It was another perfect Saturday and the sun was smiling down at us with the wind at our backs when we wound up at Gabels on the Hertel Avenue strip, arguably my favorite stretch of clubs in Buffalo because the drink prices are just right, everyone is well-dressed and the bars are just plain fun.
My wife and I ordered a Smirnoff Raspberry vodka and tea, a pitcher of Blue Light and a double of Wild Turkey (a generous dollop at that) for $15. Our bartender, Wayne, was an older bruiser who looked like he rolled his share of troublemakers in his 20-year history as a Buffalo bartender.
The interior hosts an L-shaped wooden bar, a few old-fashioned bottled beer coolers and the usual amount of televisions that nobody is paying much attention to anyway. About a month back we wandered in after another assignment to find the place pancaked with a party crowd rubbing elbows and enjoying a fleet of free party pizzas. On this occasion we showed up around 7 p.m. so that we didn't have to walk a mile and a half from where we parked to get there.
We hit it off instantaneously with Lex and Sara, a mash-up rapper and a writer, respectively. The four of us talked about the billions of musical hybrids that we've grown fond of in our day and age. Lindsay and I adjourned to the front patio (there's one on the side as well) for a smoke and basked in the cornucopia of prime people watching.
On the way back in, Wayne argued with another early regular about baseball while I loaded the jukebox with a Sheryl Crow cover of Terence Trent D'Arby's "Sign Your Name." I asked Wayne if he had any requests and he told me I was doing just fine. We migrated to the side street stone-enclosed patio and continued to get to know our new friends. That's one of the other finer points of a Hertel bar: You can actually hear what other people are saying and strike up a new friendship.
There are drum-and-bass bars deep downtown where you can't even hear yourself think or classy ristorantes where you tap out after a round and a half, but Hertel is the porridge that's just right and Gabels is planted firmly in the comfort zone. I've been going there on and off for the better part of a decade and I've always had a smashing time every time I've crossed the threshold.
I could try and distill what makes the place so much fun, but that would take away the enchantment. Gabel's is just a great time and there's no reason to demystify it. If you're young at heart and in the mood for a bit of fun without blowing your budget wide open you should go at once. It's a feather in Hertel Avenue's multicolored melting pot cap.
1285 Hertel Ave. 874-3010
Scene: A party bar in every way, shape and form. Show up and have a blast.
Drinks: $2 bottled beers from 4 to 8 p.m. almost every day. Shot specials throughout the week and a cursory selection of hard liquor.
Dress code: Clean, casual and stylish. Dress to stand out while dressing down at the same time.
Music: Internet jukebox and live bands once in a while.