Drive around Buffalo, and you’ll find plenty shops, bars and buildings that, side by side or block by block, are emblematic of the city’s developing past-vs.-present dichotomy.
There are 1800s-era homes next door to inventive craft breweries. Loft apartments inside converted Catholic elementary schools. And an indoor hockey palace across from lines of grain elevators. These examples are everywhere, and they’re multiplying, signaling the region’s still-ascendant trajectory.
But when patrons of Ellicott Street's Ulrich’s Tavern glance out its windows, they’re treated to an appreciated contrast between old and new—all over some classic potato pancakes and progressive craft drafts.
Established in Buffalo in 1868, shuttered briefly in 2012, then restored under new ownership in 2014, the city's oldest tavern has always been a favored stop for German-American fare and imbibers who like a little history with their eventual hangover.
Despite restoring certain interior elements before its re-launch four years ago, the bar still looks appropriately weathered, whether with exposed brick, antique lighting or woodwork scuffed by 150 years worth of boozers.
Its back-bar remains resplendent with stained glass cabinetry promoting the long-defunct Iroquois Brewery; a low-lit back dining room still looks like it could host a planning meeting for the next guerilla revolution; and much of its interior décor highlights the history of a locale that’s been around for almost as long as Buffalo.
What’s changed is that Ulrich’s now offers its traditional fare mixed with an upgraded ambiance and menu at the entrance of a neighborhood now unrecognizable to what was there 50 years ago—or even five years ago.
Customers hungry for bratwurst and beers now siphon in from the sprawling Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, comprised of offices, hospitals and the University at Buffalo’s striking Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Millennials and Generation Z denizens come from entrepreneur incubators and luxury lofts inside the neighboring Phoenix Brewery. Others pop in after utilizing the bike lockers, electric car chargers and urban park space from outside Ulrich’s front entrance.
Once inside, they can certainly inhale the same pierogi ($15 for a dozen) or German lagers like Hofbrau favored by past generations. Or, they can enjoy options that match the burgeoning diversification of Buffalo’s traditional ethos, with 16-ounce drafts of 12 Gates' Resting Peach Face sour ($6) and Big Ditch Hayburner ($5) — two of 20 beers on tap. They can even settle in for decidedly non-German fare like its vegetarian burger ($12) or Vietnamese spring rolls ($6).
[Read more: 100 Things on Ulrich's 1868 Tavern]
Throwback jukebox tunes from Huey Lewis & The News contrastingly echo off wallpaper not regularly utilized since the end of The Great War. Bespectacled med school students break from studying for boards under timber ceilings that once hosted returning veterans of World War II.
Outside Ulrich’s, the Medical Campus continues to develop and the neighboring Trico complex will soon advance on its long-awaited transformation.
Inside, a refreshed version of Buffalo’s senior drinking stop will keep slinging at the epicenter of a thankfully changing downtown landscape, while still anchoring the city to an aesthetic corner of its past.
Address: 674 Ellicott St.
Hours: Kitchen is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Bar is open Monday through Saturday, beginning at 11 a.m.. Closed on Sunday.
Scene: German-American ambiance inside Buffalo’s oldest tavern, but situated at the entrance of city’s booming medical campus.
Potato pancakes—and popcorn: Ulrich’s lunch and dinner menu still skews German, but casual drinkers can also enjoy free helpings of Buffalo’s saltiest popcorn.
Drink specials: Happy Hour 4 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, with $6 mini pitchers of Coors Light. Same deal for all Sabres games.
Parking: Street spots outside.
Credit/Debit: Yes. ATM on site.
Don’t forget to: Appreciate the tavern’s Genny Cream Ale light, hanging gloriously at the front corner of the bar.