You know how you hear that downtown is booming? It’s coming from Mohawk Place.
The bar at 47 E. Mohawk St. – formally called Buffalo’s Mohawk Place, informally called “the ’Hawk” – is so loud it sells earplugs. Founded in 1990, closed in 2013, reopened in 2014, Mohawk Place is the gritty survivor among the new kids on the block, places that include twinkly Deep South Taco, Tappo with its rooftop patio, and the shiny microbrewery Big Ditch.
Mohawk Place serves Big Ditch’s Hayburner. But that is a rare concession to the glitzy new world that surrounds it.
Earplugs were sold out Wednesday, a sign that the evening was especially promising. Two Buffalo bands, Chevron Bloom and Stunde Null, were opening for Sugar Candy Mountain, a psychedelic band from Oakland.
Eight p.m. found the young musicians of Stunde Null unpacking in front of the bar – appropriately, as their name is German for “zero hour,” or the last moments preceding a big endeavor. The bar’s door person, who goes by the name of Ballzy, sat smiling, welcoming folks strolling in and collecting the cover charge, which was $5.
Inside, you could catch the scent of incense. Faint at first, it intensified as you reached its source, the sound booth. The black walls, the beautiful antique tin ceiling, the band stickers and band photos, the slight haze in the air – all these factors hip you to a glorious truth – that you are in a genuine down-home rock dive.
The experience is increasingly rare. Buffalo still boasts Nietzsche’s, the Central Park Grill and other bastions of local music. But Merlin’s has vanished, a victim of the gentrification of Elmwood Avenue. And when Mohawk Place reopened, suspense was in the air. Would the ’Hawk still be himself?
Luckily, the new owner, Richard Platt, shares the philosophies of the old owner, the late Pete Perrone. Marty Boratin, connoisseur and promoter of local music, still books the bands. The bar was a bit bigger, but the circle was unbroken.
“We thought, after it’s restored it’ll be different. But it still has that old feel,” said Phil Primerano of Stunde Null. “It’s still Mohawk.”
The audience, too, likes it that way.
“Every town needs to have its dirty rock club,” said Keri Thomas-Whiteside, having a beer with her friends.
Wednesday’s lineup drew about 60 people, which Ballzy said was good for a weeknight. Older patrons mixed with kids who had to show ID. Some folks were still in office clothes. When Chevron Bloom took the stage, an hour later than scheduled, everyone flowed like a tide from the bar to the stage in the back.
Chevron Bloom, together six months, has talent. According to rock tradition, though, their songs were blasted at such a volume that it was hard to tell how well crafted they were. Not that anyone seemed to mind. People listened actively, beers in hand. The room throbbed and the walls shook.
When the set ended, the tide rushed back to the bar, where the musicians welcomed feedback. (“That third song you did …”) The vibe was friendly and egalitarian.
“The music community supports each other,” said Jay Sallese, of Chevron Bloom. “There’s this communal spirit. The previous owners embraced the idea of supporting people who wanted to make music locally. That hasn’t changed.”
He scanned the bar appreciatively, taking in the dark warren of pillars, nooks and crannies.
“It has an inherent coolness that you can’t just fabricate,” he said. “You can’t fake the stickers and the graffiti.”
Primerano, of Stunde Null, put things equally eloquently.
“This place is nice and intimate and loud and dirty and fun,” he said. “It’s always unpredictable, that’s for sure.”
You heard the man. Well, maybe you didn’t, considering those decibels. In either case, choose a nice night. Find a band you think you’ll like, or just take your chances. Give yourself that old time rock ’n’ roll.
Just bring earplugs, in case they’re sold out.