As Buffalo continues on its current roll of incremental transformation, the city’s “young people” have enjoyed a starring role in the majority of images, campaigns and conversations about its comeback.
There they are, shopping local, using bike lanes and walking their dogs while donning Clark Kent glasses. They’re staying here after college or relocating back after years away, and in their free time, they’re enjoying craft beers and inventive cocktails inside exquisitely constructed environs like Larkinville’s newest social hive, Hydraulic Hearth.
The Swan Street restaurant and beer garden – aptly located at 716 – could initially be construed as another backdrop for this oft-featured crop of millennials and young professionals, ones who will feast on brick-oven pizzas and pints of Ommegang before posting photos of the locale’s handmade wallpaper or decorated antique phone booth on Instagram.
But there’s a far bigger picture inside Hydraulic Hearth, one not only emblematic of its Larkinville neighborhood’s demographic-blind vibe, but also representative of the most overlooked element of the region’s current resurgence: loyalty.
Intermixed between the bar’s grad school students, artists and urban planners are those who grew older through the city’s worst times – but refused to leave. They raised their families here, weathered storms through economic downturns and empty promises, and are now ready to enjoy elements of Buffalo’s uptick. They remember the Hydraulics District’s landscape before the rehabbed Kamman Building and repurposed Filling Station. They recollect remnants of the rubble that was the Larkin Administration Building, and recall stops at the Swan Lounge (once found in the Hearth’s footprint) for a Genny Cream and shot of Beam before home.
Today, their steadfastness has been rewarded not only with the city’s direction and the kaleidoscopic town square that’s Larkinville, but also with a warm, locally focused tavern like Harry Zemsky’s Hydraulic Hearth. Casually dressed, ageless denizens can now find the bar’s exposed brick interiors for their choice of wood-fired pizzas – which range from Buffalo-centric selections like Spars Sausage ($15) to the health-conscious portions of Arugula Pesto ($14) – and impressive cocktail menu, featuring bourbon-led selections like the Southern Sweetie or the gin-forward options like the Penultimate (both $10).
Or you could do what I did on a recent Friday night visit: Settle into the Hearth’s leather couches under its Swan Street-fronting bay windows, order some food and enjoy all the in-bar action with a few pints of on-site brewer Community Beer Works’ Stout Effective Disorder ($5).
As I sunk into my seat, I watched customers stream in from Larkinville’s rain-dampened “Holiday Live at Larkin” event happening across the street. I teamed my CBW pint with a Spars Sausage pizza and a side of bourbon wings ($8), then watched as waitresses and bartenders alike hustled to accommodate the night’s influx of event-related business. Next to me sat a young couple, indicative of the advertised faces of Buffalo’s resurrection; and hovering near them stood two older couples, ones who have seemingly waited for a place like Hydraulic Hearth to pop up near their neighborhood for decades.
And once the bespectacled couple finished their pizza and drinks, they smiled, stood and offered their seats to one of the waiting couples. In was an appropriate succession, but also a show of respect that acknowledged the following truth: The city’s current youth infusion wouldn’t have a Queen City to pledge its quarter-life allegiance to without those who not only remained loyal Buffalonians but stood firm when it would have been easier to relocate. They maintained roots, endured and kept the flickering flame for a new Buffalo alive.
Now in pizza kitchens and pint halls like Hydraulic Hearth, the fire’s burning bright.
Where: 716 Swan St. (also on Facebook)
Hours: 4:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 4:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed on Sunday and Monday.
When to go: After work for a few early evening beers and a brick-oven pizza; before or after visits to Larkinville; or on the way in and out of South Buffalo.
On Tap: Current list of 11 include Community Beer Works headliners like the Whale, Frank and Stout Affective Disorder, as well as Jack’s Abbey Copper Legend and Ommegang Witte.
Price range: Draft and bottled beers, $5 to $9; house cocktails, $7 to $10; wine, $7; brick-oven pizzas, $12 to $16.
How to pay: Cash or card.
Parking: Street spots, lots and parking garages all nearby.