Although it’s technically accurate, it seems misleading to tab Elmwood Village institution Coles as a college bar.
For more than 80 years, the Shatzel family-steered locale has provided both locals and visitors with the best version of Buffalo, whether via food, camaraderie or its Queen City-centric confines.
Stained glass accentuates doorways and dining room walls. Cathedral-appropriate chandeliers and overhead timber beams instill a regal beer hall feel. Its rotating list of tapped selections continue to serve as a bellwether for a city still growing as a premiere craft draft destination.
But stroll through its buffalo statue-topped entrance mere blocks from the front doors of SUNY Buffalo State, and you’ll find one of the city’s most cherished barrooms festooned with local and national college pennants. St. Bonaventure and UB. Dayton and Harvard. Bradley and Bucknell.
[Photos: Sharon Cantillon's gallery from Coles]
Intended or not, this makes its established collegiate vibe palpable — and makes Coles a perfect place to watch the rest of this season’s college basketball coverage en route to March’s NCAA Tournament.
Whether through its Big Four loyalties or allegiance to I-90 brethren Syracuse Orangemen, Buffalo continues to have a sneakily devoted D-1 college basketball crowd. And if any of these teams awaken the echoes of Bob Lanier, Calvin Murphy or Gerry McNamara, their fans will be hard-pressed to find a bar more accommodating to their spectator, eating and drinking needs than Coles.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, I stopped in for a Firestone Walker Nitro Merlin Milk Stout ($6.50) and peanut butter-slathered Jiffy burger ($13) to find all of the bar’s six overhead televisions tuned to NCAA basketball action. An Atlantic 10 matchup between SBU conference foes George Mason and St. Louis was featured on multiple screens.
Classic rock hummed through the barroom, and visitors interested in settling in for game action could choose between a vast array of drafts from San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewery, who held a “tap takeover” over the bulk of the bar’s 36 lines in early January.
But no matter how important the weekend game or tourney, the bar's embarrassment of riches can relegate its televised hoop offerings as a bonus, not its primary focus. That's apt to happen when you’re the city’s marquee watering hole, a place that has dependably served up hearty dinners, friendly reunions and romantic introductions for generations. It’s a place as Buffalo as lake-effect snow, chicken wings and Rick James.
So is it myopic to refer to Coles as simply a college bar? Absolutely. But if this designation gets you in the door for the rest of this season’s NCAA basketball action, so be it — and you’re welcome.
1104 Elmwood Ave. (886-1449)
Open: 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. daily.
Why: To enjoy college sports inside its pennant-strewn barroom.
Parking: On Elmwood and surrounding streets.
Credit/debit accepted: Yes.
Beers on tap: 36
Safe choice: Abita Purple Haze
Seasonal choice: Firestone Walker Nitro Merlin Milk Stout
Roll the dice with: Thin Man Burning Money IPA
Peruse the pennants: Patrons will find a wide array of college and pro flags hanging above the barroom, including rarities for such vagabonds as the Boston Braves and Philadelphia Athletics.
Drink specials: Regular tap takeovers from local and national brewers — all while the bar offers some of Buffalo’s most eclectic beer choices — render specials superfluous.
Instagram op: Standing under the bar’s framed Buffalo Braves Booster Club banner.
And if you hate sports: Settle in and experience Buffalo’s ultimate welcome center.