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Bar Tab: South Buffalo’s the Hop Inn goes beyond traditional fare

When you walk into a South Buffalo bar, you might have a certain set of visual expectations.

A guy named Donovan, Scanlon or Talty inside the barroom. Stag party posters, shamrocks and a framed picture of John F. Kennedy hung somewhere on the wall. A keepsake or two from Memorial Auditorium’s demo site prominently displayed. These prospects are usually locks.

But what about Southern Tier Pumking on tap, apple barbecue chicken wings in the kitchen, and a stack of secondhand vinyl behind the bar?

Welcome to the Hop Inn, South Buffalo’s slight departure from traditional fare.

Find the shadowed Hopkins Street locale on a Wednesday night and remember the word “slight.” Its interiors feature standard neighborhood fare: framed photos of Bishop Timon athletics and a group of 1940s-era Irishmen who resemble my great uncles; a giant Guinness mirror; and fundraising placards for local bachelors. Its televisions might be tuned to South Buffalo native Patrick Kane’s Chicago Blackhawks, and expect the newest generation of regulars ordering rounds at the bar.

But, when your observations are interrupted by the warm embrace of rotating grooves, you’ll suspect that, since opening in 2009, the Hop’s always done things a little differently.

File Wednesday’s vinyl-only night under astray from ordinary. Once a week, the bar unplugs its Internet jukebox so bartender Mark Barrett can pull from a glossy pile that includes classic rock fare like Paul McCartney’s “Ram” atop current offerings from Dr. Dog, Built to Spill and the Rural Alberta Advantage. One by one, he churns out turntable tracks over patrons prepared to enjoy album sides, not singles. New customers are encouraged to bring their own music to the party.

When I recently entered the Hop, I carried three offerings: “In Concert: The Best of Jimmy Cliff”; Dan Auerbach’s “Keep It Hid”; and Joe Cocker’s “With A Little Help From My Friends.” After Barrett cued up Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright,” he left me with a stubby bottle of Coors Original ($3), a chicken wing menu, and time to survey the Hop’s tailored fare.

The wings ($17 for a double) are emblematic of the bar’s loyalty-meets-rebellion atmosphere. Each order offers the same size and crunch of your Ramona Avenue-born father’s flavor, but you won’t find them in hot, medium or mild. Instead, they’re under identities like Apple Barbecue, Garlic Parm and Hate, a medium-based wing made with white zinfandel and cinnamon. Their taps are craft beer-heavy, with pints of hard-to-find selections like CB’s Caged Alpha Monkey IPA (just $5), and aforementioned Pumking ($6). Visitors can hoist shots of Jameson under British vocals for a mere $3. And, if the Sabres are playing while Barrett transitions from David Bowie to Dinosaur Jr.? No problem. Miller and Co. will still be on the bar’s three flat-screen televisions while domestic bottles are only $2 – from puck-drop to the final horn.

Set aside a Wednesday night and survey it all for yourself. Order an Alpha Monkey as the amplified horn section of Dr. Dog’s “Long Way Down” marches down your arms. Let your expectations become skewed for an evening. But, if you’re frightened to deviate from neighborhood fare, don’t worry: the Hop’s still a South Buffalo bar. For confirmation, just find its side patio.

It’s protected by Plexiglas boards from the Aud.

The Hop Inn

Where: 317 Hopkins St. (464-3778.)

When to go: Vinyl-only Wednesday nights; after work for nightly drink specials and NHL action; Friday and Saturday nights for general neighborhood revelry; and Sundays for the Bills $25 game day food and drink special.

Dress: Casual, with jeans, Sabres hats and Notre Dame hoodies strongly encouraged. Chicago Blackhawks gear loyal to Patrick Kane also is acceptable.

Drinks: $3 to $6 for beers, $3 for mixed drinks and shots. Also have specials dependent on the day and/or event.

Credit cards accepted: Yes.

Parking: Lot next to building.