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Old-time sports bar charm is a hit at downtown's Union Pub

It’s baseball season from now until what will eventually feel like forever, and the crowds are shuffling back to Coca-Cola Field for Bisons' games. It’s tradition to stop off for a bite and a cold one before you’re locked in and hit with stadium pricing (albeit more reasonable at Bisons' games), and Union Pub, formerly the Irish Times, has always been my pregame watering hole of choice.

If Union Pub were any closer to the ballpark, you’d need a ticket to get it. Standing directly across the street from Coca-Cola Field, it has capitalized for years on location alone, but the recent refresh of decor and menu that came under new ownership are what the Union Pub is hoping will keep 'em coming back once the seasons change. To football, that is.

For those unfamiliar with the former Irish Times and the drinking quarters surrounding Coca-Cola Field and ballparks across America, the place was truly a vestige of sports bars past.

A scene that’s migrated toward glitz and glamour has cast aside the character of weathered wood, simple snacks and cheap beers in the name of eye-popping features and a louder dollar ring.

Nick Giammusso, the owner of Union Pub, shows off his famous house-made meatballs. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

If the old time ballpark bar is more your style (as it is mine), the updates at the Union Pub have moved the needle just one notch further toward modernization without sacrificing the nostalgia.

Three huge new televisions all tuned to sports line the wall behind the rebuilt back bar (the bar itself remains the same) that now includes 24 digitally cooled taps that keep a consistent temp on the newly refreshed draught list.

The starting lineup of domestics are thankfully still on the team at $4 a pint, but a larger selection of approachable local favorites like Big Ditch Hayburner, Southern Tier IPA and Blackbird Cider are available at a minimal upcharge with nothing cracking $6. Implicit in the name, it’s still a workingman’s bar with value kept in check.

The cocktails at Union Pub are fittingly more carefree than craft, built to be fun, fruity, refreshing and pretty affordable with most coming in around $8. I tried a few with baseball-inspired titles like the Big Game Tonic (SoCo, amaretto, tonic, cherry) and the Ballpark Bomb (gin, lemonade, soda water, lemon).

Between the two I’m sticking with the beer, but they’re a hefty pour and go down quick, so if you’re hoping to win that team spirit award, these might be your better bet.

Pizza logs ooze cheese at the Union Pub in downtown Buffalo. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

There’s a full menu of sandwiches, wraps, salads and a slew of fryer foods that includes house-made pizza logs, but the free popcorn that’s perfumed the bar for years is still the fan favorite and flying from the machine by the bowlful.

Like the rise and fall of the tide, the crowds at Union Pub ebb and flow to the beat of the game start. It’s a mad dash into a packed house of noisy Bisons' fans shooting darts, crushing wings, and knocking back beers.

Do your best to grab a seat, set yourself up with a popcorn bowl, or call ahead for food in a pinch. It’s an electric atmosphere buzzing with pre-game anticipation, then it’s a quick one, two, three drinks you’re out at this iconic ballpark bar.

Union Pub

Address: 38 Swan St. (854-2199)

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Open Sunday and Monday only during ballpark events.

Scene: Ballpark bar for beers and a bite before the Bisons' game.

Drafts: 24

Bottles: 35

Food: Pub fare. Brief list of sandwiches and salads with a focus on fryer food including their house-made pizza logs.

Ask about: Game-day specials.

Parking: Street spots and paid lots that disappear come game time.

Credit/Debit: Yes.

Don’t forget to: Grab a bowl of free popcorn to go with your beer.

Union Pub is at 38 Swan St. in downtown Buffalo. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

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