Swannie House is an urban treasure. Mostly for its location, in Buffalo's Old First Ward, amid the grandly ignored industrial swath that was the beating heart of Buffalo in the early 20th century.
It also, which makes it particularly precious, has a patio. Well, an outside area to sit in. A portico, maybe? The outdoor area at Swannie House is an unlovely but not uncomfortable concrete-paved, fenced-in, partially roofed area, with excellent ramped access to the parking lot. There are plastic chairs, a bunch of umbrella-covered tables, and some scroungy trees peeking over the fence. They are the sort of trees that, like the neighborhood itself, keep pushing themselves up, vying for some sun or an inch of hardscrabble dirt just to exist.
Recently, a group of us went there for after-work drinks. The pub is easy to find, though not in a well-traveled area. Go straight down Michigan, across South Park for one short block, make a left and stop. You are there.
Walk in to a deep and narrow bar. There's a row of tables along the wall and a long history-filled bar facing them. It's the kind of place where, whatever hour you go, there'll be a couple of neighborhood, blue-collar guys already there.
We headed straight for the great outdoors. A sweet-tempered and alert waitress attended to each new arrival, patiently fetching and delivering drinks one or two at a time. Neither the few steps between the patio and the bar nor the incremental arrivals of my former co-workers appeared to be of much bother to her. Whenever someone trickled in, they didn't wait long for a drink.
Of course, you can go inside and fetch one yourself. But do be forewarned: Swannie House is cash only. This leads to a phenomenon that I'm sure the neighbors have come to recognize, if not revere: a parade of clearly non-denizens, traversing South Park Avenue in their cars to the nearest ATM, about five blocks away at one of those no-name-brand gas station/quickie marts.
As a VP and a product manager had both come sans cash, I tried to encourage car-pooling to the ATM. But they marched to the beat of different drummers, and Mr. VP, after quaffing a cold one to whet the whistle (the bartenders stood him for it) steered his Cadillac the distance. He returned to enjoy his several cold ones, confident in his ability to pay in greenbacks. I don't know what the product manager did.
Swannie House also has a full menu rife with the sorts of things you'd expect: wings, fries, other fried things. Out on the patio, people ordered some. They came, they smelled like fried things. (I love them, but I generally don't eat wings in public.)
I went inside to check out the jukebox. A great mix for me is classic country, classic soul and maybe some classic '70s rock. It was all there. The guys at the bar were supportive of my choices, and even donated a buck or two so that I could play some extra songs and hang out with them a bit longer. A good time was had.
170 Ohio St.
Scene: Awesome working-class vibe, great for the urban explorer in you.
Age range: Recommended for anyone over 21.
Drinks: Beer. Mixed drinks, don't ask for anything fancy.
Dress code: None.