I'm certain that no one in the place knows my name. But I can't help it -- when I think about the Gin Mill in Ellicottville, I start to hum the theme from "Cheers."
Sing it with me, now: "Where everybody knows your naaaaaame ..."
That's just the type of place it is. Even if, like me, you don't go there more than a couple times a year when you happen to be in town to ski or just for a nice ride in the summer, stopping by the Gin Mill is like going home. And though they don't know my name, the staff, the patrons, just the overall warmth of the place makes everyone there feel like family.
It's a quirky little joint that offers decent food and serves up beers on tap to ski bums, locals and tourists alike. In season (ski season, that is), there is entertainment on weekend nights -- a band shoved into the corner, entertaining the throngs of skiers trying to warm up after a day on the slopes.
If ever a name fit a bar, the Gin Mill is it. This longtime Ellicottville hangout is just what a gin mill should be.
Even if you've never taken the drive down Route 219 to ski Holiday Valley -- or just to check out the little town that's a haven for tourists from Ohio to Toronto -- you can just imagine it. Close your eyes, and you're there: There's a long wooden bar, pictures of drunken partiers on the wall, old street signs and an antique refrigerator. Now inhale the smell of wings in the deep fryer and pool chalk in the back room. The bartender knows just when to replace your beer with another cold one. (Isn't THAT the true sign of a good bar?)
There's a wonderful soul in the Gin Mill, and it runs as deep as any tavern in Western New York.
It's the ease of the place that is so welcoming -- the flannel-shirted neighbors, the big-city rich relaxing in a getaway town without a care. It's the wooden booths. The scruffy wooden floors. Nothing is overly sterile, nor overly dirty. Not overpriced, not that cheap. It's just . . . a gin mill. You'll have to trust me on that one.
There's often a crowd, even in the off-season. You could end up sitting at the bar next to former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly and eavesdrop while he tolerates the locals who stop by to pat him on the back and talk football (that happened to me in the fall). Or, you might chat up the middle-aged couple from Hamilton, Ont., enjoying a drink before walking down the street for a fancier dinner (also happened). You're just as likely to meet a family of five from Cleveland having fries and wings (happened) than running into your Amherst neighbors from across the street. (Note to anyone who intends to sneak "out of town": You bet this happened!).
There is an array of traditional bar food -- the wings are tasty and the fries crisp -- and they have both domestic and imported beers on tap.
There are two rooms at the Gin Mill, a front room and a back room. The front room is where the action is, where the tables are. But the back room is where the pool table is (when there's a private party in the back, sometimes the table is not in use). It's also where a pretty good juke box resides.
So your choice of rooms depends on which type of action you're looking for. The thing about the Gin Mill, however, is that there's always a lot of action.
20 Washington St., Ellicottville
Scene: A neighborhood pub, mixed with an apres ski touristy crowd and hungry families.
Drinks: Beer is abundant. Lots of great ones on tap.
Dress code: Very casual. Furry boots and lots of ski sweaters. Tank tops in summer.
Next week: Hemingway's