Summertime in the Cobblestone/Canalside neighborhood is tough to top for anyone who loves live music, craft beer, good food and the ability to walk to a wide variety of venues in a mere matter of minutes.
For the latest installment of "90 minutes in…" series, I bent the rules a bit and decided to plan an afternoon's activities that would lead up to a Canalside Live! concert, and even an official after-party event.
I'm old enough to recall a time when this entire area felt like a ghost town. And young enough to rejoice in the fact it no longer does.
211 South Park Ave.
I was first turned on to this Cobblestone/Canalside attraction by my dear friend, singer Terry Sullivan of Jumpers/Celibates/Headhunters/Dollywatchers fame. Sullivan is, for me, Buffalo's version of Tom Waits – he has an eye and an ear for the authentically eclectic and the delightfully weird that are, in my experience, unerring in their accuracy.
I sampled some fine beer and some even finer housemade sausages on my Sullivan-curated maiden voyage to Ballyhoo. It was shortly after owners Tim and Morgan Stevens first opened it after they returned to the area from a several-year sojourn in San Diego. It seemed like a no-brainer to start my recent Cobblestone/Canalside adventure by reprising that first visit.
170 Ohio St.
It was tough to pull myself away from Ballyhoo, but the afternoon was a beautiful one, and the patio at Swannie House beckoned.
The tavern at the corner of Michigan and Ohio streets – right next to Ballyhoo, conveniently – is one of the oldest in the city. I've always dug it for its authenticity and complete lack of pretension.
The fish fry is killer, too, but how much do you really expect me to eat in a single afternoon? I opted for a pint of Smithwick's and a seat out back in the sun. From there, I could just about glimpse the old grain elevators.
359 Ganson St.
Those grain elevators have been exercising some magnetic pull on me of late, their blend of industrial wasteland and "That's so Buffalo" re-purposing appealing to my sense of both the absurd and the astute.
I walked out the front door of Swannie House, waited for the Michigan Street lift bridge to finish its business, and then strolled across its span with the Buffalo River below me, and the sprawling Buffalo RiverWorks complex calling me like a siren toward the rocks dead ahead.
The RiverWorks crew retrofit a brewery into an existing grain silo, and then turned a site that used to depress me – it felt like a brutal metaphor for Buffalo's stubborn inability to transcend its failures – into something playful, cool, fully functioning and totally hip.
There's a 5,000-capacity concert venue on site, a roller derby rink, four bars, and lord knows what else, but for me, the attraction is the outdoor bar set right along the Buffalo River. Having a beer (Trainwreck Amber Ale, yum) and watching the river flow, with no expectation of it doing anything other than simply existing and doing what a river does – I find this to be a Zen-inducing activity.
44 Prime St.
This happened to be the day that Umphrey's McGee was playing at Canalside. I made my way over there from Buffalo RiverWorks in a matter of minutes, just as the band took the stage to commence what would turn out to be an epic, twin-set performance that was jubilantly received by the massive (but chill and peaceful) crowd.
49 Illinois St.
The folks at Iron Works curate their scheduling of live music to coordinate with other Cobblestone/Canalside events, and in doing so, they lend to the genuine community feel that is now routinely emanating from the district.
It was no accident that Iron Works booked Jazz Is Phish to perform in an official "Umphrey's McGee After-Party" capacity – the bands share a similar audience, to the point where a few members of Umphrey's McGee joined the post-Canalside throng of dancers on this magical night.
In all, the perfect nightcap for a pretty spectacular afternoon and evening.
[Related: Smiles at Soul Patch's show in Iron Works]