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Merry making
Raise a glass and sing along in the historic Ulrich's Tavern

Ulrich's, which bills itself as "The German Restaurant with an Irish Pub," holds the distinction of being Buffalo's oldest continuous tavern. Established in 1868, it was once home to the Hasenpfeffer Club, a Prohibition-era speakeasy where Babe Ruth slugged down some beer and gobbled more than a couple of sausage sandwiches. Since its earliest days, the purpose of the tavern has been to "provide a public house where people can enjoy food, drink and camaraderie" -- and this place keeps the pact still.

Tammy and I arrived around 6:30 p.m. on a Friday and, since we didn't make reservations, we had to wait for a table. This gives us time to check out the barroom. Everything about Ulrich's shows that it's been around a while, with antique photos on the exposed brick walls telling the story of a rare establishment that has survived more than 140 years at the same location.

We angle our way through the crowd and find standing room at the bar, a 1930s mahogany masterpiece. The oak back bar, which dates to 1889, sports glass-fronted beer coolers, a stained glass inset advertising Iroquois beer, and Schultz and Dooley mugs sitting sentinel from a top shelf.

We take a look at the beer menu chalk board. With over a dozen choices -- from Sam Adams Noble Pilsner to Spaten Munich -- I pick a pint of Pilsner Urquell ($4.50) and Tammy goes with a 20-ounce Guinness ($6). Owner Jim Daley serves us and answers some questions about the bar, which has been in his family since 1954. According to Daley, the bar is busiest on weekends and every day for lunch, and "even busier since being featured on Anthony Bourdain's show, 'No Reservations.' "

After a bit of a wait, the host -- the only guy in the bar in a dress shirt and dress pants -- leads us into the dining room where Tom Callahan is hammering out Irish rebel songs like "Come Out Ye Black and Tans." Swallowed up in a sea of sound and realizing conversation is impossible, we watch a guy play the spoons, a woman slap out the beat on a wooden table, and a toddler croon in her own curious language.

People toast with shots of Irish whiskey and sing along with Tom while downing liver dumpling soup and sausage and sauerkraut. The whole scene is almost surreal, like we've been dropped into the middle of a Ballybunion pub along with a darn good German cook.

I try the potato pancakes, which are perfectly crisp outside, moist inside and thick enough to be substantial. Tammy loves the liverwurst and swears it's as creamy and delicious as her grandma's. We finish off the night with a couple more beers, a couple more songs, and the most delicious cherry bread pudding either of us has ever tasted.

With fabulous food, good service, music every Friday and one Saturday a month, and a relaxed and kid-friendly atmosphere, Ulrich's Tavern is worth a shot -- or two. Prost!

***

Ulrich's Tavern

674 Ellicott St.

853-1860, www.ulrichstavern.net

What you'll get: On Fridays, it's an energizing, live music venue, with great food and a family-friendly atmosphere. The rest of the week, delicious food and drink in an uber-casual environment. Anytime, a blast from the past

What it'll cost: Pints on tap, $4.50; bottled beer, $3.50; sandwich platters/salads, $8.95 to $16.95; dinners, $13.95 to $16.95; potato pancakes, four for $7.95.

Upside: The air is electric on Fridays with music from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. There's a variety of Irish bands and singers; German music by the Frankfurters once a month.

Downside: On-street parking, but the area is well-lit.

Tips: Dinner reservations are requested. If noise is an issue, ask for seating in the new side dining room.