Of all of its endearing attributes, one of Buffalo’s most cherished qualities is its accessibility. A single individual or small group can make a tangible imprint on the city, one that can change its face in both minuscule and major ways. It’s just a matter of what they do.
In the case of Thomas Jablonski and his four business partners—Niko Georgiadis, Jon Mirro, Cory Muscato and Chad Vosseller – the contribution is Lockhouse Distillery and Bar, a clandestine Cobblestone District favorite among the craft cocktail set, and the Queen City’s first distillery since Prohibition.
But at a stage when Buffalo is enduring a positive transformation not seen since before booze was bootlegged, Jablonski and Co. see more than a mere chance to chip in on the city’s resurgence by slinging award-winning spirits.
“There are maybe one or two times in the history of a place, any place, where normal, everyday people can have an impact,” said Jablonski, a North Tonawanda native.
“This is us [at Lockhouse], along with the hundreds of others who are doing similar things at this moment. They’re just people who have ideas, have experience, and just want to make things in this city better.”
That’s what the Lockhouse crew has tried to do since selling their first batches of vodka from a third-floor space behind Elmwood’s Pierce Arrow Building in 2013, and now operating inside their mural-accented space just down the street from downtown’s KeyBank Center.
Concocting artisanal spirits in the Buffalo area became a reality 10 years ago, thanks to the creation of New York State’s Farm Distillery License. Now, advances in licensure have allowed those like Lockhouse to maximize their potential by adding a full bar operation to their on-site distilling and bottle sales.
With these expanded capabilities, the laid-back location offers a state-centric selection of craft drafts, cans and bottles ($4-$8) aside its eight distilled selections – including its cherry blossom-accented Sakura Gin and popular Public Espresso-backed Revolution Coffee Liqueur, due to expand into New York City locations later this month.
Inside a conversational space that could be best described as “hipster garage chic” – with strung lights off an overhead wooden frame, barrel-based high tops and even an old Q*bert arcade game – friends, dates or happy hour associates can casually tandem tastes of Lockhouse’s 21 craft cocktails ($9-$10) with a Bronx-born pilsner like Spirit of ’76 and chic barroom eats.
Lait Cru Brasserie and chef Will Peterson, popular in the Horsefeathers Building, have also taken over Lockhouse’s kitchen, dealing succulent salads, sandwiches and mac n' cheese apps to visitors since the end of August.
And through its ongoing operation, Lockhouse is both accentuating and expanding its neighborhood’s – and, by extension, Buffalo’s – possibilities.
It’s become a vital cog in the Cobblestone District’s burgeoning music scene, whether with Buffalo indie pop bands playing its barroom following summer Canalside performances, or with its involvement in and organization of Cobblestone Live!, the locally focused music festival that debuted this summer.
Its near-Buffalo River location – once a favorite of Erie Canal-era distillers – has made them an ideal pop spot for kayakers and bikers; and its proximity to KeyBank Center has positioned them for visits from concert crowds and sports fans alike.
It all makes for a multipronged contribution to Buffalo and its ever-eclectic craft cocktail and beer scene. And as that scene continues to grow, patrons can expect post-Prohibition leader Lockhouse to have its fingerprints all over it.
Address: 41 Columbia St. (768-4898)
Hours: Tuesday to Friday, noon to 12 a.m.; Saturday, 4 p.m. to 12 a.m.; closed Sunday and Monday.
Scene: Craft spirits distillery, beer bar and Cobblestone outpost for those passing through the neighborhood or searching for a sample of Buffalo’s revamped vibe.
House-made spirits: 8
Parking: Front lot and street spots
Outdoor tables: Yes
Don’t forget to: Chase its popular Revolution Coffee Liqueur with the darkest draft on the menu.