Being a Buffalo Bills fans these days isn’t a whole lot of fun.
We’re now neck-deep in professional sports’ current longest playoff drought (at 17 years); suffer through some of the NFL’s most high-profile disappointments annually through nationally televised highlight reels; and enjoy viral Internet coverage when drunken fans choke-slam each other through tailgating tables.
But it wasn’t always like this — and Orchard Park’s fabled Big Tree Inn is the bar to prove it.
Nestled off now New Era Field’s outer reaches on Abbott Road, the Danny DeMarco-owned corner tavern still stands as the Bills’ Super Bowl-era clubhouse it once was. Walls are lined with the jerseys of Buffalo gridiron legends like Jim Kelly and Kent Hull; load-bearing beams are festooned with Sports Illustrated covers featuring Bruce Smith and Steve Tasker; and the locale’s dining room features a trophy case dedicated to the days when every NFL playoff season went through the Southtowns. The bar is no less than a necessary pilgrimage stop for any Bills fan, and it continues to serve as a tap-lined time capsule for the city’s finest football moments.
Does all this displayed history make it more painful for patrons to watch this season’s Buffalo-less Wild Card, Divisional and Championship action inside the Tree? That all depends on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, two predilections I jostle between on a daily basis.
During last Saturday’s Texans-Raiders Wild Card match-up, the optimist in me was grateful for the opportunity to hoist a few Molson Canadian bottles ($4.50) while the bar featured both the game’s action and audio on its five televisions. I enjoyed the chance to hoover down some of the region’s finest grilled barbecue wings (single, $11.99) aside the glass-encased jersey of former Bills quarterback, Alex Van Pelt. I appreciated that Buffalo is likely the only NFL city where framing and mounting a longtime backup QB’s jersey inside a barroom is totally normal.
But throughout the beers and the wings and the sleepy action between the Raiders and Texans, the pessimist in me couldn’t help lament how long its been since the Big Tree was mobbed for pre- and postgame Bills playoff action. I couldn’t overlook the glossy pictures of past glories and the empty parking lots off Abbott, and between cool sips of Canadian, I wondered when I — along with every other frustrated Buffalo football fan locally and nationally — will be able to toast some new postseason memories.
In the meantime, the historic barstools of the Tree are open and waiting—just like the rest of us.
Big Tree Inn
4277 Abbott Road, Orchard Park (649-9892; also on Facebook)
Hours: noon to 4 a.m. Monday through Sunday.
Why: To watch NFL playoff football in the shadow of Buffalo Bills history
Parking: Side and back parking lot.
Credit/debit accepted and ATM: Yes.
Beers on tap: 8
Safe choice: Bud Light
Seasonal choice: Sam Adams Hopscape
Roll the dice with: Shot of Crown Royal, Molson Canadian chaser
Beers with the boys: Visitors can enjoy drinks aside nine signed and framed jerseys of former Bills greats.
Drink specials: Happy Hour is Monday through Friday with $2.75 domestic bottles, $2.25 well drinks and $4.25 pints of Sam Adams.
Instagram op: Posing outside the bar with wooden sculptures of Jim Kelly, Andre Reed or ESPN’s Chris Berman.
And if you hate sports: Treat the bar’s photos and Bills memorabilia as a Buffalo history lesson.