When Irish immigrants came to claim their piece of America in the early 19th century, they were not exactly welcomed with parades. They were discriminated against, marginalized and, in some cases, siphoned into street gangs that claimed city blocks by force. One of these gangs, Forty Thieves, provided inspiration for the 2002 Martin Scorsese film, “Gangs of New York.”
Is there a correlation between this history and two South Buffalo guys snatching their own piece of the Elmwood Village bar scene? It’s a stretch, but it’s a connection up for consideration inside Forty Thieves Kitchen & Bar, now adding some appreciated Irish ambiance to the city’s trendiest commercial stretch.
Unveiled inside the space made famous by the late Blue Monk, Forty Thieves is the brainchild of industry veterans Tommy Cowan and Brian Scanlon. The two have aided or operated enough barrooms including (Colter Bay and Doc Sullivan’s to know what works, what doesn’t or what’s needed along a thoroughfare as popular as Elmwood Avenue.
For Forty Thieves, the pair leaned on their lineage and childhood neighborhood to inform what they could do with the once-cherished craft beer bastion.
“[We both] grew up in South Buffalo, which is known for its rich Irish history,” Cowan said. “We are very proud of that, so it only made sense to create a pub-style atmosphere in the Elmwood Village, a “Cheers” type of place where it’s okay to stop after work a few days a week to have a few pints or cocktails, or singalongs with your friends.”
This sounds comfortably minimalist. But anyone expecting Forty Thieves to feature the bare-bones frills of a classic Seneca Street booze sling will be sorely disappointed. The bar may exude a familiar South Buffalo feel, but its historical decoration, beer and food menu, and spirits collection place it among the city's wave of ambitious barrooms.
Start with its interior design, which accentuates the previous Blue Monk layout with black-and-white photos of Buffalo development (construction of the Skyway), sports heroes (boxing champion Jimmy Slattery) and architecture (the regal Erie County Savings Bank).
All are intermixed with shots of Irish ancestors either local or downstate, giving the place its stamp of Celtic credibility while keeping some of the address’s most popular elements intact like its front patio, walk-up dining space and rear beer garden.
Across its bar and kitchen menu, it earns industry credibility, merging seasonally appropriate selections like Great Lakes Christmas Ale and 42 North Asylum Porter (each $7) with its PB&J burger—topped with bacon and served with nostalgic, crinkle-cut fries ($12)—and the indigenous-to-South-Buffalo Smitty wings (single for $13) Cowan brought from his Doc Sullivan’s kitchen.
If the colder months redirect stares to the liquor shelves, patrons won’t find a dearth of choices—especially if they’re thirsty for Irish whiskey. Forty Thieves features tastes for Catholics (Jameson), Protestants (Bushmills Red Bush) and five different varieties of Tullamore Dew, with 12-, 14- and 15-year pours available for imbibing.
And if these don’t warm your soul, then find the upper tier for Redbreast 12-year pot-still whiskey, a smooth and surprisingly affordable ($10) option for all takers.
This enhanced selection should be expected when an exemplary Irish bar opens in any neighborhood. But with Forty Thieves, Elmwood Village gets this, as well as a hospitable haunt intent on carving its mark—and honoring ancestors who would appreciate its march into one of Buffalo’s most beloved districts.
Address: 727 Elmwood Ave. (464-3822)
Hours: Open seven days a week. Kitchen serves from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; bar is open until 2 a.m.
Scene: An intermingling of South Buffalo ambiance, Nickel City history and modern menu expectations inside a cherished Elmwood Avenue address.
Irish whiskey: Lots
Parking: Street spots around Elmwood Avenue.
Don’t forget to: Complement any drink with an order of panko-crusted deviled eggs.