As part of our "90 Minutes" series, I’ve been undertaking little reconnaissance missions in various local neighborhoods with enough time to park the car once, get the general gist of the neighborhood on foot. But I knew from the get-go that Hertel Avenue was going to require a different approach. There’s simply too much happening there.
Old and new businesses are competing for our attention. The historic North Park Theatre beams like a beacon in the neighborhood’s center. There's coffee to sip, food to feast upon, record albums to peruse, shops to rummage through, pints to sample, tattoos to contemplate, tunes to hear – there was just no way I was going to be able to cram all of this into 90 minutes.
My Hertel holiday became pretty much a full day, then, and bled over into the evening.
While I worked my way through the neighborhood, I contemplated the lives of the immigrants who brought a grand cultural mix to this area at the turn of the 20th century, and though gentrification is something I tend to view askance, I couldn’t help but scope the area’s recent upswing through a lens of positivity.
Hertel is hip, it’s cool, it’s not pretentious, and it offers a plethora of choices for someone interested in our ever-changing Buffalo culture.
I arrived at Daily Planet Coffee (1862 Hertel Ave.) at 11 a.m., eager to get my caffeine on, and ruminating on owner Mike Caputi’s mantra: “Make people happy, make good friends, make good coffee, and do something nice for the planet, daily.” Caputi opened Daily Planet in 2014, and in many ways, his mission statement is at the core of the Hertel renaissance.
Dedicated to sustainability, a devout disciple of the fair-trade coffee movement, and mindful of the idea that a local, community business should create a minimal ecological foot print, Daily Planet is also a great place to take in some local (mostly acoustic) musical talent. The coffee is sublime, too.
Sufficiently motivated, and fresh from a quick stop at the Gord Downie mural adorning the side of the Hertel Liquor Library – “No dress rehearsal/This is our life” — I headed for Moda Vintage (1509 Hertel Ave.) hoping to find another cool painting to match the one I purchased there last year.
I’m a sucker for anything redolent of 1960s fashion, art and furniture, so Moda has long been a favorite. I’ve even come across a few interesting vintage instruments there over the years. No luck today, but I spent a pleasant 45 minutes contemplating some barware that looked like it came straight from the set of "Mad Men" and wondering if my wife would revolt if I brought home a vintage butterfly-style chair and matching ottoman.
Realizing the addition of a few more vinyl records would be much less detectable than a new chair in the living room, I headed for Revolver Records (1451 Hertel Ave.), eager to satiate my vinyl junkie’s habit. I found a pristine copy of “Avoid the Funk: A Defunkt Anthology,” a sort of greatest hits collection from the hit-less Joseph Bowie-led funk/punk/jazz ensemble formed in New York City at the tail end of the '70s. Score.
I’d had it in mind to replace some of my old, weather-beaten Prince vinyl, too and, unsurprisingly, Revolver proprietor Phil Machemer didn’t let me down. I upgraded my copies of “Around the World in a Day” and “Parade” without breaking the bank.
At Revolver, I take great pleasure in rummaging through the experimental/progressive/psychedelic section, which seems to be continuously updated with obscure '60s and '70s records adorned with freaky, lysergic acid-stained art. What fun.
I was conducting my Hertel sojourn on the anniversary of Grateful Dead zen-master Jerry Garcia’s passing, so it seemed more than appropriate to stop by Terrapin Station (1172 Hertel Ave.) to tip my hat to the massive Garcia painting adorning the building’s southernmost wall. There’s Jer, Buddhalike, a slight sly grin on his face, his eyes beaming off the brick façade.
What’s up, old buddy? How’s the view from up there? Sigh.
At Wasted Space Tattoo (1279 Hertel Ave.) I checked out some of the art and contemplated, for the millionth time, taking the plunge and getting some ink. Once again, I chickened out. But one of these days …
Tattooless, but still driven, I made it to the North Park Theatre (1428 Hertel Ave.) in time for a matinee showing of "Christopher Robin," the Marc Forster-directed Ewan McGregor vehicle celebrating the Hundred Acre Wood and its fuzzy, friendly inhabitants. My parents read A.A. Milne’s books to me when I was a kid. I read them to my son, too. I’m a sucker for this stuff.
Oh, and yes, the North Park is one of city’s true treasures.
After bathing in warm nostalgia for the better part of two hours, I emerged onto the Hertel sidewalk a hungry man.
The dining choices on this avenue are bountiful, but it was a gorgeous day, and I wanted to sit on the outdoor patio at Lloyd Taco Factory (1502 Hertel Ave.) while munching on some Tricked-Out Nachos and a Dirty South Burrito, all washed down with Lloyd’s brutally good designer cocktail, the Nautical Disaster (a mixture of three varietal rums, falernum, lime and grapefruit).
One of my favorite joints to haunt in Buffalo is Sidebar (1459 Hertel Ave.), an unassuming bar with a lounge-y vibe, a great patio, a cool old-school shuffleboard table, and live jazz, soul and funk on the first Friday of every month.
I pulled up a chair on the patio, settled in with my Heineken, and did a little reading while a cool mix of '80s and '90s music emerged from the open doors of the bar like a cool breeze. A great spot to people watch, if that’s your thing, or sink your face in a good book while sipping a cold one, if you’re like me.
After a blissful afternoon and evening on Hertel Avenue, I thought this must have been what Lou Reed was singing about in “Perfect Day.”
Story topics: 90 Minutes