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THERE'S NO BETTER PLACE TO CELEBRATE THE HOLIDAYS THAN OUR BELOVED BUFFALO

I will do this only once every century, so please indulge my attempt to look at the Christmas and New Year's holidays as celebrated in Buffalo through a prism of 411 miles and more than a few years.

Although there are hundreds of good reasons to be in Buffalo all year, there are two special times -- seasons, celebrations, if you will -- that make Buffalo a distinctly pleasant place to be. In its way, better than any other place on earth.

The first celebration is the rich reward for enduring months of the spring confusions of gray skies, slush and sleet. You finish scraping and painting the boat and ease it into the water. Or it is the day you go to the lakeshore or the hills and throw open the windows of the summer place, or head to the open country or the parks for a picnic.

But the most delectable time in Buffalo, in the old city, is now.

The holidays command a wide variety of celebration. Mike Brady, chief of staff to Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-Clarence, remembers the holiday dinners at Mama Rose's at its old site on Kensington Avenue. When I spoke with Mayor Anthony Masiello a few days ago, he was in holiday gear enjoying slices of Kielbasa at an East Side restaurant.

My mind turns to the great houses and the distinctive clubs I saw as a young man looking into their windows. Those who designed these lavish places in the mid-19th century through the gilded age knew our weather and our people.

The architects and their clients realized that the winter solstice up there is long and dark, and that there was no sense in yearning for spring.

So the Christmas holidays became a time of studied self-indulgence, an occasion to dress up and to wrap oneself around an aromatic and succulent roast and a glass of fragrant, dark port wine.

In these palaces, there are few big windows to brighten the receptions and dinners. Rather, old Buffalo's brilliance comes from within. The most enduring symbol of that is the Christmas tree shimmering from the window of the great hall of the Saturn Club. It has shone from that window on Delaware Avenue for decades. It gleams from there tonight.

Look anywhere in the country and there's no better Dickensian English setting for Christmas than the garlanded Gothic archways of the Saturn Club.

The most brilliant room in the city, the courtyard of the Twentieth Century Club, has no windows. All interior, this breathtaking big chamber has only a stained-glass skylight perched above a brace of Della Robbia Grecian dancers. Turn a head, and one can almost see Mr. Van Arnem, the dancing master, welcoming the teen-aged F. Scott Fitzgerald to his holiday lessons.

A few blocks north to Cleveland Avenue, the mind's eye can still see the line of black Packard jitneys, and their liveried drivers waiting in the long driveway of the Garret Club to carry the blue-haired ladies back home to their manses on Oakland Place or North Street after their noon-day nip on Christmas Eve.

The less well-off would take a break from Christmas shopping with lunch in Minnie Feiner's or McDole's or Huyler's or Unterecker's or Lorenzo's or the art-deco Cafe Rouge or the art-noveau Arbor Room at the Hotel Buffalo, or Laube's Old Spain.

Deep in the old city near the first Sisters Hospital is a house on North Pearl Street that Assemblyman Bill Hoyt and Susan Curran bought about a decade ago. Of the stately Italianate design that proliferated in the prosperous old city, the brick 1867 house with its burled-walnut paneling and 12-foot ceilings was made for candlelight, crystal, glowing linen, silver and china, and elegant dinner parties on New Year's Eve.

The high dark passageways of these sturdy houses bespeak a style of quiet hospitality matched nowhere else.

After the dinner parties, revelers with enough energy would spill out onto snowy Delaware Avenue to a brace of restaurants now long gone: the wicked Westbook bar; Peter Gust Economou's Park Lane; Victor Hugo's, named for its host chef Hugo DiGiulio; the Colony Club, labeled "an upholstered sewer" by the disapproving mother of six of its patrons; the LaMarck; the Normandy; or Jim Naples' Roundtable.

Just a block or two off the avenue were the tiled Peter Styvessant Room, the Club 31 run by Hugo's brother Leo, and the fabled Jew Murphy's Omega Steel Bar and Grill, where Marian Healy accompanied lawyers J.B. Walsh and Patrick Hodgson as they sang a range of Irish and Broadway songs.

All of these downtown rest stops were taken by the century now at the point of close.

It makes us cherish all the more the ancient social clubs and those wonderful historic restaurants in the old city that we'll have well into the 21st century: Chef's, Ulrich's, Cole's, Oliver's, The Place, the Royal Pheasant, Rue Franklin, Frank & Teresa's Anchor Bar and Lord Chumley's, to name a few.

So get out your gown, your french cuffs or your best jacket and have yourselves a party in the best holiday town in the world.

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