Question: If someone asked you to list required elements of a Buffalo sports bar, what items would make the cut?
A Jim Kelly or Gilbert Perreault jersey mounted in the barroom? Buckets of Molson Canadian bottles strewn across creaky pub tables covered in Frank’s, blue cheese and tears? A mustached guy wearing a vintage Bills leather jacket and Zubaz, sucking down Crown-and-Diet Cokes while questioning Rex Ryan’s defensive packages?
All are commonplace across the bulk of the area's cherished sports bars, with their requisite number of large-screen televisions, domestic beer specials and mascot-emblazoned banners and flags. But as Buffalo’s Ballyhoo Links & Drinks (211 South Park Ave.) has proven, all sports bars are not cut from the same uniform cloth.
Especially if the locale in question is not exactly a sports bar.
Yes, the former Malamute address projects games of all sorts on its two televisions; and it provides a geographically accommodating spot for fans headed to or leaving downtown’s rebranded KeyBank Center.
But since opening in 2014, the Tim Stevens-steered locale has eschewed the super-sized offerings typical of the Nickel City sports sling and, instead, has focused its professional energies at providing patrons with some of the city’s hardest-to-find craft drafts, innovative cocktails and homemade sausages — all in the absence of a wall-sized Samsung screen.
[Starters: Ballyhoo Links and Drinks, not long after it opened]
Instead of inhaling watered-down pints of Bud Light before Sabres action, Ballyhoo visitors can feast on one of 12 regularly rotated drafts, with selections from renowned breweries like Evil Twin, Grimm and Elysian making regular appearances alongside the likes of local purveyors Big Ditch and 42 North.
Instead of sipping a sad vodka-and-cranberry before Bandits or NCAA basketball action, visitors can request one of the bar’s signature Jam Session cocktails consisting of fruit jam, fresh ingredients and spirits based on customer-requested preference.
And in a switch from the typical plate of wings or stuffed banana peppers, locals can settle in for weekly Bills action with a heaping sausage, complete with such toppings as house-mixed slaw, tabouli or spinach, and teamed with a pile of seasoned chips and pickles. The macaroni and cheese might be among the best in Buffalo.
[Photos: Smiles from Ballyhoo's anniversary & cocktail competition]
And this variation to the Buffalo fans’ traditional game-day routine is appreciated. The occasion of sports action doesn’t always need to elicit the same time-honored accompaniments.
For many, the games are an essential part of life, just as are an increasingly expansive selection of beers, liquors or culinary adventures. Combining all inside the accommodating barroom of Ballyhoo is a welcomed departure from the sports bar norm.
But if you still yearn for a sight of the familiar while imbibing in new tastes, never fear. The city’s now famous Labatt Blue silos can be seen from the bar’s rear window.
Baby steps, Buffalo. Baby steps.
211 South Park Ave. (240-9901)
When: 11:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, Saturday, noon to 2 a.m. Saturday and noon to midnight Sunday.
Why: For Buffalo’s most eclectic cocktail, draft and sausage selection before, during and after KeyBank Center action.
Parking: Small lot next door, with additional parking on surrounding streets.
Beers on tap: 12
Safe choice: Featured lager or pilsner
Seasonal choice: Featured stout or porter
Roll the dice with: Something from the top shelf—like the single-malt splendor of the Balvenie Doublewood 12-year Scotch whisky.
Food: House-made sausage, soup and slaw.
Favorites: Short Round, Church Chicken and Steak House sausages, all $9.
Drink specials: No need. Bar’s array of classic cocktails and always rotating craft drafts are special enough.
Ask a bartender: Don’t see your cherished Blue Light on the menu? Relax. One of Ballyhoo’s professionals will guide you to an illuminating alternative.
Instagram op: Gazing out Ballyhoo’s Michigan Street window, with Buffalo’s General Mills factory in the foreground.
Tell your friends to: Find a barstool, order a sausage and a drink, and appreciate that, if there’s a game on its televisions or near its front door, any bar can become a sports bar.