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Gene McCarthy's in the Old First Ward redefines the neighborhood bar

One of the most defining characteristics of Buffalo is its neighborhood bars. Dingy dives are nestled deep among the houses that approach a century in age. The oak tops are scarred from decades of supporting bottles and cans and glasses and elbows - cradling heads, and many, mostly unmentionable, things.

Rare is it that one of these bastions of the Queen City’s rich Rust Belt history would also be among the best craft beer bars in the region, but such is the case for Gene McCarthy’s.

Host to Old First Ward Brewing Company, Gene’s is equal parts family restaurant, concert hall, gastropub, dive bar, sports bar and brewery. The brainchild of Buffalo Music Hall of Fame member Bill Metzger, Gene McCarthy’s has been home to hundreds of beer-focused events while maintaining its blue-collar charm.

The alley that is the barroom is flanked to the right with a row of pub tables and is an area that fills up quickly on Fridays and Saturdays. The walls are hung heavy with brewery merchandise and homage to Irish culture.

Gene McCarthy's is an Old First Ward mainstay at 75 Hamburg St. A group of coworkers and friends enjoy beer and wings. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Seating at the bar is prime real estate, and it is common to meet a new friend or two when elbowing in to order a drink. Just past the bar is a sizable dining room with seating for around 50 people. Bar overflow often spills into this area, but if you came to watch the game, this is no problem - a large screen is mounted on the back wall, accessorized by a bright green Notre Dame flag.

Photographs of South Buffalo’s most cherished citizens of the past dress the area. Cardboard six-pack cartons of hard-to-get craft beer act as centerpieces for the tables, and hold the silverware and seasonings.

Gene’s is the type of bar that has something going every night of the week. On Monday nights, Kickstart Rumble’s Mike Pinelli hosts a fantastic music open mic. Tuesdays, barroom denizens are subjected to tough questions with pub trivia.

Saturdays are for live music - Irish groups like The Reardon and Garvey Band mix in with original jam bands, blues and rockabilly. These events are updated regularly on the website and the bar’s Facebook page.

Ronnie Damerski has been coming to Gene McCarthy's for 45 years and he has his own chair at the bar with his name on it. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The welcoming atmosphere and daily activities accentuate the Gene McCarthy’s experience, but the beer and food that define it. Old First brewers constantly churn out a litany of fantastic beers, with a focus on accuracy of style. All are priced between $5 and $7.

Visitors who generally stick to domestic and Canadian favorites are encouraged to try Crickrat Kölsch, which is served in a traditional kölsch glass.

Hop lovers will find a home on Gene’s oak, with a rotation of fantastic house-brewed IPAs refreshed almost weekly. HO Stout is among the best in Buffalo, and the taps are filled out with creative one-offs and seasonal favorites.

A double order of the Sheffield Wings, which are made with a house dry rub. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The food menu has gotten a bump recently. Street tacos pair fantastically with the Unshackled NEIPA. Smoked pork is piled high with pickled vegetables, fresh jalapeños and cilantro, then coated in Gene’s famous barbecue sauce. The bar also boasts the city’s best portobello fingers - a must try for all fungi lovers.

Whether the plan is a family dinner, beer and wings with friends, a night with excellent live music, or catching the game, Gene McCarthy’s is a gem in the Old First Ward’s industrial landscape. The throwback vibe and the contemporary attitude invite all to come and get lost for an evening.

Gene McCarthy’s/Old First Ward Brewing

75 Hamburg St.

Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday.

Parking: Street parking and access lot across the street.

The scene: Neighborhood pub hops into 21st century with craft beer and updated menu.

Not to miss: Trivial Tuesdays hosted by Matt Westerling. Follow Gene McCarthy's/OFW Brewing on social media for a weekly clue.

Don't forget to: Take flight - OFW's varied styles warrant a sample of each. Try a flight with your Friday fish fry.

Gene McCarthy's is an old First Ward mainstay at 75 Hamburg St. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

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