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Gadawski has a tavern and a dream

Edward L. Gadawski makes no secret of how much money it would take to make him sell his friendly Falls Street tavern to make room for future business development near the Seneca Niagara Casino.

"A million bucks," he said. "That's what my sights are set on."

Gadawski doesn't expect any developer to make him a millionaire anytime soon. But the 85-year-old tavern keeper hopes developers will someday restore life to his blighted neighborhood.

He can't imagine that it will ever be as lively as it was back in 1951, when he began operating Gadawski's Bar.

Harry S. Truman was president, and Willie Mays was a baseball rookie with the New York Giants when Gadawski took over the place from his father-in-law.

"This street was hopping. We had 5-cent beers, 15-cent whiskey shots. You had five bars on this block alone, and we all made a buck," Gadawski said.

"There were two big dance halls, too. On a Saturday night, they'd both be packed. When one dance hall was having intermission, you'd run over to the other place and start dancing there. In those days, we danced to bands, not records. It was unbelievable."

What he sees in his neighborhood today is rather unbelievable, too, Gadawski said.

But not in a good way.

Gadawski's tavern is at 1445 Falls St. near 15th Street, roughly a half mile from the Seneca Niagara Casino. His business is one of the last surviving outposts in a neighborhood dominated by closed-down restaurants and shops. Most of the houses on nearby side streets are shabby, beaten-down buildings, most of them boarded up.

One police officer calls it a "ghost town."

"I grew up on 15th Street. There are hardly any occupied houses on that block anymore. Everything's boarded up," he said.

In recent years, a development company called Niagara Falls Redevelopment has been buying up many of the properties, Gadawski said, in apparent preparation for a major business development of some kind.

The assessed value of Gadawski's property is $58,000 -- far, far below his purported asking price -- according to city records.

"NFR must know something I don't. Otherwise, they wouldn't be going around buying all these properties," Gadawski said. "We sure haven't seen any spinoff business from the casino since it opened, but I think something's coming."

Roger Trevino, the vice president of NFR, chuckled when asked about Gadawski's million-dollar dream. He said Gadawski's property is within a 142-acre site for which NFR has exclusive development rights.

NFR is interested in the property, Trevino said, but has never had any substantive discussions with Gadawski.

"He's a great guy. He and his bar are an institution," Trevino said of Gadawski. "People from every walk of life tell me Gadawski's is the place you have to go to find out what's going on in Niagara Falls."

The company has talked of a development project that would include entertainment facilities, restaurants, a hotel and a residential component. Trevino said NFR has bought more than 400 properties in the area so far.

How much would NFR pay for Gadawski's Bar?

"At the appropriate time, I'm sure NFR and Mr. Gadawski will sit down," Trevino said. "The market will determine what we're going to do."

For now, Gadawski and his wife of 57 years, Irene, still have their health and enjoy running their business. Parents of four and grandparents of 14, they live upstairs from the tavern.

"I like the casino," Gadawski said. "But I have something here that they can never beat -- Irene's cooking."

The place is still popular with locals and former city residents who have moved out to the suburbs, who take delight in Irene's fish fry and Polish dishes. The bar is festooned with sports posters and souvenirs, especially those featuring Gadawski's beloved Notre Dame college football team.

During a span of 14 years, Gadawski never missed a Notre Dame home game, even though the team plays in Indiana.

"We'd finish up with the fish fry on Friday nights and drive all night to get there," Gadawski said. He still arranges a bus trip to a Notre Dame game once a year.

Gadawski enjoys his status as one of the region's oldest working bartenders. A big sign behind the bar, written in Polish, reflects his business philosophy.

"Na Zdrowie Panstwo," the sign reads. "To your health, everyone."

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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