In these salad days of ambitious brewers and craft beer bars blooming across Buffalo, it’s easy to take a comparatively elder statesman like Pearl Street Grill and Brewery for granted.
The brick- and timber-lined locale has been a stable watering hole for Sabres fans since taking over the former Garcia’s Irish Pub space in 1997. It’s an accessible spot for weekday lunch, birthdays and happy hour bashes; boasts four floors of event and bar space; and was brewing its own beer before such in-house creations were welcomed over the watered-down likes of Bud Light.
But while a resurgent Queen City now seemingly celebrates a trendy new barroom every weekend, the reliable Pearl Street stands firm, shining on its downtown corner to serve local and visiting hockey crowds through nearly two decades of service.
Adorned with its famed tap-topping Lake Effect Man above its Pearl Street entrance, the buzzing brewery—located walking distance from KeyBank Center —has ably served as a rally point for pre-, post- and in-game dinner and drinks through three different Sabre uniform tenures.
Now past its early days when patrons could choose between a handful of house-brewed selections or a bottle of Michelob, the bar offers a choice of more than a dozen signature and seasonal brews with names like Wild Ox Wheat, Street Brawler and its signature selection, the amber-hued Trainwreck. And conveniently, all come in sizes to satisfy curious (10 ounce) or committed (22 ounce) tastes.
On a recent visit, I appreciated how fans can settle amid Pearl Street’s first floor of original Erie Canal-themed artwork, pulley-controlled ceiling fans and multiple overhead televisions. They can find a table throughout its expansive dining room and take the stairs to a second floor packed with additional bar space, air hockey and pinball machines. Or, if the weather is accommodating, find one of the locale’s three New Orleans-style rear wrap-around patios, which look out toward Lake Erie and the still-developing Canalside District.
It’s an embarrassment of riches, and all on a remade Pearl Street stretch that now welcomes two-way traffic and bikes lanes through the heart of downtown.
But despite all of this, the brewery will never be the trendiest choice among the city’s sports fans or craft beer intelligentsia. The conveyor belt of Buffalo’s bar industry will keep rolling out new Vizio-festooned pubs or hipster draft dens, with some gaining a foothold and others dropping off the map as fast as they appeared.
And while they do, Pearl Street will dependably exist above the fray, expertly serving as downtown’s model drinking establishment—and one that continues as a satisfying stop for Buffalo’s hordes of hockey fanatics.
76 Pearl St. (856-2337)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Why: For inventive craft drafts before and after Sabres home games.
Parking: Surrounding streets, garages and lots.
Credit/debit accepted: Yes.
Beers on tap: 16
Safe choice: Trainwreck Amber Ale (4.5 percent ABV)
Seasonal choice: 19th Anniversary Imperial Oatmeal Stout (10.2 percent ABV)
Roll the dice with: Don Cherry Cherry Wheat (4.7 percent ABV), enjoyed best with an obnoxious blazer.
Pregame action: Feel like a little bubble hockey before Sabres action? Find Pearl Street’s game area on its second floor.
Prepare for patio season: Once temperatures rise, patrons can access the locale’s three levels of copper-roofed patios to enjoy Lake Erie sunsets.
Drink specials: Depends on the day, week or event. Consult your friendly waitress or bartender.
And if you hate sports: Pay homage to the impressive endurance of Buffalo’s most multifaceted brewpub.