It was early on an exceptional autumn afternoon on a Friday when I wandered up the rickety back ramp (under construction as I passed by) that lead to the rear entrance of Darrow's in the heart of Alden. A younger bartender named Jen sashayed over to me and poured me out a pitcher of Stella Artois and a double of 90 proof Jim Beam Devil's Cut, a strong whiskey that tasted like a close cousin to Wild Turkey. Round One came to $15.25, which is pretty cheap for a pitcher of Belgian beer and a double of midshelf whiskey.
I eased back into a black vinyl barstool at a large rectangular wooden bar and listened to a country song about cold beer playing on CMT on one of the three tube televisions situated in the ceiling. Three old-timers at the end laughed about work stories while two suits settled in and perused their menus out loud over a beer. I got a chuckle out of a 2011 "woMen of Darrow's" calendar with their regulars in drag wearing schoolgirl uniforms for the month.
Pale yellow walls were peppered with bar mirrors and montages of patrons past and present. A large, informal dining room made me seriously consider coming back with my ravishing wife for one of the 12-ounce Prime Rib dinners on the last Saturday of every month. The rail of the bar filled up fairly quickly and the majority of the patrons busied themselves with meals. A section near the kitchen featured faded photos of veterans who served our country.
I wandered out to the front gated patio while I grabbed a cigarette and marveled at how little the last four or five decades have affected Alden. Much like Elma, Lancaster or Akron, the main strip was like a Norman Rockwell painting or a still shot from "Back To The Future." The buildings harkened back to a simpler time and a stronger economy. I joked around with a few of the guys from the kitchen about the through-traffic from Darien Lake and we laughed about how things have changed.
Back indoors (through the magic of eavesdropping), I discerned that the two suits next to me were in the insurance racket. They went to great lengths to talk about how important they were and I (in turn) went to great lengths to tune them out. I noticed a whiskey I've never seen and decided to take a chance on a double of Whitetail whiskey. There was a picture of a deer on the label and I was still stupid enough to try it. It was deplorably awful and sweet to the point of beating out pancake syrup. Jen was gracious enough to offer dumping the drink out and getting me something else. I gratefully accepted.
I grabbed another smoke and told Jen that I was doing so and that I'd be back. When I returned, someone else had taken my seat and my drinks were moved down. This is a cardinal rule that shouldn't be broken in a bar atmosphere when it's not crowded.
For a town haunt, Darrow's serves its purpose, but for anyone who's been around the block throughout Buffalo once (or in my case, five or six times), I was hard pressed to find that one spark that set it apart from every other bar that I've been to.
13192 Broadway, Alden 937-7004
Scene: One of the only places left in Alden where townies and passers-by can converge.
Drinks: More than a dozen premium draft beers on tap including Hoegarden, Leffe, Red Hook and Brooklyn Lager. A cursory selection of hard liquor.
Dress code: T-shirts, flannels and trucker caps or business clothes and a Bluetooth.
Music: Both kinds -- country and western.