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Riley’s is a great, friendly place to unwind

Sometimes, a great night out means pulling up a bar stool, cracking open a cold one and enjoying whatever game is on the TV. Riley’s Lounge on Orchard Park Road offers just that: a fun, no-frills experience, perfect for someone looking for an “everybody knows your name” vibe.

Dave and I visited Riley’s on a recent Thursday evening, where we joined approximately 10 other patrons in leaning on the bar and watching the Sabres game. The small crowd made the place seem cozy and familiar, and it was easy to strike up conversations with fellow imbibers.

From the street, Riley’s looks like a little hole-in-the-wall establishment, but the interior is bigger than it first appears. A main dining area with plenty of seating, a pool table and arcade games opens up to the bar, which is at the back wall of the establishment. There is also a patio area to the side, though it was too cold to enjoy it the night we were there. Half a dozen televisions are mounted around the dimly lit room, and a hodgepodge of decorations jostle for position on the walls and on shelves behind the bar. Yankees and Notre Dame pennants, beer signs, NASCAR gear and Irish knickknacks – they all have a place at Riley’s.

One thing to note: Riley’s is a cash-only bar. There is an ATM, but unless you want to be whacked a $2.50 charge, come prepared.

We started off with a glass each of Samuel Adams Winter Lager, which ran $3.50 apiece. The bartender, Larry, welcomed me as a “Riley’s virgin” when I told him it was my first time there, taking just as much time with us as he did with the regulars a few seats down. Full of puns and attentive to our needs, he was clearly at home behind the bar. When I asked about the dozens of playing cards tacked to the ceiling, Larry regaled me with the tradition’s origins – a friend had cheated in a card game by keeping a card up his sleeve, and they made him sign it and pinned it up to embarrass him. He even gave me a card to sign myself, to be pinned at the next convenience. Now that’s service.

All the standard fried foods are available, and Larry said he keeps the fryers going until closing time each night. If there’s even one person at the bar, Riley’s stays open for them, he said.

We followed our Sam Adams with a few bottles of Bud Light, which are just $2.50 during Sabres games. As the game wore on, Larry muted the sound during intermissions and pumped a classic rock Pandora station from the speakers until the next period began. We shouted at the TV along with the rest of our new friends as the Sabres lost in a shootout, and afterward, discussed the merits and drawbacks of axing Lindy Ruff with the guy to Dave’s left.

Further down the bar, friends took shots and toasted each other as Larry kept the drinks flowing. It was only Thursday night, but it felt like Friday at Riley’s.

If you’re looking for fanciness or sophistication, Riley’s probably won’t please. But if you’re in search of good company and cold beer, this is the place. We’ll definitely be back.

Riley’s Lounge

Where: 1781 Orchard Park Road, West Seneca (675-2873)

Scene: An unassuming, publike atmosphere where you can kick back, relax and have a beer or two. Cash only, so leave the credit cards at home.

Drinks: Standard beer, wine and liquor selections with six options on draft, including seasonal Sam Adams and Great Lakes selections.

Dress code: Extremely casual, including jeans, sweatshirts and sports gear.

Specials: $2.50 bottles during Sabres games, $2.25 bottles during happy hour.

Hours: Opens at 11 a.m. Monday through Sunday.