As the local craft beer scene booms and Elmwood Village evolves, Mister Goodbar remains a longstanding, mostly unchanged linchpin in both realms.
Since opening in 1968, Goodbar (formalities aren’t necessary here) has changed hats through several owners, but has never lost an identity rooted in both strong tradition and trademark physical elements.
“When the owner decided to sell it to me, he [Dominic Massaro] knew that I would keep the integrity of the place the same,” said current owner Bobby Rabb.
“It meant a lot to him; it wasn’t something that he took lightly. The last thing you want – and you see this a lot now – is a big developer comes in and guts it and re-develops it into something unrecognizable to what it was.”
Goodbar houses a youthful atmosphere within a history-rich shell. The woodwork – much of which was salvaged from gutted turn-of-the-century West Side homes – is original, and the coppertop bar isn’t far from it.
“Everything goes through changes, but the main character is still there, and that’s a huge selling point for us,” Rabb said. “You can buy everything else, but you can’t buy history and heritage.”
A generational connector, 20-somethings enjoy weekend nights out at Goodbar reminiscent of those experienced decades earlier. It’s even possible Charlie Vara – who has worked there as a bartender since the ‘70s – served their parents.
In the current post-craft beer boom bar and restaurant industry, a solid craft beer list is an expected necessity more than it is a unique feature. Goodbar was far ahead of the curve in that regard, boasting 40-plus beers on tap in the late ‘80s, when craft beer was a novelty.
A dusty draft inventory sheet, pictured left, dated Oct. 29, 1996,
hangs on a clipboard in the basement and shows features everything from Pete’s Wicked Seasonal from now-defunct Pete’s Brewing Company (San Antonio, Texas) to mainstay Killian’s Irish Red to craft beer OG, Brooklyn Lager.
Today, Goodbar keeps 33 beers on tap. While most rotate, a few local favorites like Community Beer Works Frank APA, Flying Bison Rusty Chain and Southern Tier IPA keep their rightful place.
The selection is amply boosted by 35 to 40 varieties in cans and bottles. Crafts start at $5 and climb to the $20-range for 20-ounce-plus bottle of high-end crafts. There are plenty of $3 to $4 beers like Genesee and Labatt Blue for the more casual beer drinker.
Cocktails are basic, but get the job done. The Bloody Mary – garnished with celery, olives and fried pepperoni – exceeds expectations and is a $5 special on Sundays.
A food menu consisting mostly of typical bar fare – pizza logs, mozzarella sticks and loaded tater tots – was recently beefed up by the addition Ru’s Pierogi. But Goodbar’s chicken wings are the longtime crowd-pleaser and are occasionally thrown into the mix of the “best chicken wing in Buffalo” debate.
“Our customers that come here for wings are very loyal. The guys that love ‘em, really love ‘em,” Rabb said. “We’re on a smaller scale than those other names, so we can always pay more attention to detail and make sure wings go out crispy and you get them right away.”
Wings are on special Sundays, making them the perfect comfort food for crowds that pack the bar and surround several TVs or the projector screen during Bills games. “When people are hopeful and they’re winning, it’s a pretty cool environment,” Rabb said. “If they’re doing bad, you’ve still got $6 wings.”
If you’re looking for entertainment with your IPA, Goodbar has something to offer nearly every night. Live music is Friday through Sunday (including concerts upstairs on Saturdays).
On Mondays, DJs spin vinyl and records are bought and traded from 7 to 11 p.m. during Indie Hour and Pop-up Shop – an event previously put on by Record Theatre that will live on despite its sponsor’s closure.
Wednesday is karaoke night upstairs. Thursdays feature Good Thursdays with radio station Alternative Buffalo downstairs and comedy night upstairs. Comedy is open-mic style with the exception of the last Thursday of the month, which features a Comedy Showcase. Alternative Buffalo takes over DJ duties at Good Thursdays, plus reps from a different craft brewery each week serve free samples.
In trendy Elmwood Village, Goodbar has seen plenty of nearby businesses come and go with trends and phases vital to their success. But in this thirsty city, a good bar never goes out of fashion.
1110 Elmwood Ave. (882-4000)
Hours: Noon to 4 a.m. daily.
The scene: Divey but not too dingy; mixed crowds during the day, younger at night; lively but laid-back atmosphere.
Specials: See a full list here.
Don't forget to: Check out the upstairs area, open Wednesday through Sunday and also for special events. There can be a cover charge ($5 or $10) for upstairs concerts on weekends.