Despite the past few years of dramatic changes in certain sections of Buffalo, it would be wrong to assume that every neighborhood is full of residents eager for wholesale transformations of the street blocks, businesses and barrooms that color their way of life.
Count South Buffalo as one city section full of residents who would prefer its improvements incremental – and with a particular sensitivity to their Irish taverns and taste of their chicken wings. Case in point: the recent reopening and remodel of neighborhood favorite Doc Sullivan’s.
Nestled on Abbott Road amid the city’s Irish Heritage District – boasting community beacon Buffalo Irish Center, imports of the Tara Gift Shoppe and Gaelic language street signs – the updated version emerged from its brief fall hiatus in December and was unveiled by its new, South Buffalo-born owners Tommy Cowan and Justin Steinwandel.
For those familiar with the last iteration of the locale, entry into its current environs will not welcome gasps to jarring change – which is a good thing.
Doc Sullivan’s has been a go-to for weekend rounds, St. Patrick’s Day post-parade toasts and its distinct Smitty-style wings since the late-1990s. It didn’t need to be torn down and left behind. It simply needed to be enhanced and updated – per food and beer offerings, interiors, its function-ready Abbeyfeale Room, and exterior signage – all while keeping the same neighborly, Irish-American vibe it’s claimed since its inception. Thankfully, it’s done all of that.
On a recent Saturday visit, I found a relatively pristine barroom with 27 beers on tap or in bottle, and selections from Great Lakes, Resurgence and 12 Gates featured amid its nine draft options. Those who want to chase their Bud Lights with blackberry brandy can still get their fix, but the wider, updated selection is on par with the offerings featured in the nearby craft-focused barrooms of Brick Oven Bistro, Conlon’s and the Blackthorn.
The décor is classic Buffalo, with black-and-white photos of grain elevators joining waterfront panoramas and a reverent portrait of Buffalo boxing legend Jimmy Slattery. But within this decoration is an adherence to updated expectations. A dozen large flat-screen televisions are available to watch games in all corners of the restaurant.
The bar’s finely salted shuffleboard table and scoreboard is illuminated on a raised landing; and a Pitbull-friendly jukebox is now wall-mounted in place of the bar’s previous country-heavy flip-page model.
And with its “Saturday Night Doc’s Live” series, it now hosts regular live music.
As for the Smitty-style wings maintained through change of ownership, good news: they’re not so far from their previous incarnation to cause a bottle-flinging riot. Teamed with complementary 12 Gates IPA ($6), the offering’s signature salty, brushed-on coating was still evident, which should keep loyalists from transferring their allegiance to a seemingly endless number of nearby competitors.
So for those who have yet to enter the new Doc Sullivan’s, are the changes enough to rattle the most intractable patrons? Not likely. But thanks to the noticeable enhancements by two guys from the neighborhood, Doc Sullivan’s is now back in the mix of Buffalo’s continuously evolving bar scene.
Where: 474 Abbott Road (436-3302.)
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 4 a.m. Sunday.
When to go: For a few drinks inside a neighborhood favorite; during Sabres action; for the music of “Saturday Night Doc’s Live”; or at any hour around St. Patrick’s Day.
Dinner options: Aside from their Smitty-style wings – 50 cents on Mondays and Tuesdays – the bar now offers a more elaborate menu of sandwiches and salads, as well as $5 burgers every Wednesday night.
Don’t forget the beers: $1 off craft drafts with the wings and burger deals Monday through Wednesday.
How to pay: Cash or card.
Parking: On Abbott and surrounding streets.