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World Cup fans flock to Silo City's Cantina for fresh-air spot to watch

One thing you may not know about Silo City owner Rick Smith is his love for soccer.

The Buffalo businessman, whose dedication to smartly "regenerating" a section of the city's grain elevators has drawn the attention of the New York Times and a few international outlets, visited Tottenham years ago and took in a Spurs match; he's been a supporter ever since.

A short distance from Elevator A, one of the few silos that bustles with activity, now sits Duende, a restaurant-bar created as an arts, music and culture space. Just behind Duende is the Cantina, once a five-car garage that now holds a wooden bar, a television, chairs, a table and a section of benches. It's a humble space - lined with 32 small national flags - that allows Smith a chance to share his love for the world's game.

An England Harry Kane jersey, a Father's Day gift from Smith's wife, sits tucked below the television as roughly 10 soccer fans enjoy the recent Three Lions' group-stage clash with Tunisia.

Shouts of "Harry Kane!" - fitting as the Spurs' talisman scored both goals in the 2-1 England victory - and "Silo City, it's for the people!" reverberate around the bar, through the open-air windows and around the grounds.

"It's not stuffy," Smith said of Silo City's new additions. "It allows us to celebrate what we've got, what makes us cool.

"We're not trying to get rich. We'll let the people tell us what to do."

Smith's banter with friend and fellow soccer fan Gabriel Shalamba, a Congo native who manages the Buffalo & District Soccer League's Great Lakes Africa team, adds joviality to the "global site." One of Shalamba's sons plays youth club soccer with Smith's son, 9-year-old Gus, at both Delaware Soccer Club and Global Premier Soccer.

World Cup fans can watch every 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. match in the shadows of the grain elevators for the remainder of the tournament. There's canned and bottled beer, beginning at $3, with a range of domestics such as Budweiser, Labatt and Stella Artois, with a few local options in Big Ditch's Hayburner and Flying Bison's Rusty Chain and Buffalo IPA.

As the tournament moves forward, bartender Kevin Cain hopes to bring in several nation-specific beers, such as Mexico's Modelo or a common Belgian beer.

Soccer fans, including Alex Georgiadis, center, kick the ball around during halftime of the Serbia-Switzerland match on the lawn outside the outdoor Cantina at Duende, the new restaurant at Silo City. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

An outdoor space behind the Cantina, graced with two small soccer goals, allows for informal small-sided games. Judging by the Duende at Silo City Facebook page, the tiny pitch has been put to use.

The World Cup's overlap with Duende's opening is fortuitous, Cain admits, and the month of televised soccer matches will likely determine if further soccer-specific attention is warranted.

"The development of the site is organic," Cain said. "We're seeing what the site wants - we're stewards of a beautiful site."

By talking with Smith, Cain, partner Andrew C. Minier and Silo City caretaker Swannie Jim, it's clear overarching themes - of creative freedom, inclusion and expression, specifically - unify the elements in Silo City, which has hosted everything from Torn Space Theater plays to Silo Sessions performances to the Buffalo Niagara Blues Festival to a legion of smaller spoken-word events.

"It's a chaotic, slow-burn regeneration, not a restoration," Smith said of the site. "There are no limitations because there are no definitions."

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The Cantina does "embody the feeling of Silo City," Cain added, and that feeling extends to Duende, once an office building in the 1940s for American Malting Company along the Buffalo River.

The name of the restaurant-bar loosely translates to "spirit of the artist" from Spanish, or the calling to find one's own expression. For now, Duende is open Thursday through Sunday nights, but an eventual move to six days a week is planned.

Cain's understanding of Silo City is worth passing along, too. To the former owner of The Vault, a small music venue in downtown Buffalo that closed roughly five years ago, Silo City means a "tranquility of resilience."

"Man's endeavor created a beautiful thing, and then nature reclaimed it," Cain explained. "This is about maintaining that balance between man and nature - you can feel both of those things here."

Both Duende and the Cantina are works in progress, but two spaces that fit Silo City's ethos. More than anything, the Cantina allows soccer fans a welcoming, nature-friendly place to gather with no judgment.

INFO: Duende, 85 Silo City Row. Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, noon to 9 p.m. Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. For the Cantina, hours in addition to Duende's include 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on any World Cup match day. 235-8380.

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