Nightlife options on Hertel Avenue have been few and far between. Bars like Mes Que, La Tavola, Wellington Pub and Gecko's attract mostly niche crowds, so an ingredient missing from the North Buffalo neighborhood was a bustling late-night party bar for the 20s and 30s crowd.
Opening to the public on Thursday night after a week of soft launches and employee training, Mac's on Hertel (1435 Hertel Ave.) has the chance to be a goldmine with a smart mission, and so far, so good.
Occupying the two-floor building at the intersection of Hertel and Norwalk avenues -- formerly Empire Grill -- Mac's feels more like Bada Bing or Thirsty Buffalo than its neighbors, with pulsating Top 40 music, a huge oval bar, a ring of TVs, a second floor that overlooks the party and a balcony that lends a splendid view of Hertel.
The first thing that meets a visitor's eye is a massive mural of Main Street in "Old Buffalo," a fairly charming, if in-your-face connection of past and present.
Tap handles, which pour a variety of domestic (Sam Adams' seasonal, i.e.), regional (Brooklyn Brewing) and local (Big Ditch and Resurgence), were stationed on opposite poles of the oval. The bar area is not as spacious for standing as you'd think, but removing Empire Grill's intrusive middle staircase and opening the balcony were two wise moves to compensate.
The bar is not without cool quirks, too. USB ports in each of the first-floor dining booths (they may be upstairs, too) will be welcomed by smartphone users, while the ceiling fan could very well be the biggest in any Buffalo restaurant.
Fortunately for eaters, the dining space on the first-floor -- which gives diners a better view of Hertel than bar patrons -- is partitioned off from the bar space, offering some intimacy. A list of craft cocktails (at bottom of page) was presented alongside the dinner menu and late-night menus, which were delivered in throwback newspaper form for the grand opening. As you wait for your food and drinks, a few paragraphs about the new restaurant-bar supplement the food options.
Since Mac's grand-opening bash doesn't take place until 11 p.m. Sunday (with $3 drink specials, according to Mac's Facebook page), only food from the late-night menu (available only between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights) could be purchased during the Thursday night visit. [You'll find the dinner menu at the very bottom of the page]
Visual rundown of what we ate on opening night (the kitchen will obviously get better as it finds its footing):
Single order of medium wings ($8.75):
Immediate reactions: Spicier than your typical medium wings, which was refreshing if you're constantly let down by the heat of something declared "medium." The skin wasn't very crispy, though, as you can tell from the photo. It was the kitchen's first night, of course, so all of these immediate reactions can be taken with a grain of salt.
Single order of Mac's tequila barbecue sauce wings ($8.75):
Immediate reactions: Like Jack Daniels' barbecue sauces, spirits introduced into the sauce do very little to alter the flavor, so don't expect a life-changing, smoky-sweet sauce. The barbecue wings were finished by the table -- with varying opinions about the aggressive level of char -- but as a whole, they weren't lauded.
Buffalo chicken crunch rolls ($9.75):
Immediate reactions: Our favorite of the three appetizers, this is a play off of an egg roll, with deep-fried breading on the outside, plus chicken and a mozzarella-provolone combination inside. The crunchy-creamy texture contrast was appreciated, and the appetizer fit snugly into the perception of desirable late-night eats. We'd get them again.
Loaded Trash Plate ($15.50):
Immediate reactions: Much like the Rochester-born Garbage Plate, Mac's Loaded Trash Plate was gigantic, weaving together macaroni salad, two cheeseburgers, Sahlen's hot dogs, white onions, Weber's mustard and meat hot sauce. While the WNY Garbage Plate phenomenon will undoubtedly attract late-night customers to devour this ravenously with one big plate and several forks, here's our grades for the individual parts: macaroni salad -- D, too sweet; cheeseburgers -- D, aggressively salty; all the other ingredients were in the 'B' range, with the fries being the best. Frankly, you won't care about any of these ratings if you're in post-bar attack mode -- which is the best (only?) time to get the Trash Plate.
Chicken-fried Delmonico Steak ($14):
Immediate reactions: Although it begs the question, "Why would you chicken-fry Delmonico steak?", this course surprised and impressed. Plenty of flavor remained in the steak, served medium-rare, and the white sausage gravy (note that it's not "white-sausage gravy") added to the flavor rather than detracted. We fear it will be the forgotten late-night entree due to the anticipated popularity of the Trash Plate(s).
Strawberry Shortcake ($7.50):
Immediate reactions: Three straightforward dessert options graced the opening late-night menu, but the strawberry shortcake was the easiest to share and most daring of the trio. Be warned: This is one very large dessert. While the description suggested strawberries and whipped cream sandwiched by a glazed doughnut, we received borders more akin to fried dough -- powdered sugar topping fried exteriors with a little chewiness on the inside. Not that it was bad, but just not what we expected from the menu teaser. We're sure this will be more flavorful once strawberries hit peak season.