me who it was."

Mayor Byron Brown?

He has been in once or twice, but not much, and not recently.

"He's not a cocktailer," Driscoll said.

A mention that Republican VIP Carl Calabrese was spotted at Trivia Night (held at Founding Fathers the first Tuesday of each month) drew no comment from Driscoll.

"Political and media types come in and look around," he said, affably. "A lot of important people come in. Basically, they want to come out and have a drink and not be bothered by gawkers."

Driscoll is more loquacious discussing folks no longer with us.

He has bittersweet memories, for instance, of getting to know Tim Russert in the pub's early days. Russert was young, and single. He and Driscoll had been high school friends.

"When I heard that Tim Russert had passed, at first I thought it was his dad."

[Related: Fond memories of Tim Russert as Florida comes to political forefront]

An Amherst native who made appearances at Fathers was actor James Whitmore, who was playing a president at the time. He was starring in a production of "Give 'Em Hell, Harry," about Harry S Truman.

The distinguished actor came in late, after the show.

"I said, 'Mr. Whitmore, hello,'" Driscoll recalled. "He said, 'Can I still get a sandwich?' I made him a ham and Swiss. He insisted on paying for everyone at his table. He was the nicest guy. He was in his 80s then.

"We've had some people say, 'This bar should be in Washington, D.C., or in Boston.' But we have history too here in Buffalo. It's important to remind people of that."

Everyone hopes to see drama. Driscoll himself has witnessed it many times.

"When a winner walks in, the place goes crazy. Everybody claps," he said. "The winner then usually says, 'These are the people who have worked hard for me. Give them a few drinks.'"

On lucky Election Day evenings, he has been delighted to witness political détente.

"The opposition will come over, and shake hands. Sometimes they hug," Driscoll said. "They'll say, 'It was a good race. Let's have a drink.'"

Candidates can win or lose. Congress can go right and left. But at Founding Fathers, one thing never changes. Don't try to get Driscoll to talk politics. He said that he won't.

"When people come in and want to talk politics, I say, 'I'm a historian. Ask me about these candidates 10 years from now. Then they'll be history."

Email Mary Kunz Goldman at mkunz@buffnews.com

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