If baseball is still believed to be America’s beloved pastime, one of the reasons it has endured through generations is its adherence to tradition.
Sure, some things have changed, whether with stingier pitch counts, instant replay and this season’s change to the intentional walk. But on any given day, it’s still largely the same game your father, his grandfather and his grandfather have enjoyed through spring, summer and early fall.
And maybe this is why Washington Square Bar & Grill makes so much sense as host for pre- and postgame dining and drinks for those headed to a season’s worth of Bisons baseball at Swan and Washington streets.
Housed in a structure that has stood since 1886 — and has been operated by its current ownership since the mid-1980s — it welcomed the first swarm of fans headed to the grand opening of then-Pilot Field on April 14, 1988.
Now nearly 30 years later, it’s changed a little. Its televisions are nicer, its phone booth is no longer in service and customers don’t frequent its flip-page juke for the hits of Starship as much anymore.
But the locale has remained relevant for Bisons fans by staying relatively unchanged from those Pilot Field days, all while staying true to its original offerings of incredible comfort food and throwback tavern atmosphere — and all while Buffalo’s downtown continues to change dramatically outside its front door.
Step inside the Square’s timber-lined barroom and customers can find a variety of decorative items that have no coherent connection. Pictures of Muhammad Ali, George W. Bush and the 1974-75 playoff-bound Buffalo Braves. Patio lights strung above the bar. A coin-operated candy station.
But amid these accentuates is a comfortable liquor sling for visiting fans to grab cans of Bud Light ($3) and formidable offerings of wings and beef on weck, all while discussing the many career highlights of former Buffalo minor league greats like catcher Tom Prince and current New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey.
This scene was available when I stopped by on a recent Bisons afternoon game day, before the Herd squared off with I-90 rivals, the Rochester Red Wings. With an open bar and the day’s posted lunch specials — which change daily — local and Ontario-area fans intermingled inside the Square before judging talent that may (or may not) head to Buffalo’s major league affiliate Toronto Blue Jays before season’s end.
And whether on a barstool or at small table sidling the joint’s elaborately carved decorative fireplace, these fans enjoyed an atmosphere not too different than the surroundings enjoyed by Triple-A crowds from the past three decades.
Authenticity like this cannot be cultivated. And just like the sport across the street, Washington Square’s adherence to its original character continues to be a major selling point.
Washington Square Bar & Grill
295 Washington St. (849-0619)
When: Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; closed on Sundays. Bar open later, dependent on games and crowd.
Why: To enjoy game-day dining and drinks before or after downtown sports action.
Parking: Surrounded by affordable lots.
Credit/debit accepted: Yes
Beers on tap: 6
Safe choice: Labatt Blue
Seasonal choice: Whatever Sam Adams is on tap.
Impress the regulars with: Maker’s Mark, rocks — and a round for the house.
Three songs to play on the Square’s jukebox: “No Sugar Tonight” by The Guess Who, “30 Days in the Hole” by Humble Pie and “Don’t Let Me Down” by The Beatles.
Suds, then stampede: Baseball fans can trade rounds and game predictions before heading to Bisons action across the street.
Steps from “The Natural”: Patrons can enjoy drinks across from the Ellicott Square Building, which served as backdrop for multiple scenes from the Buffalo-set Robert Redford baseball movie classic.
Drink specials: Nightly Happy Hour drops well drinks and select drafts to $3, and the Canned Beer of the Week is always $3.
And if you hate sports: Bask inside one of downtown’s most accommodating vestiges of classic Buffalo.