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Where to dance, laugh, hang out (and not drink) in Buffalo if you're under 21

Why should adults have all the fun?

Most of college, for students who attend shortly after high school, is spent under the legal drinking age. As an under-21-year-old, newfound freedoms such as a driver's license, a dorm room or an apartment can make the world feel like your oyster ... until 10 p.m rolls around. All of a sudden bouncers pop up everywhere, keeping you from the dark-lit room where all of your older friends seem to be undoubtedly having way more fun than you.

Sure, you may get a couple of dark X's drawn on your hands in permanent marker, but when you're under 21, all you want to do is get in with your friends.


Lacking one of those magical horizontal ID cards makes it difficult to spend weekend nights anywhere but home. But just because you can't get into most bars doesn't mean you need to stay inside binging the fourth season of Grey's Anatomy on Netflix. Venture out to an 18-plus show, or club, or coffee-shop-meets-wine-bar (look, beggars can't be choosers).

At Pausa Art House, hear smooth jazz while drinking hot chocolate in a warm, relaxing atmosphere. Mosh and headbang to a punk rock show at Mohawk Place. Dance to a DJ during a themed night at Club Marcella.

All while drinking a Coca-Cola (sans rum).

For a late night show:

Town Ballroom

681 S. Main St.

The downtown music venue understands teenagers enjoy music, too. Bands grace Town Ballroom's stage at least every weekend, and often during the week, as well. Some shows admit fans as young as 12; 16-year-olds accompanied by an adult can attend a few; and pretty much all of them let 18-year-olds and older in, as long as you have an ID.

The best part is, Town Ballroom often welcomes hit indie and punk rock bands, so while they may not be names you'd see at KeyBank Center, they're often big deals in the indie music scene.

[Related: A sign of the times: How Town Ballroom's new marquee came to be]


341 Delaware Ave.

Another downtown spot, Asbury Hall in Babeville is a venue that welcomes all ages. Previously a church, the historic building is now the home of quaint folk and indie concerts, as well as the TEDxBuffalo series, festivals and weddings.

Babeville shows are all-ages and generally inexpensive, usually around $20. Plus, architecture nerds can geek out over both exterior and interior, because the church has long been an important landmark of Buffalo's renowned architecture.

Mohawk Place

47 E Mohawk St.

The bright red lights, mohawk-emblazoned mirror behind the bar, stickers depicting past bands that may or may not have stood the test of time, Mohawk Place feels like a little sliver of Buffalo's underground music history, as well as a venue showing small bands multiple times a week. It's a people-watching haven and venue for cool, indie music discovery.

Mohawk Place both fosters unknown bands and appreciates young music fans. Most shows are 18-and-over (some are 16-and-over) and they're all cheap; generally, shows range from $5 to $20.

Mohawk Place's sound guy Tony DeRosa and light guy Dan Prabucki man their posts during a show. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Buffalo Iron Works

49 Illinois St.

Another mostly 18-and-over venue, Iron Works feels like a large bar more than a music venue, but its shows hold an inordinate amount of people. Once you arrive and order a Shirley Temple or a Coke, find a way to the front to see bands at a much closer range than most venues offer.

When a band plays in a bar, every spot feels like an expensive orchestra seat.

Rec Room 

79 W. Chippewa St.

Buffalo's newest concert space, Rec Room, opened recently by the owner of the former Waiting Room, which closed in 2017. Rec Room also brings smaller bands to the venue, as well as some bigger groups, such as Cute Is What We Aim For, a Buffalo-born-and-bred pop-punk group. Inside the venue, neon signs and other photo-worthy decorations provide an in-vogue atmosphere.

So far, their lineup of shows is 16-and-up. Some of their events, such as live-band karaoke, are only for those over the legal drinking age, but the shows are not.

Rec Room adds ambitious rock club to growing downtown lineup

. . .

To dance the night away:

Club Marcella

439 Pearl St.

If you're not looking for a night of softly headbanging to indie bands, Club Marcella is where to go for a DJ and to spend the night dancing away on their floor. Every weekend night has a different theme, as well as varyingly priced covers that, heads up, are usually higher for those under 21.

Bottoms Up

69 W. Chippewa St.

On select Thursdays, "College Night" at Bottoms Up welcomes an 18-and-over crowd, usually for a cover. Hold one of the non-alcoholic drink specials while you dance. Reminisce years later on your nightclub experience since many Buffalonians have at least one Bottoms Up story.


75 W. Chippewa St.

Men, don your collared shirts. Women, switch out your sneakers. At Venu, a vast, downtown nightclub with a DJ and strict dress code, those 18-and-up can dance every Friday, "Axcess Friday."

