Today or Saturday, when you make your Easter trip to the Broadway Market, step outside and look around.
The steeples of Corpus Christi and St. Stanislaus stand like sentries over the neighborhood. Quaint cottages offer a sense of how the immigrants who settled here used to live. The massive Central Terminal harks back to Buffalo's golden age as a center of commerce. History! You can almost taste it.
Now open the door of an old tavern, and you really can taste it.
Years ago, taverns dotted the countless corners throughout the city, welcoming the working man and playing host to family parties.
These classic mom-and-pop joints provided a gathering place -- and even a safe haven. One woman who had lived on the German East Side, quoted years ago in The News, remembered her mother telling her that if she were ever in trouble, to go to the nearest tavern and ask for the owner.
You don't see many of those places anymore. Tim Tielman, of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, says corner taverns are disappearing because people are more spread out, more separated than they were years ago.
"Particularly on the East Side, you had people living in cottages and multifamily houses," Tielman says. "The only way you could entertain wasn't at home, but at neighborhood taverns. It was Buffalo's equivalent of going to a Parisian cafe. The houses were so small, so dense, you had to go out. That's what gave Paris its vital street life."
Amateur historian Marty Biniasz pays tribute to taverns on his Web site, www.biniasz.com.
"These are the last of the last," Biniasz says. "The owners, some of them are 80 or 90. There's no one to pass them on to."
The taverns could find new life, though, thanks to recent efforts to recognize and play up the treasures of the East Side.
David Franczyk, president of Buffalo's Common Council, is pushing to declare Buffalo's Broadway/Fillmore neighborhood a historic district. Biniasz has purchased a cottage he hopes to turn into a museum. The group Broadway Fillmore Alive (www.broadwayfillmorealive.com) is working toward the renaissance of the Broadway Market area.
And Monday brings the first Dyngus Day parade (see accompanying story).
So don't let another year pass before you return to this nostalgic corner of town. Enjoy the market year-round. Drink in its ambience. Then, starting with Dyngus Day, hit the taverns that surround it.
Let the pub crawl begin!
*The Market Bar, 232 Gibson St.: A tavern at the corner of Gibson and Sienkiewicz, a street named after a Nobel Prize-winning Polish author, has to be something special. The Market Bar's walls are lined with pictures of celebs (Jimmy Griffin, Pope John Paul II) and faded newspapers ("Carole Lombard, 15 Airmen, 6 More Feared Dead in Crash").
There's a great vintage phone booth. And a pair of street signs: Gibson and Sienkiewicz, of course. And sage barroom advice. "So Many Men, So Many Reasons Not to Sleep With Any of Them," reads a sign.
From the corner door, you can see the entrance to the Broadway Market, so you can watch for your friends. One recent Saturday found Grammy-nominated polka king Jerry Darlak at the bar, telling tales of life on the road. (We regret that they can't be reprinted here.)
Twice, someone showed up from the market's Strawberry Island candy shop, passing out free samples. Yum!
*The Three Deuces, 222 Gibson St.: Here we sat recently, having a beer with a guy named Yuri Hreshchyshyn. It's easier to pronounce his name after drinking a Pilsner Urquell. (That's a Czech beer on draft.)
The owner, Eduard Bergmann, is Czech and tells harrowing stories about escaping communism. He also has extensive knowledge of the spas of Eastern Europe. In the back of the bar, near the spotless restrooms, he keeps a library of medical books. Feel free to browse.
The Three Deuces stands out among its brethren for its brews, including not only that Urquell, but also Golden Pheasant. Most unusual barroom accoutrement: a figurine of President Bush that dances and sings "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
*Dick's East Side Inn, 221 Lombard St.: Biniasz admires this tavern for its "incredible sinking bar," as he puts it -- a slight tilt that can give you a kind of funhouse thrill. He also loves how the name refers to both owner -- Richard Michel -- and location.
Dick's opened in the 1930s as Alice's Grill. A photo on the wall shows it hasn't changed much. We stopped in at happy hour time, after hitting Camellia's butcher shop.
Two overeager guys held court at the bar while a friendly barmaid gave us advice. A bulletin board yielded helpful hints, from Mass times at Corpus Christi to the number of a seamstress. "I wore out the a-- of my jeans," one guy yelled. "Could she fix that?"
Biniasz points out that Dick held the honor of being voted America's Ugliest Bartender and also received the coveted Silver Helmet Award in 1989 for his charity work.
*R & L Lounge, 23 Mills St.: Here we got a treat: We operated a heavy, ancient french fry maker! In went a big potato half. We squeezed down -- under the supervision of Lottie, who is the "L" of "R & L" -- and bingo! When was the last time you found home-cut fries?
They serve dinner only on Friday. But what a dinner.
The fish fry is $5 and includes slabs of lightly breaded haddock, cole slaw and three starches (potato salad, mac salad and a buttered slice of rye). Wrap your hands around a Genny while you're waiting -- or a Canei on ice with a straw. (That's what you'll get if you ask for wine.) Say hi to proprietors Lottie and Ronnie Pikuzinski, aunt and uncle to that famous pair of the former Buffalo Blizzard. And soak up the ambience -- which, trust us, can be raucous.
*Arty's, 508 Peckham St.: Biniasz assigns a rare healthy prognosis to this cozy place by the Central Terminal.
"It's one of the last ones where the kids who are running it are in their 40s," he says. "Arty's has the most promise of being around in five years."
Mary Ann Kwiatkowski (no relation to this story's co-writer) bought Arty's in 1972.
"The railroads were still running," she sighs.
Nine of her 11 kids still live in the area and help with the tavern. Arty's serves food weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Even at 5 p.m. on Palm Sunday, though, it was busy. Regulars played Skat by the window. People bellowed at the bar.
Violating East Side norms, Arty's served decent red wine, with no ice. On the quaint side, they have bulletins from Corpus Christi and St. Stanislaus. The joke is that you can grab one as proof you were at Mass.
Paul Kwiatkowski, 44, wore a small cross made of palms.
"This is a special place," he said. "Twenty years from now, you'll look back, and you'll know you were in a special place."
*G & T's Lounge, 68 Memorial Drive: We found the G & T closed, and were about to leave, when a minivan came barreling up. It was owner Eugene Kiszelewski, who scooted in a back entrance and let us in.
In silence and semidarkness, we drank beer, and more Canei on ice. Signs behind the bar read things like, "Ask me: I might." "Customers bought them," Kiszelewski said. "I wouldn't waste the money."
A taciturn, gruff man who had fled communist Poland, he said G & T stood for Gin and Tonic. But he added another possibility -- something in Polish that made all our Polish gentleman friends burst into corrupt laughter.
Then like Frampton, Kiszelewski came alive.
He turned on the polka music to deafening volume. He put on a hat with a bushy wig attached. Grabbing a mic, he began singing, in Polish, at the top of his lungs.
It was a life-changing moment. In an instant, the bar was transformed. Later, as Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual" blasted from the jukebox, one dazed patron marveled: "It's as loud here as it was in Arty's -- and it's only us!"
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