The designation of “New Buffalo” is now commonplace among older residents or expats looking to succinctly classify the city’s ongoing metamorphosis from underwhelming upstate outpost to evolving proprietors of Rust Belt chic.
But what’s become obvious is that there’s no renewed path for Buffalo that’s not built off its history and old properties that have patiently waited for the Queen City to gets its act together.
Thankfully, the new is being built off the old and this is literally evident with craft distillery Lakeward Spirits, nestled inside 46,000 square feet of re-purposed barrel factory in the heart of the Old First Ward.
“This was a way of planting a stake in our shared hometown and making ourselves part of the ongoing Buffalo renaissance,” said co-owner Chris Sasiadek.
Specializing in vodka, gin and white rum made entirely with the type of local grain that once filled the towering elevators now seen from its front doors, Lakeward has brought a new venture and vibe to a neighborhood once littered with distillers, brewers and malting operations.
An anchor tenant inside the appropriately named Barrel Factory—first occupied to operate as its name indicates in 1903—the growing distillery, its tasting room and outdoor patios offer guests a different taste and ambiance than traditionally enjoyed off its Republic Street stretch.
And after decades known for parades, rail cars and shamrock-clad runners hoisting cans of Labatt, the block is now conducive to a locale specializing in Polish-pleasing vodkas and inventive craft cocktails.
Starting with its rustic, secondhand furniture-styled tasting room, Lakeward’s visitors can expect a heavy dose of Canal-era atmosphere while sidling up to available stools, tables or spots at the bar. Buffalo natives and owners Sasiadek, Adam Bystran, Steve Bystran and Andi Bystran—the latter two also owning the Barrel Factory complex—wanted a location adjacent to development along the Buffalo River, and one that was indicative of their product.
Operating inside a building that once constructed thousands of grain and malt barrels daily is now an ideal match. Patrons can feel this past while glancing at the locale’s copper stills between sips of its Grain Canyon vodka ($32 per bottle), or traversing its lively tasting room’s refinished plank floor with an Evergreen gin-based cocktail ($8 per).
But what provides the most appropriate contrast to the traditional id of its surrounding First Ward neighborhood is its two-tiered side patio. Lined with silver tables and umbrella-accented picnic benches, the outdoor area allows patrons to casually enjoy such house-made cocktails as the Erie Mule, made with ginger lime kombucha from fellow Barrel Factory tenant, Snowy Owl); or the River Runner, featuring the distillery’s recently released Inland Sea white rum intermingled toasted almond syrup and pineapple juice.
Arrive for its nightly Happy Hour between 5 and 6 p.m., and guests can enjoy these selections for $5 while the sprawling Buffalo-centric murals down Republic are complemented by whistling CSX trains, still active in a neighborhood that’s now diversifying its longtime identity.
“The Ward’s future, like the rest of Buffalo’s, looks bright,” said Sasiadek.
Once established by incoming immigrants looking to live off waterfront work, the Old First Ward is now accommodating elements of its own revival, whether in the form of kayak rentals, dark-roast coffees or non-pasteurized kombucha.
And with a distillery like Lakeward, there’s now a new taste of this variety, built on the history that made such a development possible in the first place.
Address: 65 Vandalia St. (541-1454)
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday to Thursday, 3 to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Scene: Charming distillery inside a century-old barrel factory once vital to business off the Buffalo River and Erie Canal.
Craft cocktails: 9
House-made spirits: 3
Beer and wine available? Yes
Don’t forget to: Inquire about Lakeward’s future factory neighbors, which will include incoming craft brewing and Mexican food operations.