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Checkers bar on Hertel, a North Buffalo institution, has closed

Checkers, one of Buffalo's most beloved neighborhood bars, has closed its doors.

News spread after the bar's Facebook page announced the sad tidings for local drinkers Wednesday.

There are plenty of places to drink on Hertel, but there was only one Checkers, at 1864 Hertel Ave.

Here's how News columnist Jerry Sullivan put it while detailing his favorite Buffalo bars in a 2006 article:

"It's a North Buffalo institution - and some of the regulars belong in an institution. But seriously, it's a great bar, a social melting pot. Just about everyone has spent time in the place. Try wedging your way in after the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning."

My favorite bars Jerry Sullivan's transcendent taverns

The bar was popular for its down-to-earth amenities: non-fussy decor, reasonably priced drinks, $1 Sahlen's hot dogs on Mondays and Taco Tuesdays.

In July 2003, Buffalo News Staff Reporter Kate DeForest, in a Gusto cover feature on patio bars, wrote this assessment: "Checkers is definitely a divey little place."

"From the peeling green wallpaper to the stale smell of years of smoke," DeForest wrote in the story, "the bar's Irish bent can be seen only in a couple of yellowed Kennedy clippings tacked up behind the counter. The patio, though small, nearly doubles the size of the bar and has a couple of tables and chairs scattered about."

A few years later, in August 2006, Trey Wydysh wrote in a review in The Buffalo News that "Checkers just may be the friendliest bar in Buffalo."

"Almost everyone in Checkers has a story to tell, and after their first visit to Checkers, newcomers will most certainly have a story of their own," Wydysh wrote at the time.

"You can go in, meet new friends and be sure they'll remember you the next time you're there," Wydysh wrote in the piece in The News.

Checkers has been described as an establishment that appealed to adults of all ages. The music that played in the background tended towards classic rock and reggae and the food selection was as basic as burgers, fried bologna sandwiches with onions and corned beef sandwiches on St. Patrick's Day. The bar also sponsored charities, such as its annual Checkers Tavern 5k Pie Run.

Jackie Sullivan, who lives a block away from the bar, has been a longtime patron of Checkers.

"I have been coming to Checkers for 16 years. I met my husband here 16 years ago, the first time I ever walked into the bar," Sullivan said Wednesday.

"What makes Checkers special is it is a family. I have developed lifelong friendships that I will have for the rest of my life. It's a place to go to feel at home. It's really a home away from home," she added.

"You can come here in your gym clothes. You can come here in a fancy dress. You can come in whatever you want, and you are not judged at all. There is absolutely no judgment in this place," Sullivan said.

Demi Walsh, a bartender at Checkers for about a decade, from 2007 to 2017, said: "It was basically your neighborhood dive bar, for lack of a better word, but it was open all day every day. You had people from all sorts of generations that came in and were friends with one another. I mean, people were friends that were 21 years old with people that were 90 years old."

"It was the place to go before an after a wedding or before and after a funeral. We celebrated every holiday here. One of our biggest nights of the year was Thanksgiving morning and Christmas Eve to be at Checkers," she said.

Many of the Thanksgiving revelers were participants in the annual Turkey Trot.

"We had people that had moved into the North Buffalo neighborhood that had heard about Checkers and just had to stop by to see what it was like and quickly became regulars here," Walsh said.

Send restaurant tips to agalarneau@buffnews.com and follow @BuffaloFood on Instagram and Twitter.

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