Since I became a professional eater, making reservations has become automatic. But when I suddenly find myself with hungry company, or am hit by a tsunami of desire for a particular delicacy, dining at the bar is often the way to go.
It has advantages that go beyond instant gratification, though that has always been enough for me. There is the service factor – getting a refill of water or adult beverage will rarely be easier. Those eating alone can find more of a sense of vicarious company in a bar seat, if they want it.
Seats side-by-side at the bar also encourage a level of intimacy regular tables lack. Romance can certainly blossom across tables for two in dimly lit alcoves, but the opportunity to whisper in your companion's ear while the world buzzes around you has its own potency.
Most restaurants with bars will happily serve their full menu to bar customers. Here are 10 suggestions for places worth considering, in alphabetical order.
Aro Bar de Tapas, 5415 Sheridan Drive, Amherst (631-1000)
Owner Jeremy Horwitz sweats the authentic Spanish details in his place, down to the type of nails used to construct the bar. The food is centered around tapas, the original small-plates concept, making it simple to fashion meals as brief or as meandering as you like.
[Photo gallery: Aro Bar de Tapas]
Bacchus, 56 W. Chippewa St. (854-9463)
This is one of the finest places within a short walk of Shea's Performing Arts Center, making it an excellent choice if dinner becomes part of your evening's plans on short notice. It's also a restaurant with a wine bar backbone, with staff that can help explore its extensive wine list.
Dapper Goose, 491 Amherst St. (551-0716)
A cozy little place where tables can be hard to come by, but you can still stop by for a bespoke cocktail and dinner or brunch at the bar. If they've got time to chat, the bartenders are a fount of drinks knowledge and can help you leave having learned about something tasty.
800 Maple, 800 Maple Road, Amherst (688-5800)
On some nights there seem to be as many eaters as drinkers at the bar. Perhaps it has something to do with the way one wood-fired pizza arriving on the bar triggers another order. But its personable bartenders are probably a bigger factor.
Left Bank, 511 Rhode Island St. (882-3509)
Its popularity consistently makes it one of the toughest tables in town for dinner or brunch. But if you want a shot at the fondue for two or stuffed portobello mushroom, it's worth stopping to West Side spot to see if you can score a seat.
Oliver's, 2095 Delaware Ave. (877-9662)
The horseshoe bar isn't large, but the seats are choice, providing access to Chef Ross Warhol's tasting menu and legacy dishes. If it all comes together the pianist will be tickling ivories while veteran barman Louie Leone shakes you up one of his Sicilian-inflected "lemonades."
Remington Tavern, 184 Sweeney St., North Tonawanda (362-2802)
If you're feeling sociable, the white-marble-topped bar at the heart of this reclaimed trolley barn gives you a center-ring seat in a sometimes raucous room. Start with a platter of oysters or clams and tap into the deep seafood lineup backed up by Italian favorites.
Ristorante Lombardo, 1198 Hertel Ave. (873-4291)
The challenge of squeezing into one of the best restaurants in town is eased with bar dining as your safety valve. If it's Monday through Thursday, consider the $36 three-course prix fixe, and ask veteran bar manager John Spasiano for his wine recommendations.
Seabar, 475 Ellicott St. (332-2928)
Two bars double your opportunity for side-by-side dining with a companion. A sushi bar offers the chance to talk to the sushi technicians, and watch how they roll. You can explore the full menu of American and Asian-inflected dishes at the main dining room bar.
The Black Sheep, 367 Connecticut St. (884-1100)
Sitting at the bar – or in the bar room – are the only way to get its outstanding burger and some of the best fries in Buffalo. The twin griddle-browned patties, cheese and housemade bun have made these barstools home to many a burger pilgrim.