Hydraulic Hearth is a gorgeous restaurant with a menu to match. Nestled in the newly swankified Larkin district, the space at 716 Swan St. has been renovated into a preservationist’s dream.
Iron pipe accents complement exposed brick walls that reflect the warmth of the open pizza oven, in front of which white-jacket chefs flip and knead dough for diners’ viewing pleasure. One of the longest bars in Buffalo provides plenty of room to settle in under Art Deco mirrored light fixtures and peruse a menu that goes beyond your average beer and pizza joint.
Part of owner Harry Zemsky’s mission was to highlight local brewery Community Beer Works’ wares, with four taps and a “test kitchen” dedicated to the Buffalo purveyors’ sippables. Bar manager Chris Guilmet has built a menu around that brewery’s flavors, including a selection of beer and spirit-blending “Boilermakers,” as well as house-conceived libations. His personal favorite, the Swan Dive, is a choice between a good beer and a cheap shot, or a good shot and a cheap beer. The unusual menu option is a nod back to the Swan Lounge, a dive bar that formerly inhabited the location. While we’re as big fans of the old shot-and-a-beer as anyone, we went with the “Sagebrush” instead, a nod to the smoky flavors of that glorious oven that heads up the room.
The Sagebrush is a nod to the classic margarita, but it kicks up the heat with cinnamon-infused tequila, grilled lemon juice, honey syrup, Maraschino liqueur and blackberries. On top, a dusting of grated cinnamon rests on cold-draft clear ice and a sage leaf, giving the drinker a hit of aroma before the liquid even gets out of the glass. The cinnamon is stronger on the nose than the flavor, a pleasant surprise, since I was expecting more of a Red Hot candy taste. It’s subtle but warming, with the herbal sage reminding us that cinnamon is a spice, first and foremost.
The grilled lemon juice adds a smoky aspect, toning down the brightness that usually characterizes citrus. Maraschino is usually a stronger flavor than in the Sagebrush, where it just lent a slightly medicinal sweetness. Ditto for those blackberries, which were nowhere to be found, at least not as explicitly as we expected.
All in all, the Sagebrush piqued my interest for the rest of Guilmet’s menu, which includes the hyper-local “Buffalo Southside,” the “Seven Sixteen” and a shot of house fireball, which we assume has less antifreeze than the original. All cocktails are $10, which is going rate around these parts, and all display the blend of originality and commitment to classic blends that even the décor itself emblemizes.
The Zemsky family has long been numbered among Buffalo’s biggest boosters, so it’s no surprise that Hydraulic Hearth opened to a packed house. But with great power comes great responsibility, and in the region’s growing cocktail consciousness, great expectations. So far, Guilmet has risen to the occasion, and we can’t wait to see what else he has rolled up his sleeves.
Sagebrush, Hydraulic Hearth; 716 Swan St., Buffalo; 248-2216; www.hydraulichearth.com; all cocktails $10.
Lizz Schumer is a Buffalo writer and editor who covers cocktails, food and whimsy for a variety of publications. She is the author of "Buffalo Steel" and can be found @eschumer, lizzschumer.com or www.facebook.com/authorlizzschumer.