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IN THE LOOP The Stillwater is a hot destination on a popular stretch of bars

The first time I stopped by the Stillwater was around midnight Jan. 13, a Saturday night, and my party of six just about doubled the crowd in the bar.

When I returned eight weeks later, on another Saturday in March, the first sign things had changed was that it was harder to find a parking spot.

Inside, the place was packed with people: at the bar, near the door, throughout the main room and up to the second floor.

I don't know how the word got out, but somehow Stillwater has become one of the hot bars of the moment in Buffalo.

It's now part of the bar loop on Allen Street, Delaware Avenue and Virginia Place with Colter Bay Grill, Fat Bob's, Mother's and recent addition Scarlet.

In fact, Stillwater has managed to do the impossible: create elbow room on a Saturday at the perpetually crowded Mother's.

Stillwater merits its popularity for its physical appearance alone. Housed in a set of rowhouses on Delaware Avenue near Virginia Street, Stillwater might boast the most striking interior for a bar in Buffalo.

You notice it as soon as you walk in and look up. The ceiling is painted deep blue, with tiny lights set into it, producing the effect of a starry night sky.

The walls are designed to look like the exteriors of other buildings, with fake balconies and windows built into them.

A few steps lead down to the Stillwater restaurant, which has received good reviews, in an adjoining room. Another staircase leads up to a second floor with a fireplace, more seating and space for a band.

It's a great setting for a drink. But it does have the feel of a movie-set version of an authentic European cafe scene.

The bar itself is built into a small, low-ceilinged space.

It's intimate, but it can be hard to get through the crowd to order a drink. So we had to rely on the kindness of the servers.

The night we were there, a band was playing a good mix of tunes, from Johnny Cash to the Who. Maybe this is a sign that I'm getting old, but it was hard to carry on a conversation if you were too close to the band.

A middle-aged couple grooving on an ad hoc dance floor didn't seem to care about the noise, or what anyone thought of their dance moves.

They were part of an interesting and good-looking crowd at Stillwater, highlighted by a very dapper former Rep. Jack Quinn.

One woman went too far with a red gown with white trim that made her look like Mrs. Claus.

And one guy wore a Daniel Briere sweater, fulfilling the rule that any crowd of more than 10 people must include someone wearing a Sabres jersey.

Overall, Stillwater is a good alternative to the Chippewa scene. But will it have staying power beyond its current trendiness?

I looked up, to the stars, for the answer. But they weren't talking.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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The Stillwater

481 Delaware Ave.

884-9283

Scene: A gaggle of cool people drinking under a fake night sky.

Dress code: Patrons in tuxedos and evening gowns fit right in.

Drinks: Not a beer-and-a-shot kind of place. Have some champagne. You deserve it.

Age range: Unlike on Chippewa, the over-30 crowd won't feel out of place.

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