When Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane shuffled off to Buffalo from the Carolinas, they went against a trend as old as the Bills’ playoff drought.
Charlotte, N.C., has one of the largest populations of transplanted Western New Yorkers. According to the Charlotte Observer, Mecklenburg County is the No. 1 out-of-state destination for people leaving Erie County (and No. 2 for those leaving Monroe County).
With that many Buffalo fans roaming around, there are no shortage of bars and restaurants that cater to the herd of Bills-watchers in the region.
Tavern on the Tracks, home to the Charlotte Buffalo Backers Club, draws the largest crowds. Fans come both to watch the games inside and, in true Bills fan fashion, tailgate in the parking lot.
“It started with a hot dog and a beer, and now it’s 40 to 50 people here at 7 a.m. every week,” said Andy Murray, who founded the club in 2008, along with fellow Western New York expats Dave Kitchener and Lisa (Bucka) and Jack Dunlavey, who wore a Jim Kelly jersey when the couple wed this past summer.
They’re expecting a much bigger crowd — as many as 600 people — on Sunday with the Bills in town to play the Panthers. Organizers are encouraging fans to use ride-hailing apps and light rails to get to the tailgate, due to limited parking space. Some fans are planning to camp out Saturday night.
Ken Johnson, his bowling ball, and his famous Red Pinto Tailgate crew will be in attendance. Murray will barbecue 80 pounds of Chiavetta’s chicken and tap a couple kegs of Labatt Blue.
The party starts Saturday night — if it hasn’t started already — at Tavern on the Tracks with a “Billapalooza” event featuring live music and specials on chicken wings, beef on weck, Sahlen’s hot dogs, and Labatt Blue. A 50/50 raffle will benefit Children’s Hospital at Levine Center in Charlotte, and Labatt’s will give away two tickets to Sunday’s game.
Membership: About 150, but more show up for games
Operating since: 2008
Gathering place: Tavern on the Tracks, 1411 S. Tryon, Charlotte, N.C.
Tradition: Playing Whitney Houston’s performance of the national anthem from Super Bowl XXV before every game
The traditional playing of our national anthem (Whitney Houston’s performance from Super Bowl XXV) is scheduled for noon. After which, the group plans to march to the stadium, passing the Coca-Cola Dog House, a popular tailgating spot for Panthers fans, on their way.
“We’re going to stop in front, 400 deep, while they’re broadcasting and sing the ‘Shout!’ song,” Murray said.
Hundreds of fans who don’t have tickets will stay to watch the game at Tavern on the Tracks, which regularly fills to capacity when the Bills are playing.
“It’s such a cool atmosphere,” said Sean Kenney, a City of Tonawanda native who moved to Charlotte last year and purchased a block of 30 tickets for Sunday’s game to accommodate friends coming into town.
“Everybody is crammed in there. It’s the closest thing to being at the Ralph, sorry, New Era Field,” Kenney said. “And the wings are on point. Like you never left Buffalo.”
Eric Moulds showed up for the opener last week, co-owner Billy Acquario said. Andre Reed came for a game last season and wound up reciting his Hall of Fame speech for the crowd.
Acquario is a Central New York native who became a Bills fan during the ’90s while operating all of the state’s Hooter’s franchises, including the two here. He moved to Charlotte and opened Tavern on the Tracks with Greg Roderick in 2002. This weekend marks the bar’s 15th anniversary.
“Once I moved down here, Buffalo came with me,” Acquario joked.
When Tavern on the Tracks opened, it was the only bar catering to Western New Yorkers, Acquario said. Now there are more than a dozen.
Among other events for Bills fans in Charlotte this weekend:
• 12 p.m. Saturday, Bills Backer Party, at Taste of Buffalo Pizzeria, 9610 Cherrill Estates Road, Huntersville, N.C.
• 2 p.m. Saturday, The Carolina Kickoff: Fan Appreciation Rooftop Tailgate, at 210 Rooftop, 210 E. Trade St.
• 6 p.m. Saturday, The Takeover: Buffalo Invades Charlotte Weekend, at Suite Charlotte, 210 E. Trade St.
Jonah Bronstein is a BNblitz.com contributor. If your Bills Backers club has a unique story, reach out to him at email@example.com.
Story topics: Bills Backers