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Social clubs, fraternal lodges are an endangered slice of Americana

Whether I was dancing to polka bands, bidding on silent auction Barbie dolls and dabbing at bingo boards as a kid, or eating fish frys, buying pulltabs and sipping Genny Cream Ale as an adult, I’ve spent much of my life in social clubs, veterans halls and fraternal lodges. They’re where all my best memories have been made.

But for far too many people, these treasured capsules of Americana are a mystery. For all people know, they’re filled with Fred Flintstone types in Water Buffalo hats doing funny handshakes. Well, it’s time you went inside and experienced the awesomeness for yourself – before dwindling membership makes them disappear forever.

Aside from great food and drink prices in their canteens, you’ll find a close-knit group of welcoming people who do lots of good in the community and are eager to bring you into the fold. Aside from the camaraderie, membership often gets you perks like free or discounted hall rental, member discounts at local and national businesses and free newsletters or magazines.

My favorites are all in North Tonawanda, because those are my stomping grounds, but there are great clubs in your backyard, too.

• Dom Polski. The Polish-American social club, at 576 Oliver St., is steeped in nearly 100 years of rich local history. It’s also in real danger of closing if it doesn’t gain more members soon. If you join by the end of February, membership is discounted to $30. Nonmembers can still come for the delicious, homemade Polish take-out or dine-in dinners on the third Wednesday of each month. You can get Pigs in the Blanket (golabki with mashed potatoes, veggies, bread and butter) for $7 or a Polish Platter (pig in the blanket, kapusta, pierogi, two Polish sausage and bread and butter) for $9.50. Call 692-8327.

• American Legion. Visit the veterans organization’s Stephen Sikora Post 1322, 950 Payne Ave., and you’ll see my wonderful, 93-year-old great-uncle Stanley, a World War II vet and a founding member of the club. The canteen is open to the public, so go in and say hello to Mother Nancy, tending bar and slinging one-liners. She’s the best! Leave her a big tip. And don’t miss bingo on Mondays.

You can become a member in person at a post or online at Legion.org/join. Dues are $40 per year. If you’re not a veteran, you can still join. Wives, daughters and female descendants of veterans who served during a time of war can join the American Legion Auxiliary for $20. Husbands, sons and male descendants of wartime veterans can join the Sons of the American Legion for $10. Call 693-1740.

• Fraternal Order of Eagles. I have many fond memories of what my family always called The Eagles Club, at 7269 Ward Road, which is club number 1411. It hosts tons of really fun events, including live bands, kids’ parties, dances and even cigar parties. Dues are $33 per year. Call 694-6968.

• The Eldredge Bicycle Club. This one is outside of NT, at 17 Broad St. in the City of Tonawanda. It was founded in 1898. Sometime over a beer I’ll tell you about a wild night I had there at a Maniacs concert. But for now, go visit the bar (open to the public) or hit up one of their Friday fish frys ($10.95). Dues are $50 per year plus a $25 initiation fee. Call 693-3589.

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