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'90 Minutes' in University Heights: Stratocasters, IPAs and comic books

Buffalo boasts plenty of neighborhoods where you can get away with dumping the car and hitting the pavement without running into the endless flat expanse of strip malls and less-than-friendly-to-pedestrian road crossings. Throw a dart at a map of the city and you'll hit one.

Finding myself near the University at Buffalo's South Campus, I took a walking tour in the University Heights neighborhood – much-maligned over the years as a section of town where crime, drugs and occasional "roving bands of drunken college students" combine to create a neighborhood perhaps best passed through. Reputation aside, I've always had a soft spot for the Heights - its proximity to UB, its plethora of watering holes, its eclectic mix of retail establishments, and its distinctly urban feel commingle to form a pleasing bohemian mélange.

Truth be told, however, I've not done anything resembling a heavy hang in the neighborhood since the Record Theatre storefront in the University Plaza closed in March 2017 – aside from the occasional stop at Amy's Place for a little shawarma and eggs with home fries and flatbread. (Yum.) So I was overdue for a visit, and well past the date when I should've come to terms with my favorite Buffalo record store's disappearance.

I'm a man of few needs, but they're very specific ones. I need to be around books, magazines, and various reading materials; I need some sort of music in my diet, whether that involves listening to it, playing it, or purchasing it; and I like to honor the happy hour tradition by tipping a frosty pint, preferably with a seat by the window or at an outdoor bar. Centering my activities in a tight single-block section of Main Street, I was dressed for winter, since the weather gods couldn’t seem to decide whether to make it snow or rain, splitting the difference with a soul-crushing combination of both.

Queen City Bookstore

3184 Main St.

This place has been operating as a family owned comic book Mecca for some 40-plus years. I'm not what you would describe as a devout comic-lover, but I do have a soft spot for graphic novels, and Queen City Bookstore has plenty of them. Unaware that I'd stumbled into the joint a mere few days prior to the Buffalo Comicon, I found the buzz surrounding the rapidly approaching convention to be palpable in the store. I spent 20 pleasant minutes browsing through comics and graphic novels and, after scanning the QCB's Facebook page on my phone, took their tip, and sought out artist Daniel Warren Johnson's highly touted "Extremity" series. Cool stuff.

Max Wagner, a senior at SUNY Buffalo State, checks out the comics on display at Queen City Bookstore. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

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(Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Music City Buffalo

3236 Main St.

Opened by renowned Buffalo guitarist Vincent James Mastrantonio in 1992, Music City is one of the most welcoming independent music stores in the area, precisely because Mastrantonio makes it so.

He's a great player and a great guy, and he loves nothing better than talking about music and the various vintage instruments that make their way into his cozy shop and music school.

I banged around on a late-'80s Fender Stratocaster for 30 minutes, thought about putting it on my credit card and taking it home, remembered how much debt I've accumulated by succumbing to such desires, thought better of it, and realized it was nearly happy hour.

A row of Gretsch guitars on display at Music City Buffalo. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

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Jeff Miers capped his time in University Heights with a pint of locally brewed Big Ditch Hayburner. (Jeff Miers)

The Steer Restaurant & Saloon

3151 Main St.

I frequented this saloon and restaurant in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and always enjoyed its outdoor second-floor patio bar. But the weather was not friendly on this weekday afternoon, so I bellied up to the bar, ordered a pint, and asked the pleasant and attentive publican for a menu.

I settled on a Hayburner, a specialty of Buffalo's Big Ditch Brewery. Looking for something hearty to compliment my IPA,  the Steer offers the option of ordering any of its big burgers in the "topless" format. I ordered the Katrina burger – blackened Cajun, caramelized onions, crumbly blue cheese – and my new friend the bar-man served it over a bed of greens bathed in Balsamic. Delicious.

I was on my way home not long after I first parked my car.

(Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

From left, Meg Kelly, Cha Vu, Virginia Judson and Ashley Scofield have drinks after work at the Steer. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

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