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A guide to (w)hooping it up off court

Hello, NCAA hoop fans and welcome to Buffalo where it is always sunny and in the mid-50s in March, no matter what you might have heard.

Buffalo may not have been your NCAA destination of choice, but now that you are here, I will let you in on a secret: You have come to the right place.

I am not saying this out of misguided civic boosterism. This is about you, what you want and how we have what you need. Especially if you are a guy, you want to know where to eat, where to drink and what to do when you are not eating and drinking. By those standards, you have died and gone to heaven -- except for the dying part.

I will get right to it: The bars here stay open until 4 a.m. Repeat: 4 a.m.

Downtown hotel guests are within stumbling distance of the infamous Chippewa Strip, a multiblock collection of bars, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, bars and bars along Chippewa Street. Urban pioneer Mark Goldman's Calumet Cafe two decades ago sparked the reversal of a seedy stretch populated by pawn shops and prostitutes. Raise a glass in his honor.

Anyone still standing at the 4 a.m. last call should take a cab to our early morning melting pot, the Towne Restaurant on Allen Street. Try the renowned rice pudding, and watch the sunrise from the bottom of your soon-to-be-crushing hangover.

Hungry? The premier snack-related food in America is the chicken wing. Yes, there is a reason they are called Buffalo wings. The point of creation, still alive and clucking, is the Anchor Bar on Main Street. But there are more places here -- bars, restaurants, pizzerias -- than anywhere in America that stake a rightful claim to serving reputable wings. Indeed, Duff's in suburban Amherst recently bested the Anchor Bar in a wing-off on the Food Network.

For no-game Saturday, we have arguably the best, one-size-fits-all, off-day attraction in North America. You are a 25-minute drive from Niagara Falls. Water dropping over the side of a cliff never looked so good. For those looking to gamble on more than an NCAA bracket pool, casinos are on both sides of the border.

Caveat: If you do not have a passport, an enhanced driver's license or an autographed picture of Barack Obama (or, at least, Jim Boeheim), you may not get past customs officials. The days of a hello and a wave at the border are over.

I would be remiss, as your full-service tour guide, if I failed to mention another cross-border attraction, the infamous Canadian ballet. In various venues in Niagara Falls, Ont., young women unencumbered by polite society's insistence on clothing perform feats of athletic dexterity as eye-popping as any seen on a basketball court. And yes, they all are working their way through college.

Anyone interested in impressing the folks back home with some cultural name-dropping can do so with minimal effort. Buffalo is home to Louis Sullivan's iconic 1896 Guaranty Building, a steel-framed prototype of the modern skyscraper. Structural steel allowed cities to grow upwards, instead of outwards. Fans headed to the games on Metro Rail can glance out the window at the reddish terra cotta structure as the train approaches Church Street.

A few steps from HSBC Arena, near the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park, a pedestrian bridge crosses the historic Commercial Slip. The western terminus of the Erie Canal is the site where Gov. DeWitt Clinton in 1825 officially opened the waterway that changed America. By the next time the tournament comes, if things go as planned, there should be period-style buildings there to enhance history.

Bars, wings, the Falls, culture -- as I said, there is no better place to be on a long basketball weekend. Enjoy your visit -- and remember, it is always warm and sunny here in March.


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