The signature ‘EAT ‘EM HOT AT SAL’S’ sign out front at Sal’s Lounge in Depew has been replaced, but inside, patrons still eat ‘em hot and wash ‘em down with 23-ounce draft beers.
Hot wings, of course. Sal’s is famous for ‘em.
This hole-in-one hole-in-the-wall checks out as a first-rate neighborhood bar. Friendly bar staff will remember your drink well before your name, a TV with the game on is always in view and drinks are cheap.
While the food menu is small, it somehow always features what you’re looking for. (Probably wings.) Also notable are the huge house-made logs. Brimming with fillings, they make the smaller, airy pizza log variety you’ll find at concession stands look like twigs.
For $7.50, you'll get four in any style – pizza with marinara, jalapeno cheddar with salsa, Reuben with Thousand Island Dressing or Philly cheese steak with cheese sauce.
Five taps cover all bases – the local favorite (Labatt Blue), a premium macro import (Stella Artois), the everyman’s beer (Pabst Blue Ribbon), a rotating seasonal (Samuel Adams Cold Snap) and – by popular demand – an IPA (Big Ditch Hayburner).
It’s a fairly small place, but there’s a divide that is well-established by the lighting (dim-to-well-lit) between the front bar and rear restaurant areas that provides a choice between mingling and privacy. Bar stools are in the front and booths are in the back.
Sal’s is family friendly, but community-oriented seems more appropriate. Parents can bring their kids for a bite without receiving glares from other patrons.
Sal’s is an unassuming, middle-of-the-street bar inconspicuously tucked right in the middle of a row of houses. Big green letters reading “SAL’S” and neon beer signs in the front windows are the only exterior indicators that distinguish the bar from the surrounding suburbia.
“People call for directions, and I say, ‘If you get to the next stop sign, you passed it,” said Susan Machniak, manager and part-owner. “I’m like, ‘It’s a house, a house, a bar, a bar,’ and they’re like, ‘Did I just pass a bar?’ ”
Once she had a minute – plenty of regulars are here even on a blustery Tuesday evening – she shared an interesting bit about the building’s history: At some point in the past – as a bar under a different name – train tracks ran directly behind it, and railroad employees would order beers at the back window.
Machniak warns newcomers that Sal’s hot wings are “comparable if not hotter than” Duff’s suicidal wings. Unless you’re looking to break a sweat, you’re better off with one of the other house-made sauces like honey Cajun, garlic Parmesan or vinegar.
The wings are breaded, which makes them extra crisp and crunchy. It sets them apart from others, but also makes them an outcast – and to some, an abomination – in the birthplace of the perfected, non-breaded Buffalo wing.
It’s true that the “monster” wings that helped put Sal’s on the map are no longer. But when the distributor stopped carrying them, Sal’s compensated by upping a single order from nine to 12 average-sized wings. The house-made sauce recipes have been handed down several generations, ownerships and one location change. (Sal’s originally occupied the building on Broadway in Depew, which is now Magruder’s, in the 1970s).
While Sal’s is a true neighborhood bar regularly filled with regulars, the place is used to those who have caught wind of the worthwhile wings drifting in from afar. If you plan to visit, expect a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
“You come in and you probably know somebody,” Machniak said, “and if you don’t, by the time you leave, you will.”
Address: 283 Olmstead Ave., Depew
Hours: 4 p.m. to midnight Sunday, 3 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday and 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Drinks: $3-$5.50 beer (16/23-ounce drafts, bottles), $4-5 well drinks/premium drinks.
Don’t forget to: Buy a lottery ticket on your way out. Sal’s sold a $5 million Set For Life scratch-off ticket in 2011.