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Downtown dive keeps things eclectic at Electric Avenue

Whether with new bars, restaurants or renovated living spaces, intermittent blocks of downtown Buffalo stand emblematic of the city’s ongoing revival.

But among them all, Ellicott Street’s emergence as a go-to dining and drinking stretch may be a surprising development—especially to one of the neighborhood’s longtime cornerstones.

“Bizarre. Bizarre, to say the least,” said Rich Platt, owner of the street’s enduring and eclectic dive bar, Electric Avenue.

It was opened by Platt’s father as a reggae club in 1981—a year before the release of the considerably more famous Eddy Grant single of the same name. The lovingly tattered locale has survived and thrived for more than three decades with a mix of devoted regulars, daytime drinkers and Mohawk Place overflow, keen to pop in between sets at the neighboring and cherished rock club.

Today, Electric Avenue finds itself in a different place than it's been throughout its existence. Once a boilermaker-soaked island amid blocks of former warehouse space, insurance offices and derelict storefronts and apartments, it’s now situated amid Mexican and Italian hotspots (Deep South Taco and Tappo), an internationally renowned brewery (Big Ditch) and a revived Mohawk Place, purchased out of foreclosure and reopened by Platt in 2014.

Bartender Kiki Bee talks with customer Ryan Zmuda of Lackawanna. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

But just because the street’s transitioned to shinier fare doesn’t mean the game’s changed inside Electric Avenue. New visitors and busier sidewalks aside, it’s still an unflinchingly genuine booze hole that bounces to its own beat—which starts at 8 a.m. every day except Sunday when it opens at 11 a.m.

“People like coming down here because it’s their own fortress of solitude,” said Platt. “It’s this little place. It’s nothing ostentatious, and if I cared about what it looked like, it wouldn’t look like this.”

Walls are papered with discarded Jägermeister labels. Neon music notes, recently re-illuminated for the first time in 20 years, are above the bar’s liquor shelves. Band stickers from hard-charging local acts like Malarchuk and Wolf Tickets are stuck on metal cabinets.

Houseplants are perched steps away from a Rowe AMI jukebox full of staff-made mix CDs, resplendent with mismatched tunes from the likes of Color Me Badd, Wu-Tang Clan and Buffalo’s own death metal overlords, Cannibal Corpse.

Dependent on the mood, guests can expect these acts to echo in succession over the friendly banter of regulars and aspiring rockers, adding to the locale’s unpredictable ethos.

Electric Avenue has been at 300 Ellicott St. since owner Richard Platt's father bought the building and opened it in 1981. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Guests looking to settle under this spontaneous shuffle can do so over a couple pulls of Pabst Blue Ribbon ($1 for a 9-ounce pour or $2 for a pint), and will find plenty to do while basking in the Avenue’s frayed splendor. Games? The bar boasts pinball, billiards and darts—as well as occasional rounds of “COPS Bingo,” facilitated with printed cards and Avenue-played episodes of the long-running law enforcement reality show, “Cops.”

Live entertainment? The locale hosts the occasional local solo musician, band or DJ, booked through Mohawk and crammed into the back of the barroom. Unexpected art appreciation? The bar’s back wall features a cityscape mural by renowned Buffalo artist Ramon Dennis, who paints precise compositions despite the loss of his hands at an early age.

And on any given morning, afternoon or evening, patrons can enjoy these activities with a succession of PBRs, locally brewed selections from the likes of Community Beer Works, Pressure Drop or nearby Big Ditch ($5-$6), or any combination of shot-served eye-openers.

Altogether, it melds a carefree style and punk-rock charisma that allows a place like Electric Avenue to contribute to the establishment of a downtown corridor, yet be the antithesis of that corridor’s elaborate contributors. It doesn’t boast refurbished interiors, the lavish patio or margaritas, marinara or milk stouts of its neighbors—and it doesn’t need to.

All it needs to do is remain the accommodating wild card in its street’s beneficially bizarre metamorphosis from darkened downtown stretch to burgeoning bar district and, to paraphrase a line from the infectious Eddy Grant smash, maybe take it higher.

Electric Avenue

Address: 300 Ellicott St. (854-1760)

Hours: Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to close; Sunday, 11 a.m. to close.

Scene: Come-as-you-are dive bar nestled in the middle of Ellicott Street’s burgeoning list of bar and restaurant options.

Drafts: 9

Bottles: 28

Food: If you consider bags of chips and beef jerky ($1) food.

Ask about: Coming shows, held in tandem with neighboring Mohawk Place.

Parking: Street spots, nearby lots and neighboring Mohawk St. garage.

Credit/Debit: Yes. Also has an ATM.

Don’t forget to: Take a photo under the bar’s cityscape mural, painted by renowned Buffalo artist Ramon Dennis.

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