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Personable Pockets still fits on happening Hertel

According to any real estate chatter or local reporting, Hertel Avenue and its bordering streets make up the hottest neighborhood in Buffalo, with few empty storefronts or available single-family homes to be found.

Newly opened shops, grocery stores and forthcoming food halls provide everything a walkable urban swath needs—and the fervor over its ongoing metamorphosis is only getting frothier.

But for any residential or commercial stretch to gain popularity, it helps to have genuine personality. On Hertel, that charm is rooted in its original Italian lineage, and can still be found in places like M.T. Pockets, one of the suddenly elder statesmen of North Buffalo’s burgeoning bar strip.

Opened in 1994 and catering to Labatt drinkers, Harley enthusiasts and patio denizens down for summertime clam slams, the bar has been a neighborhood favorite for decades. And whether on conversational weeknights, lazy Saturday afternoons or as a pit stop for its essential steak sandwich ($11), the bar has served as comfortable retreat for committed regulars and karaoke-singing Hertel night owls alike.

M.T. Pockets' bartender Jessica Hajdu makes a cocktail with coconut rum, pineapple juice and cranberry juice. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

So now that Hertel’s hopping in its repurposed state, have things changed inside the avenue’s cherished Pockets? A little, but only with enhancements that have made the bar a better version of itself.

Over the past two years, the locale’s added new barstools, hanging tea lights and a welcoming coat of gray paint over its longtime red interior. Its L-shaped bar is newly topped with meticulously situated pennies, shimmering amid its covering coat of polyurethane. A retractable garage door in place of its front windows now gives Tito’s-sipping patrons in the usually dark bar access to sunlight and its popular sidewalk patio.

Every spring, the bar reopens its annual clam bar, albeit with a change from recent purveyor Steve Meli to the mollusk specialists from  Marotto’s on Delaware Avenue.

Hanging out, from left, is Joe Nawadly with Brian and Andrea Hanaka of Buffalo. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

All of these enhancements add to a place that was already popular with its nightly characters, but is now refreshed to intermingle with its developing surroundings and incoming neighborhood transplants.

Once inside, interested newcomers will find a friendly joint catering to well-drink and domestic-beer tastes, with both options $2.50 during its nightly Happy Hour (from 3 to 6 p.m.) and bottles kicked up 50 cents for the rest of the night.

Groups trading rounds of Miller Lite or Big Ditch drafts ($5) can do so along walls lined with pictures of former Yankees superstars or a seemingly Hertel-required portrait of Al Pacino.

And whether stationed at the barroom’s dartboard or Silver Strike bowling game—or simply idling under the subtle hum of Pockets’ '90s-centric tunes (see: Alannah Myles’ “Black Velvet”) and any night’s games on its five overhead televisions—visitors can expect an unobtrusive vibe conducive to causal drinks among strangers, friends or relationships between.

And in the coming weeks, that vibe stretches to Pockets’ covered front patio. Perched at tables or idling against wrought iron railings, visitors can hoist a few Coronas amid the spring breeze, and enjoy the buzz of Buffalo’s percolating present as it passes by—or stops in for a taste of the city’s personable neighborhood tavern tradition.

M.T. Pockets Bar & Grill

Address: 1519 Hertel Ave. (838-4658; on Facebook)

Hours: Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to close; Sunday, noon to close. Grill is open at 11 a.m.

Scene: Casual neighborhood favorite amid the continually changing landscape of Hertel Avenue’s diversified commercial district.

Drafts: 9

New York Yankees ceiling posters: 2

Penny for your thoughts: Entire bar top is made of pennies, coated in polyurethane.

Parking: Side lot and street parking.

Credit/Debit: Yes, but also have an ATM.

Don’t forget to: Check the bar’s sandwich board, with nine $9 options (along with its famous steak).

M.T. Pockets Bar & Grill at 1519 Hertel Ave. in Buffalo is a neighborhood favorite. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

*Read more of The News' bar features by clicking on the tag, below.

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