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As Main Street changes, The Bijou carries on with resilience

Twenty-seven years. Think about the changes that have taken place along Main Street in Buffalo’s Theater District in that time. The Militello family has witnessed and survived the ups and downs of business that accompany the ebb and flow of city development.

Through it all, The Bijou Grille, with its neon lights, has proven resilient through the city's history. Now the owners look forward to more changes on Main Street that will allow The Bijou and Club Level, its banquet facility, to thrive for years to come.

Michael Militello, who runs The Bijou with his sister Bea and brother Bobby, along with head chef Michael Greco, who has been with them from day one, relies on area theaters to boost business and anxiously awaits AMC Market Arcade 8's opening this year.

Militello sat down to reminisce over the past 27 years as he looks ahead.

Question: What stands out to you when you look back at the past 27 years?

Militello: We got a permit to do music on the streets back when there was no Chippewa. We were there for the first Curtain Up! The Bijou became the center of gravity for Curtain Up! and entertainment.

Tourists would go from the Aud to The Bijou because there were no other restaurants along Main Street. We were it. People would take the train to The Bijou.

Q: Main Street has had its share of ups and downs. How did you survive?

A: I sat on the Theater District board and worked with Buffalo Place, and we all tried to keep the neighborhood going because we knew it was coming around and we tried to keep Main Street going. Restaurants would come and go and The Bijou would stay. We kept doing what we do best – entertaining. When the fences were up along Main Street four or five years ago, it hurt us. It was questionable.

Q: Are you excited for the new movie theater to open?

A: We’re so excited for so many reasons. First of all, I like movies. And secondly, if you can’t walk through from Washington to Main, you can’t find us. We don’t have neighborhood business. When they open the movie theater that could change.

We are looking to hire more employees and we can stay open later. If you’re coming to any theaters, park on Washington. The M&T parking lot is only $3. No one realizes that.

Q: How has the menu changed over the years?

A: The menu has been consistent. We’re known for salads and pizzas and fresh ingredients. It’s good, healthy food. We had the first chopped salad in Buffalo. I brought it back from L.A. and put it on the menu. It is a hand-chopped salad that stayed with us. Our burgers and veggie burgers are good and we have staples like our pastas.

Tiffany windows, from the old Mulligan's on Hertel, adorn the ceilings at The Bijou Grille and Club Level. (Photo courtesy: The Bijou Grille and Club Level Facebook page.)

Q: What do you wish people knew about The Bijou?

A: The banquet room upstairs is called Club Level and it’s a beautiful room. People remember Mulligan’s on Hertel when I ran it - all of the windows on the ceilings in The Bijou and Club Level are original Tiffany glass – they’re historic pieces from a movie theater in Manhattan.

Next time you go in, look at the stained-glass windows. A lot of people from Mulligan’s come in to see the windows. We are having a Mulligan’s reunion on July 15 at Templeton Landing from 2 to 7 p.m. Hundreds of people will be there.

The Buffalo You Should Know: Hertel Avenue

Q: How does it feel when you look back on 27 years?

A: We’ve been able to stay here and we’re very proud of the 27 years. Our reputation keeps us going. Beau is the foundation. She’s there every day.

INFO: The Bijou Grille and Club Level, 643 Main St., 847-1512. Hours: Until 9 p.m. Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday, open Sundays for theater or First Niagara events.

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