Press "going" ahead of time on that Friday's Facebook event page, for a reduced cover charge.

. . .

For some arts and culture:

Sugar City

1239 Niagara St.

An all-ages, alcohol-free venue, Sugar City has music, art, poetry readings, film screenings and lots and lots of "zines." A safe space dedicated to cultural exploration, Sugar City allows people of all ages and always has something offbeat to do, whether it's art or a zine fair.

[Related: Sugar City celebrates 10th anniversary as an organization]

Sugar City on Niagara Street is an alcohol-free venue for all ages. (Chuck Alaimo/Special to The News)

First Fridays at Albright Knox

1285 Elmwood Ave.

Maybe a crazy Friday night doesn't always bring to mind the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, but for the first Friday of each month, it could. Not only is admission to parts of the museum free during those Fridays, but there are events going on all day and night. There's a jazz happy hour (where you can order a mean mocktail), poetry readings, art classes and more.

Pausa Art House

19 Wadsworth St.

In a tiny, intimate setting, hear smooth jazz and funk music at the wine-bar-meets-art-gallery-meets-event-space. When you walk in, order a drink at the bar, peruse the art and then claim a seat. The backroom, with the stage, lacks a lot of seating. So if it's a group you really want to see, arrive early.

Also, the space is for serious music listeners. Those looking for a relaxed ambiance with jazz in the background while having a conversation are out of luck and will be shushed (nicely) by the bartender.

For something a bit different:

The multifaceted Buffalo RiverWorks is drawing crowds as a concert venue. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Buffalo RiverWorks

359 Ganson St.

If you like wrestling and roller derbies and kickboxing and skating, it's worth checking RiverWorks' event calendar every weekend. It's a venue for sports enthusiasts, too, broadcasting Bills games on a massive projector screen.

Purrfect Cafe and Gallery

1507 Hertel Ave.

So, you can't go to the bars, but what about a cafe with roaming cats you can play with to your heart's content? At Purrfect, which just opened this summer, you pay an hourly fee to spend time among the cats, dangling toys in front of their faces, petting them and cuddling with them in a clean space.

If you're looking for a homework break and looking for a healthy outlet, petting cats is a good way to disconnect for a while.

[Related: What it's like at Buffalo's first cat cafe, Purrfect]

. . .

Coffee (and wine for your over-21 friends):

Remedy House

429 Rhode Island St.

Both a wine and beer bar and a coffee house, Remedy House is ideal for chill nights gossiping with friends over coffee, or Friday night studying when you can't put down the laptop, but want to get out of the house or dorm. The bright yellow and marbled white interiors, along with the living wall, create a fashionable ambiance and no bouncer will deny you entry at the door.

Caffe Aroma

957 Elmwood Ave.

An ideal cafe for college students, Caffe Aroma is teeming on any given night with the studious perusing their laptops and drinking copious amounts of coffee. On the flip side, it's not a quiet cafe, because for every laptop dweller is a chatty couple or group of friends, catching up over a beer or caramel macchiato.

Unlike many city cafes, Caffe Aroma is open till midnight every single night, which again, is ideal for college students and late-night coffee catch-ups.

For late-night comedy:

Helium Comedy Club

30 Mississippi St.

Both local and national comedians hit the stage at Helium, and for those over 18, you could see all of them. The comedy club offers ticketed events several times a week, anywhere from an open mic night, to a Cards Against Humanity inspired set, to a stand-up show by a handful of comedians. If you really enjoy it, you could even take a stand-up class there.

At Helium Comedy Club, you have to be at least 18 years old to attend any performance. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

[Related: An optician, a limo driver and a dominatrix walk into Helium Comedy Club...]

Rob's Comedy Playhouse

1340 N. Forest Road, Amherst.

For a flat ticket fee of $12, join the crowd at a high-top table at Rob's Comedy Playhouse for a night of stand-up and improv. Call ahead of time and make reservations or don't expect to get in. Once there, order an appetizer and a couple sodas, and prepare to laugh.

Comedy Sportz Buffalo

4476 Main St., Amherst

When you think of sports, maybe you think of football or soccer. But is beer pong a sport? Video gaming is an e-sport. Now, improv comedy is also a sport.

A couple of teams of comedians compete for the audience's laughter and at the end of the night, one is uproarious ... I mean, victorious. Stay for just Comedy Sportz, or later for the after-hours show, reserved for those 18-and-up. One of the after-hours shows is "all about you"; the comedians interview audience members and create improv sketches about them from the interviews.

Instead of getting toasted, you could just get roasted.

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