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My favorite bars Jerry Sullivan's transcendent taverns

I love bars. I do. A favorite bar is like an intimate old friend. And unlike relationships, bars are easy to walk out of. My grandfather owned a bar, a dark, musty place attached to the house where he raised eight kids. I remember him standing behind the bar in a white-stained apron, reaching into a cylindrical glass jar to get me a handful of round white peppermints.

One of the reasons I love Buffalo is its bars. Whatever we might lack, we are a good bar town. We might not have a lot of major companies, but there's never a shortage of good company at the bar rail. Jobs might leave, but bars rarely do. Over the years, when reporters had to talk to workers after a big layoff, where did they go? Bars, of course. We gather there to talk, to complain, to commiserate, to watch sports, to take the edge off.

But when I was asked to write about my favorite bars in Buffalo, I was reluctant. Who am I to rank our bars? I didn't grow up here, or live here in my 20s. I have no memories of Mulligan's, the Park Meadow or the old Pink Flamingo. I'm too old to hang out on Chippewa.

I have lived here for more than 17 years, however, roughly half my adult life. I've spent my fair share of time in local establishments. It comes with my job description, writing and talking about sports for a living. I'd show you on my diploma, if I could find it.

Actually, the only thing I require of a bar is that it be open. But with my years of experience, I can spot the real deal.

Most of the places I go are close to work or home. I don't seek out the trendy places, and I'm pretty sure they wouldn't want me around, anyway. My 12 favorite bars, listed in alphabetical order:

Big Tree Inn

4277 Abbott Road

Orchard Park

After a hard day of writing off a Bills home game, I'm looking for the nearest cold beer. That means the old, reliable "Tree," which is a couple of wayward J.P. Losman throws from the stadium. Back in the glory days, you could usually find a bunch of players still hanging around a few hours after the game. Ruben Brown should have had a cot set up there. One night, I got into a memorable shouting match with Andre Reed. Ah, those were the days.

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Buffalo Wild Wings

2017 Elmwood Ave.

Wild Wings has become sort of a personal den for me. I bring my kids there, eat two-for-one wings on Tuesday nights and play the video trivia game on the overhead monitors. I'm terrible at the trivia games. I out-think myself. If they ask, "What is your name?", I assume it's a trick question. For my money, which is limited, there's no better place to watch sports in Buffalo. It's also a good place to stop before a movie next door at the Regal.

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Caputi's Sheridan Pub 2351 Sheridan Drive

Tonawanda

I don't know any other way to put it. But I like drinking here, which is sort of the point. The place is sprawling and loud, and it seems to stay open very late. It's an underrated place to watch sports, with a big back room that's good for parties. There's a lot to be said for the location. It's a nice stopping-off point on the way back from the Boulevard Mall or a golf outing at Deerwood.

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Central Park Grill

2519 Main St.

There have been times, sitting on the porch at the CPG on a summer evening, when I felt I had died and gone to heaven. No doubt, we had just won a close softball game, a great song was wafting out of the speakers and the band was setting up on the stage down below. On the best nights, we'd slip inside and listen to the Need. The CPG makes me nostalgic for a time when I didn't even live here. My favorite sign - "Free Beer Tomorrow" - hangs behind the bar.

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Checkers Tavern

1854 Hertel Ave.

It's a North Buffalo institution - and some of the regulars belong in an institution. But seriously, it's a great bar, a social melting pot. Just about everyone has spent time in the place. Try wedging your way in after the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning. Several of the bartenders are named Sullivan, which is a plus. Fran Haley, who runs the place, is an unofficial mayor of North Buffalo, and one of our finest public servants.

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Glen Park Tavern

5507 Main St.

Williamsville

One other thing I require of bars: A good bartender. Jack Gray is the kind of barkeep you follow from place to place. He makes me feel smarter. He knows more about football and golf than I do, and he shares my obsession with fantasy baseball. A good bartender knows your drink of choice after one visit. Jack memorizes your fantasy pitching staff. The Glen Park caters to an older, more mature crowd, but I fit in somehow.

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Hemingway's Restaurant

492 Pearl St.

I've been stopping in for more than 10 years to see my favorite barkeep, Russell LaLonge, work his magic "behind the timber." Russell is always a reliable indicator of how Bills and Sabres fans are feeling about their teams. My elusive pal Rex, who fancies himself Buffalo's greatest sports fan, stops in from time to time. It's a good place to stop for dinner, or a quick pop, before taking in the theater. What, you thought I had no culture?

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Humboldt Inn

487 Humboldt Pkwy.

How do I put this delicately? It's my multicultural bar, the place I go to be reminded that older, middle-class African-American people aren't crazy about rap, either. I'm generally the only white person in the place. Derrick Powell, another of the great barkeeps and a former hoop star, treats me like Red Smith. He never fails to give me a fond embrace, which I like to call the "brother hug."

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Irish Times

38 Swan St.

I'm not sure when it became a felony to drink at lunchtime. I'm not advocating a return to the three-martini lunch, mind you. But one beer has never struck me as a threat to the intellectual challenge of writing about sports. I've done some of my best stuff after washing down a soup and sandwich special at the Irish Times - known in its former life as Pat McGinty's. I am still waiting to get my picture on the wall, though.

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Malone's Bar & Grill

3020 Delaware Ave.

Kenmore

The home of local softball. Malone's sponsors leagues and tries to keep the sport alive and relevant, as it was in the '70s and '80s. On a big softball night in summer, it can be a transcendent place. Players in various colored jerseys mill around, reliving their glories from an hour earlier. It's a great place to bring the kids, who shoot darts and play pool and pretend to be impressed when their 48-year-old dad brags about taking the extra base.

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Swannie House

170 Ohio St.

Sports writers from other cities love Buffalo. Having written pedestrian prose off an overtime Stanley Cup game, they know the bars will be open until 4 a.m. We locals appreciate it, too. It's reassuring to know that the Swannie is waiting after a Sabres game, around the corner from the Arena. Thankfully, it's usually open during the day on weekends, which is rare for a downtown bar and a welcome oasis for the dutiful columnist.

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The Wellington Pub

1541 Hertel Ave.

A great bar, and a sports writer's dream. It's a popular hangout after a St. Joe's high school basketball game. It's big with the Canisius College crowd, too. I've tipped beers with coaches, referees, athletic directors, PR men, golf instructors and virtually every person who ever worked for the Police Athletic League, bringing sports to the lives of young kids in the city. It's also a fine eating establishment. I'm a big fan of the chili.

Jerry Sullivan's sports column appears three times a week in The News. His e-mail is jsullivan@buffnews.com.

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