Preservation is busting out all over Buffalo, and not just in buildings.
Just walk past the bustling crowds at Vera Pizzeria, located in a former yoga studio on Lexington Avenue that neighbors Kuni's sushi and The Place's fish fry, and see for yourself. Not a lamp, stool, mural or employee uniform looks current. It looks antiquated, but fresh. It's not quite "repurposed" or "reclaimed," those descriptors that savvy people use to describe beat-up hardwood floors and rustic milk jugs. Instead, it's old-fashioned and swanky, classic and classy, timeless and romantic. And above all else, it's delicious.
Vera is a pizzeria, of course, and though there's plenty to say about their pies (which are, on the unofficial record, to die for), there's just as much to say about the bar. Maybe even more.
Two young and handsome bartenders wear dapper ensembles, with full waistcoats and curled mustaches. They're out of a movie, one where society's thinkers, movers and shakers assemble in an upscale saloon and share thoughts on the day. It's not a stretch here, considering its prime West Side location and informed urban clientele. At any given moment, you'll want to eavesdrop and jump in on any conversation that's immediately adjacent to you.
But until that happens, the drinks will have to suffice.
A menu of house-conceived "Spirited Libations" entices with both the descriptions of its handcrafted cocktails and their illustrious ingredients. Exhibit A: The Neptune's Trident. Dark spiced rum, Elderflower liqueur (St. Germain), house-made grenadine, coconut water and orange spice bitters. What the heck? Even the J. Peterman-worthy tagline charms. "Spicy and bold, with a surprisingly delicate balance. Yo ho ho."
Or Exhibit B, a revival of a 1922 classic: Blood and Sand. Blended Scotch whisky, sweet vermouth, cherry heering and fresh-squeezed orange juice. As Vera states, it is "sweet and tangy, with a long smokey finish." It is served on the rocks, which here means pooled around a giant perfect cube of ice. It is a monument in your beverage, one you'll want to scale and claim as your own. You'll marvel at it for a while before you remember it's just frozen water.
Your bartender will educate you on your cocktail, whether it came from the menu or from your own request. But you are politely advised, in print, that if you're looking for an appletini, this may not be the bar for you.
That notice might not quell the feeling among some, who dine and drink in other, less adjacently hip neighborhoods, that places like Vera are too cool for school. There's also a case of "The Brooklyn Syndrome" here, the comparison made unfairly and too often between well-designed retail spaces in Brooklyn and well-designed retail spaces in Buffalo. The general feeling being that we must have stolen from Brooklyn's hippest restaurateurs, posturing ourselves as being in a bigger city than we are. "I feel like I'm out of town," is something you'll say more than twice.
But let it stop there. Because Vera isn't too cool for Buffalo's own. These cocktails aren't too complex for loganberry chuggers. The pizza isn't too gourmet for fans of hot dogs. And these pendant lights aren't too trendy for those who work under a buzzing fluorescent sword.
It's the way we should consider a night out. It's the kind of drink we should want to enjoy, not only because it's good but because it's crafted and presented as its own occasion. Because it's a great little restaurant and bar that's packed at 6:30 on a Monday night by people who live in this fantastic neighborhood, with these beautifully fashioned Victorian homes, which have their own remarkable histories.
And because we'd be foolish to not toast something as spectacular as that.
220 Lexington Ave.
Scene: Neighborhood dwellers, post-art opening crowd.
Dress: Your comfortable best.
Hours: 5 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Parking: On the street.
Drinks: House-crafted cocktails, Italian wine list, limited craft beer list.