Buffalo’s recent bar renaissance has introduced a lot of new locales to the downtown scene, one that’s now colored with seemingly infinite draft lines, bearded mixologists and enough Pandora-served Black Keys to satiate even the most ardent Dan Auerbach addict.
But these places need to be balanced by sturdy city standards like the Irish Times, the green-awning spot on Swan Street known for its game-day atmosphere, Irish potato soup and dive-bar charm.
Large portraits of Buffalo’s past skyline join Galway scenery and a framed (and possibly worn) Gilbert Perreault jersey on its walls. Patrons casually converse under the vinyl classics from Alice Cooper and the Rolling Stones; and whether night or day, sunny or snowing, its wood-hewn interiors and everyman vibe keeps the bunker-lit address inviting.
Stokers of Buffalo’s flickering beer-and-a-shot flame, the Times still burns bright.
The beer: Guinness Draught
The breakdown: There may not be a more historically misunderstood draft than Ireland’s stout standard. Referred to as “one of them black beers” by John Wayne in “The Quiet Man,” it’s frightened drinkers for generations. It’s too dark, too bitter. It drinks like a milkshake. These comments are the words of ne'er do wells who have never spent any intimate time with a tall, frothy imperial pint of Dublin’s finest.
Smooth, crisp and reasonable at 4.2 percent ABV, it’s always been a selection you want to embrace, not engulf. (Yes, I’m looking at you, guy in unnecessary St. Patrick’s Day costume.) And in a place as comfortable as the Times — with perfectly poured pints in proper glassware for $6 — this is a welcoming experience.
Feel that Bisons beat: Though the Times is a big draw for Sabres pregame, it’s across the street from Coca-Cola Field, making it a great stop before or after Bisons action. Boasting such Herd-specific decorations as an Earl of Bud bobblehead and photos of the former Pilot Field’s opening day in 1988, the bar is accommodating to those who want to recall the Herculean swings of Jeff Manto, complete games of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, or Bartolo Colon’s 1997 no-hitter over a couple of rounds.
Blue-collar bartending: In some of the new craft cocktail and draft joints across Buffalo, the job of bartender has skewed more toward stylish scientist than hustling salesman. A stained towel over the shoulder is not as evident as a waxed mustache; an open ear is not as ubiquitous as an idle body behind the stick, checking a text instead of telling a joke. Not the case at the Times.
On my recent visit, I watched a bartender pour rounds, console the lonely and, when a group of hungry visitors asked if the kitchen was closed, he said yes — but he would reopen it and cook whatever they wanted. He was the only person working, but was willing to shuffle from glassware to grill, just to accommodate. This type of service is the embodiment of the City of Good Neighbors — with friendly banter and free popcorn included.
When to go: Stop by to unwind after work, play a few rounds of Quick Draw, or to simply bask in the dank delight inside one of Buffalo’s most accommodating draft dens.
The Irish Times
38 Swan St. (854-2199)
Beers on tap: 12
You may still call it: McGinty’s
Great place for: after-work relaxing, pre- and postgame beers, and to taste some of Buffalo’s most underrated wings.
Order the: Irish potato soup.
Be ready to: have a friendly conversation with a stranger under the hum of the Who.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Sunday. Kitchen open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., but later for special events and games.